Letter from Aroostook: Homebuyers set their sights on The County

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Fifteen years ago, with the kids all grown and on their own, we moved from the Portland area to Aroostook County. We’ve never looked back and have loved almost every minute, even when it’s been 40 degrees below zero for three straight days. 

Although many friends have come to visit, and love The County, they are pretty unanimous that they could never live here. So, when my hairdresser told me that people are buying homes and cabins and even raw land so they have a place to escape COVID-19, I started wondering just how hot Aroostook real estate is right now. 

Stephanie Fields Beaulieu, of Fields Realty in Fort Fairfield, said sales in The County are definitely up. For the first quarter of this year, 124 properties sold compared with 87 in 2019. In the second quarter, 172 properties sold compared with 168 in 2019, and in July, 89 properties sold, while in 2019 there were 67 sales.

What makes it even more interesting is the breakdown of what people are buying. Sales of houses and camps are high, but there are also a significant number of small parcels of land that are being sold just so people have a place to park a camper, or perhaps for hunting and fishing.  

The Maine Association of Realtors website shows even higher numbers of sales for Aroostook, beginning in March of this year, when the association recorded 121 sales countywide, a 42 percent increase over 2019. There were 122 in April, up 35 percent over last year; 137 sales in May, which slowed a bit with only a 6.6 percent increase over 2019, and although it slowed a bit in June, there were 168 sales, up 60 percent over 2019 sales for the same month. 

More important is where people are coming from. Figures from the Maine Real Estate Information System for March 1-July 22 show that of 342 closings in Aroostook County, 103 buyers – or almost a third – were from out of state, Beaulieu said.

Another broker, Cathy Duffy of Progressive Realty, noted it’s been a seller’s market and an unusually busy year. “People are buying properties unseen,” she said.

Both Beaulieu and Duffy said that there doesn’t seem to be a specific area or community that buyers are focused on. But, Beaulieu added, there is greater interest in towns that have been slower to sell, more rural, and there are currently 812 active listings in Aroostook County and 248 under contract. 

“It’s definitely been a sellers’ market,” Duffy said, “and it’s been both crazy and wonderful.”

Both brokers agreed that the coronavirus pandemic is probably playing a role in this migration to The County. 

“Our COVID-19 numbers are very low and we are fairly rural and spread out,” Beaulieu said. “I suspect this has attracted a lot of the out-of-state buyers.”

But it’s not easy living in Aroostook. Winters are long and cold, and internet service is not as reliable as in urban areas. Both Duffy and Beaulieu said that people should do their homework before deciding to move to The County.  

“No matter if they want year-round or seasonal, I would advise people to do their homework on northern Maine: our climate, our internet access, our resources,” Beaulieu said. “We have a beautiful piece of the planet to offer, but many people come unprepared for the harshness of our winter, for example. We had one buyer who had no idea that she would have to have her roof shoveled come winter.”

Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.