Thirty-four years in the business and Ted Brown has never seen such a strong real estate market as in 2020 and 2021. In the past two years, Brown’s Harbor Realty sold close to 80 homes totaling nearly $16 million in sales.“That’s just an estimate. It might have been more,” Brown said. “It’s astounding at how high prices are. I never thought I would see it like this.”
The hot market continued into 2022. In March, Harbor Realty only had six residential listings ranging in price from $300,000 to $900,000. With inventory low, prices remain high. So why is the local real estate market so hot? Brown says the coronavirus pandemic still remains the driving force. People began leaving cities in droves searching for low population centers. In Maine, the Boothbay region became a prime destination due to its seacoast beauty and municipal populations of less than 4,000. “Once the cities exploded with COVID-19, people started moving here,” he said. “It’s not really young families, as much as people aged 35 to 60 who can work from home. That’s why high-speed internet is so important in attracting more people here.”
Brown believes Southport’s and Boothbay’s decision to pursue 100% broadband access will only increase home sales demand. Southport is pursuing a municipally-owned broadband network set for completion by 2023. Boothbay is involved with negotiations with Spectrum to expand access to the remaining 10% of residents without broadband. “It’s becoming more a necessity, you need reliable broadband to attract people to live and work here,” Brown said.
But a historic surge in real estate sales isn’t what Brown expected at the pandemic’s start. Instead, he believed it may result in several months of long days and no sales. In March 2020, he had just assumed ownership of the family business. A few days later, the global pandemic struck, and the state of Maine created new guidelines limiting personal contact. Harbor Realty and businesses around the state were required to post a sign at the entrance asking clients to call.
“I’m thinking ‘perfect’ I just took over, and I’m not going to have anything to do for a couple years,” he said. Instead, Brown and his associate Larry Colcord brought home buyers and sellers together at a blistering pace for more than two years. Another key factor in the housing sales boom is a strong economy. As long as the economy remains strong, Brown believes the real estate market will continue to thrive.
For people looking to move to the Boothbay region, home ownership has emerged as the best option due to a even higher surge in rental and building prices. “For $1,500, you can almost pay a mortgage for that. and the prices of materials have just totally gotten out of control. So buying is what people are looking to do,” Brown said.
The housing market is also boosted by bidding wars. Brown recalls receiving several bids for properties which occurred to overwhelming demand with low inventory. He described the Boothbay region as unique real estate market. “There are a lot of second and vacation homes. If the economy slows down, then those are typically the first to be sold,” he said. “So that would increase inventory, but also might result in lower prices, and bargains for buyers.”
Brown began in real estate after he graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1987. His mother, Mary Lee Brown, founded the business in the mid-1970s. Brown wasn’t sure of his career path following graduation. His mother asked him if he hand any interest in real estate. “So basically that spring I took both my final college exams and state real estate licensing test. I’m remember spending four hours in the Augusta Armory taking the test,” he said.
Brown began his career in a time when meeting person-to-person was common in real estate. Buyers would visit with a broker, and visit the property. “Not now,” Brown said. “Technology is driving everything, and it’s not uncommon for me not to talk to anyone until the closing,” he said.
Advertising has also gone through a major transformation. In the 1980s, Harbor Realty would advertise in the local newspapers, and in the Boston and New York papers, if a prime waterfront property was available. But technology has made information available in a matter of moments. So the internet has opened the Boothbay region’s real estate market to the world. “Once we receive a listing. it’s put on a multiple listing service. From there, it’s farmed out to realtor.com, and it’s available everywhere,” Brown said.
But one important aspect his business hasn’t changed. Brown enjoys the satisfaction of finding the right home for his client. As a broker, his job is providing the information. “Helping people find a home is truly the best part of my job,” Brown said. “Buying a home is probably the most important financial decision in a person’s life. It’s also a scary one. The key is information. The better it is, then it’s more likely a better decision is made.”