ELLSWORTH — Home prices were down this quarter but are still out of reach for many potential homebuyers. The price of a single-family home in Hancock County fell 3 percent in the third quarter of this year compared to last, to $223,590.
“Supply is not meeting demand at certain price points, especially homes for downsizing and first-time buyers,” said Kim Gleason, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, which published the numbers at the end of November.
Hancock was the only county where the median sales price (MSP) of a single-family home fell, although it remained the sixth highest of all counties around the state. Homes in Cumberland, York and Lincoln counties were priciest in the third quarter while those in Somerset, Piscataquis and Aroostook were least expensive.
MSP is often used by Realtors to describe home prices, indicating that half of the homes sold for less and half for more. It is a more accurate indicator than an average, which can be skewed by the sale of a very expensive or inexpensive house.
Steve Shelton, owner of Acadia Realty Group, said that, as of December, his company sold more homes this year than last in Hancock and Washington counties (318 compared to 308) but that the MSP was down to $183,500 from $190,000 in 2017.
Shelton said “prices are probably not what they should be,” but he expects they’ll increase as there are fewer and fewer homes for sale.
“When I started in 2005 in Ellsworth there were around 130 homes for sale,” Shelton said. “Right now I think it’s almost half of the inventory that it was.”
Shelton said the build-out of the Jackson Laboratory facility would likely increase the prices of homes in Ellsworth.
“Supply and demand should kick in,” Shelton said. “It’s the law of nature.”
Outside the city, Shelton said, “There’s still a lot of inventory up here. There’s certainly a lot of variety.”
Shelton said he sees many homebuyers “still looking for waterfront deals, those $200,000 to $300,000 waterfront homes. It’s finally going away that they can’t find those.”
Homes in Hancock County were still more affordable than elsewhere in the Northeast and around the country. The MSP nationally was $255,400 in October and $280,900 in the Northeast, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
Although higher home prices are good for Realtors and sellers, owning a home is still out of reach for many Hancock County residents. In 2017, according to the Maine State Housing Authority, only 57 percent of Hancock County residents had a household income high enough (at least $57,415) to afford the area’s median home price of $210,000.
Incomes have risen in recent years but have not kept pace with home prices. Hancock was one of seven counties in the state classified as “generally unaffordable” for potential homebuyers, meaning a household earning median income could not cover the payment on a median priced home without spending more than 28 percent of the homeowners’ monthly income.
Consistently high housing prices pose a problem for many workers, as according to the Maine State Housing Authority, renting is even more unaffordable than buying a home.
Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Hancock County averaged $984 per month last year, nearly $300 more than a household earning median income could afford.