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March 9, 2018

Waterville's hot single-family home market isn't cooling down

Photo / Maureen Milliken Single-family home sales were up 29.27% in 2017, part of the city's ongoing revitalization, but the city needs to add new construction to its aging housing stock, a local Realtor says.

Maine’s hottest 2017 market for home sales is continuing to stay hot in what’s traditionally a bad time of year to sell a home.

Waterville home sales jumped 30% in 2017, according to the Maine Listing Service: 159 single-family homes were sold in the city in 2017 as opposed to 123 in 2016.

Don Plourde, owner of Coldwell Banker Plourde Real Estate in Waterville, said the city’s market is still percolating.

Of the 40 homes his agency has listed since Jan. 1, half are either pending or sold, he said on Thursday.

“A lot of it has to do with what’s going on downtown,” he said.

But Plourde said the improving economy is also helping. The last time he saw the market this positive for sellers was 2006, before the recession hit.

“We’re having a very strong winter,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it like this and I’ve been doing this for 34 years.”

The sales price in Waterville also increased in 2017, with the average home selling for $111,500, up $10,000 from 2016’s $101,50

Maine Life Real Estate, which crunches the Maine listing numbers for an annual list of hottest cities and towns in the state, said Waterville wasn’t in its top 20 in 2016.

“Nestled on the banks of the heroic and historic Kennebec River, Waterville is undergoing a downtown renaissance with new hotels, galleries and restaurants coming in,” wrote Rob Edgerly in the Maine Life Real Estate blog. “Home to Colby College and Thomas College and an international film festival, Waterville is a regional cultural center, led by Colby College, home to the largest college art museum in America.”

The 'Colby College effect'

Plourde said Thursday that Colby College’s activity downtown is a big part of what’s spurring the Waterville surge.

The college is building a 150,000-square-foot dorm with ground-floor retail space on Main Street downtown, recently renovated a mixed retail/office building across the street, is building a boutique hotel at the other end of Main Street and announced last week that it is collaborating with arts organization Waterville Creates! to renovate The Center building at 93 Main St., on Castonguay Square, into an arts hub. It also owns a block of four buildings across Main Street from the hotel site that will be renovated.

Plourde said the fact that Colby is encouraging employees to live in Waterville has resulted in home sales.

The college has added 100 positions over the last couple of years, Brian Clark, vice president of planning, said on Thursday.

He said college faculty coming from urban areas, like Cambridge, Mass., are looking for a lifestyle that includes a downtown they can walk to.

“And we’re encouraging [faculty, staff and students] to be part of the community, living in Waterville and engaged in the community,” he said, citing as examples faculty serving on local boards and nonprofits.

Part of the college’s goal with its downtown development efforts is to bring 1,000 jobs to the community in the coming years.

CGI, which will move into Colby’s 173 Main St. building in the coming weeks from the Hathaway Creative Center, plans to have 200 employees within five years. Portland Pie Co., which signed a 10-year lease for ground floor space in the building plans to employee 50; the college’s planned hotel is expected to employ 45.

“And that’s going to impact that housing market,” Clark said.

According to the U.S. Census, the city’s population has grown from 15,722 in 2010 to 16,406.

“The population is starting to grow,” Clark said. “People are choosing [to live] in Waterville.”

Build them, they'll sell

Last year was the best statewide for residential sales in the 20 years the Maine Association of Realtors has been tracking data, the organization said in January. Sales statewide were up 0.72% over 2016.

Waterville’s increase was more than double that of the second-hottest market, Bridgton, which had a 14.29% increase from 2016 to 2017, from 140 to 160 homes sold.

With the number of listings being down 30%, Plourde said the Waterville area needs more housing stock, as well as more homes on the market.

“It’s a seller’s market,” he said. “There’s less to pick from. A lot of people have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the economy to improve [before they list].”

According to the 2010 census, Waterville has 3,031 single family homes, half of which were built before 1940. There has been little new construction since then, Plourde said.

“There are new households every day. People get married, they move to the area,” Plourde said. “Contractors need to be building some spec houses — they’ll sell them.”

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Colby College: Downtown Waterville investment 'already paying off'

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