Travis Bashaw of Better Homes and Gardens/The Masiello Group stands outside an Auburn home under contract in August 2020. At that time, Bashaw, of Auburn, said about 40% of his clients were from the Portland area looking to buy a home in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The real estate market in Maine exploded in 2020, surprising experts with “a perfect storm” fueled by the pandemic.

For Lewiston-Auburn and the rest of Androscoggin County, the year brought similar trends, sometimes surpassing the record-breaking figures from across the state.

Heading into 2021, Tom Cole, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, said Androscoggin County remains a “strong market” that has benefited from its proximity to greater Portland, but without its prices. Evidence suggests plenty of people have taken notice.

For the three months ending Nov. 30, the median sales price of single-family homes in Maine increased by 22.2% compared to the same stretch in 2019. For Androscoggin County, the median price grew by 19% over that period to $215,500, while the overall number of units sold also grew.

Earlier in the year, between April 1 and June 30, the median sales price in Androscoggin County rose nearly 14% to $191,500, while statewide growth was 6%. For the three months ending Oct. 31, the median price had also reached a 19% growth over the same period in 2019.

“Androscoggin County certainly falls into that growth,” Cole said. “It’s a strong market. Prices continue to go up, and sales continue to go up. It’s part of that overall demand.”

Cole is referring to a high demand and shortage of housing that Maine was already experiencing pre-pandemic. Add in historically low interest rates and high prices in southern Maine, and buyers are looking in Androscoggin County. Some would-be buyers are also finding a market flooded with competition.

Cole said he’s had several clients be disappointed after losing out on multiple offers. He just sold a property in Greene for “top dollar,” that typically would not have fetched that price, he said.

Travis Bashaw, an Auburn-based real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens-The Masiello Group, said the market stayed strong through late summer and into the fall.

“Buyer activity remained strong, which led to another quarter of strong gains in both units sold and median sale price,” he said. “2019 was a banner year in Maine, but despite the pandemic, 2020 saw a record number of homeowners favorably improve their housing situation.”

“The question we wish we all knew the answer to is what will 2021 bring?” Bashaw added.

Cole told the Sun Journal that 2019 was the state’s “best year ever” for sales, but that a national economist predicted sales to slump slightly in 2020. Despite a slow start, that didn’t happen. Instead, he said sales grew by about 8% over 2019. Sales to out-of-state buyers also grew this fall, making up about one-third of all sales. Historically, it’s about one-quarter, he said.

Heading into the winter, however, Cole doesn’t expect the market to be as “highly charged” as the summer months, perhaps giving buyers who may have lost out earlier in the year more chances.

But, with low inventory and rising prices, more average Mainers are being priced out, especially as median prices have risen by an average of 20% statewide.

When asked about the issue, Cole said Maine needs more housing inventory.

“In reality, that’s probably the only real answer,” he said.

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