Greater Portland stands apart from most metro areas in the United States in that the majority of buyer interest in available homes is coming from outside the state.
According to Realtor.com, the nation’s largest public website for real estate listings, about 52 percent of all recent page views for Portland-area home listings on its website came from people outside of Maine. Aside from Portland, only five U.S. metro areas had the majority of their home listings page views coming from out-of-state residents, the website said.
Many big-city dwellers, particularly millennials, are looking for more affordable areas with stable economies and appealing lifestyles in which to settle down and raise their families, according to the website’s top economist. He said Portland is a perfect example of the sort of place many young urbanites dream of.
“For Portland in particular, (out-of-state interest) is really driven by a lot of younger, more entrepreneurially minded professionals,” said Realtor.com Senior Economist George Ratiu. “More importantly, it’s younger people and millennials that are already in the family stage.”
Portland had the sixth-highest share of out-of-state interest in home listings among all U.S. metro areas in the second quarter of the year, Realtor.com reported. The national leader was Charleston, South Carolina, at nearly 60 percent; followed by Boise, Idaho; Honolulu; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida, and Columbia, South Carolina.
Married couple Rob and Wendy Pereira moved to Portland from California in 2017 after seeing Silicon Valley, where they were both born and raised, grow from a sleepy rural area dominated by orchards to the congested, manic metropolis it is today.
“There are just so many people, and everything is a rush to get to, and then when you get there you’re waiting in long lines, and we had just gotten to the point in our lives where we wanted something a little more mellow, a little more laid-back,” he said.
Rob Pereira, who works in information technology, and Wendy Pereira, a nurse, jumped at the opportunity when his employer, San Francisco-based private health care IT firm Grand Rounds Inc., expanded into Maine. They were able to buy a home in Portland – something they couldn’t afford to do in California – and they now enjoy shorter commutes, friendlier neighbors and a more enjoyable lifestyle.
“We were just done with the crazy rat race of the Bay Area,” Rob Pereira said.
Ed McKersie, advisory board chairman of workforce development group Live and Work in Maine, said the Realtor.com findings demonstrate the effectiveness of efforts by organizations such as his to attract young professionals to Maine.
McKersie said a large portion of Portland’s out-of-state home shoppers are undoubtedly what his organization refers to as “boomerangers.” Generally, a boomeranger is someone who grew up in Maine, moved away to attend college or take a job and now wants to return to Maine.
Others may be out-of-state residents with some connection to Maine, he said. Perhaps they attended college in the state or vacationed in Maine as a child.
“They’re people that maybe lived in Maine, or maybe they haven’t lived in Maine, but they’re coming back,” McKersie said. “That’s one of our target markets, people that are maybe five or 10 years out of college, and they’ve got the family in tow and they’re saying, ‘What am I doing here in Connecticut?’ or whatever.”
According to Realtor.com, nearly 35 percent of all page views for Portland-area home listings in the second quarter came from the Boston metro area, about 12 percent from the New York metro area, and another 17 percent from other out-of-state metros including Hartford, Connecticut; Manchester, New Hampshire; Providence, Rhode Island, and Philadelphia.
Boston-area residents were second in numbers only to local residents of the Portland area when it came to viewing Portland-area home listings, the website said. About 40 percent of all page views of Portland-area home listings on Realtor.com in the second quarter came from Portland-area residents.
Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Quincy Hentzel said it makes sense that so many residents of the Boston and New York areas are looking to Portland as a more affordable area to live and raise a family.
“Outside of Portland having a lower cost of living than larger metro areas, the area also provides an attractive lifestyle where you can be on the beach, in the mountains or on a hiking trail in less than an hour – and in some cases in five minutes,” Hentzel said. “Having access to those types of outdoor activities is much more difficult to find in other areas of the country.”
Hentzel credited initiatives such as Live and Work in Maine for helping to get the word out about the Portland area as an appealing alternative to the big-city grind.
“I am introduced to people constantly who are recent transplants to Maine or have moved back home and are either actively looking for work or are working remotely for an out-of-state company and looking to get connected in the community,” she said. “We still desperately need more people to help grow and sustain our workforce, but these are trends I like to see.”
CLICKS AND CLOSINGS
Page views for home listings do not translate directly to home sales, but 2018 sales figures from the Maine Association of Realtors suggest a strong correlation.
In 2018, about 25 percent of all Maine homes sold that year were purchased by out-of-state buyers, with Massachusetts residents representing the largest group by far, according to the association. About 7 percent of Maine homes sold in 2018 were purchased by Massachusetts residents, 4 percent by New Hampshire residents, 3 percent by Florida residents and 1 percent by New York residents, it said. The other 10 percent were purchased by residents of a variety of other states and foreign countries, it said.
The association was unable to provide 2018 data on the states of origin for buyers of homes in specific Maine cities or counties. Its president, Peter Harrington, broker and partner with Malone Commercial Brokers in Portland, said the Portland area has received broader exposure in recent years because of its reputation as a top destination for food, culture and entertainment.
“We are definitely seeing a trend where there’s more out-of-state buyers buying in Portland,” Harrington said. “The food scene here is one of the main drivers of that … the number of tourists who come through here, the number of cruise ship people who come through here, they see what kind a great town it is.”
Ratiu, the Realtor.com economist, said out-of-state interest in Portland-area homes has remained relatively constant over at least the past 2½ years, when the website began tracking online hits to its home listings by viewer location. He said there are a number of factors that are common among metro areas with high out-of-state interest.
Often they are close to a larger metropolitan area outside the state, as is true of Portland, Ratiu said. The Boston metropolitan area has a total population of about 4.6 million, dwarfing the Portland area’s population of roughly 532,000, which includes all of Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties.
Another factor is affordability, Ratiu said. While some Mainers may complain about the rising cost of living in Portland, its homes are still about half the price of those in Boston. According to online real estate database company Zillow Group Inc., the median price for a home in the Boston area is $592,000, compared with $310,000 in the Portland area.
Other attractive traits of Portland include its booming local economy and low unemployment rate, Ratiu said.
“A lot of buyers, and particularly younger buyers, we’re finding, are looking for what I would term the golden combination of a solid economy, and one that’s well-diversified,” he said. “Portland displays a lot of entrepreneurial activity, so for younger professionals it has been an attractive area, and just as importantly, it provides two other things: natural attractions in terms of outdoor activities and lifestyle choices, combined with affordability.”
Jenny Kordick, executive director of trade organization Maine Outdoor Brands, moved in 2017 from Washington, D.C., to Portland, where she and her fiancé purchased a home on Peaks Island. Kordick said the top motivating factor was the chance to be closer to outdoor recreation.
“We are into hiking and kayaking and skiing, and (Portland) had all those elements but also had the things we liked about the city, (such as) being close to really good restaurants,” Kordick said. “Having a smaller-town community feel, as well, was important to me because I’m originally from rural Iowa.”
The couple’s work-life balance has improved tremendously since moving to Portland, she said. Kordick believes the area has tremendous growth potential because of all the benefits it offers.
“I think the future is really bright, and I’m excited to be a part of that,” she said.
McKersie, the Maine workforce growth advocate, said he understands that not all Portland residents are happy about the area’s recent growth and development boom. The increased homebuyer interest has led to a housing shortage, increases in median home prices and residential lease rates, as well as longer commutes and fewer parking options for some residents.
However, McKersie said those issues are a natural consequence of growth and will ease over time as supply eventually catches up with demand.
“Attracting a lot of people here, if they want to move, that happens really quickly,” he said. “Addressing the housing issue takes a little bit longer. These things almost need to get to a pain level before they get addressed.”