News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 21, 2020
On the pandemic shopping list: an island home in Maine
Island real estate market hot, hot, hot

Island real estate market soars

Morgan Eaton, owner of The Island Agency, in front of a recently listed property on Grays Lane in Stonington. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, or perhaps because of it, Eaton said she’s selling more properties than usual this time of year.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Leslie Landrigan

Pandemic or not, the island housing market is so hot that people are buying houses without setting foot in them, say local real estate agents. And they’re getting into bidding wars over the properties.

“It’s still a very young season, and we’re seeing multiple competing bids,” said Morgan Eaton, owner of The Island Agency, in an interview at a home she’s listed for $1.09 million on Stonington’s waterfront.

Laura Farr, real estate agent for the Acadia Realty Group, said she’s seeing the same thing.

“They’re buying properties sight unseen,” said Farr in a phone interview. She said high-end properties are now selling, which they haven’t done for a while.

In perhaps an unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders have made people want a new home, said Eaton. When you can’t go anywhere but home, you become keenly aware of your space, she said.

“If you have to quarantine, an island in Maine is a pretty wonderful place to be,” Eaton said.“Being stuck at home for us means we can go hiking, work in the yard or go to the beach.”

At first, the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic brought real estate transactions to a halt, Eaton said. For the first few weeks of sheltering in place, things were very quiet. But then, people working from home grew comfortable with telecommuting. And they began to look at real estate online. “Our website traffic was very high, and then the emails came pouring in,” said Eaton.

Working from home also made people realize they can live wherever they want, so long as they have fast enough internet service.

“Crucial” is the word Farr used to describe internet access.

Families with children also need internet access so their children can learn remotely when schools are shut, Eaton said. She’s had people walk away from properties because of poor internet connections.

Not all from away

The quick, widespread adoption of videoconferencing technology also made people open to looking for properties through virtual tours. Potential buyers can then ask the real estate agent for a video close-up of the furnace or the attic.

The paperwork involved in a real estate transaction has all gone online. Eaton said she’s now doing closings in the house itself, where out-of-state buyers will be staying for the next 14 days.

Another reason for the hot real estate market: low interest rates. Mortgage rates hovering around 3 percent make buying a new home compelling, said Eaton.

The stereotype of the out-of-state retiree doesn’t fit all the new home buyers on Deer Isle. Some are local, and many are still working, said Eaton.

Farr has buyers from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and even California. Eaton said most of her clients come from “the drivable Northeast,” though she’s had one from Florida.

Farr said all 25 agents are busy in the Acadia Realty Group, which covers Bar Harbor and Ellsworth as well as the peninsula and the island.

According to Eaton, The Island Agency has closed on five transactions and put 10 properties under contract in the past 30 days.

One downside to the hot real estate market: low inventory. There just aren’t enough properties to sell.

But, said Eaton, “that’s great news for the sellers.”