My husband and I have had a long string of, cough, “interesting” landlords and rental experiences over the past decade, but we had never thought seriously about home ownership until last fall. The rental market in Portland, Maine has been exploding, and is hovering around 2% vacancy. Also, our rent just kept going up by $100/month or more every single year. After a miscommunication with our current rental company made us upset, we decided that we needed to at least explore if buying a place would be feasible.
We determined with some extensive budget witchery, including selling some electronics and handmade goods, we would be able to scrape together a modest down payment, and still have a small buffer left over. We set our savings goal, altered our spending, and were off to the races!
Our Goal: We set out to find a cozy, three bedroom house in Portland (preferred) or South Portland, with a small but usable yard space. We both work in downtown Portland and do theater in the area, so low commute time is really important for our quality of life. We weren’t afraid of a cosmetic fixer-upper, but wanted a structurally sound house. We’re pretty creative and handy, so painting/pulling carpet/refinishing floors etc. wasn’t anything that would scare us away. Efficient heating was also high on the wish list — Maine winters can be tough!
Our Style: We both love all things old and all things character — moldings, built-ins, original details, and an overall cozy feel, with a nice living space layout. My mood is very affected by natural light, so we wanted ample windows. My husband is tall and gets claustrophobic, so high ceilings were also on the list. If we couldn’t find a house that had two bathrooms, we were hoping to find one with the space to add one.
House #1: The Flip
Who here loves HGTV's "House Hunters"? Let's play the Offbeat Canadian Home version with three houses for $150,000 or under." Which one will they choose!?
This house was located in South Portland, and we loved it as soon as we saw it. We never knew we liked Craftsman style homes with enclosed front porches until we started house hunting — but most of our favorites had the same architectural detail.
This house was being flipped, so a lot of the updating had already been done. The original woodwork had been refinished, there was a gorgeous stained glass window on the lovely staircase, and the living space was beautiful with tons of character. The cons to this house were that it was only a two bedroom/one bath, and that the kitchen was super tiny (and lacked any charm at all).
What we didn’t know until after we were planning to make an offer was that the lot for this house was split apart, and had already been sold — and the driveway was sold along with it! If we put in an offer, we’d have to pave our own driveway. Also, there’d be construction right next to us for the next year or so. Big factors to consider.
House #2: The “it’s prettier on the inside” house
What this house lacked in outside curb appeal, it more than made up for in inside beauty. And space. Oh, the space.
Located in South Portland, it had lovely hardwood floors throughout. It was freshly painted with an uber clean basement. It also boasted great attic space, and large bedrooms with large closets. The best part was the giant living room, complete with two stained glass windows looking out to the enclosed porch. We could imagine hosting Thanksgiving in the sun-filled dining room with the lovely built-in.
The major con with this house was that it was located on a very busy street. The sound of traffic was constant in the house, which was a big bummer. It also lacked any useable yard space, another big con. If it had been located in a better spot, it wouldn’t have been in our price range, so it was a trade-off.
House #3: The “pricey, love at first sight” house
When this house dropped within $25,000 of our max price range, we fell. in. love. Hard. I whined to my realtor (a close friend of ours) about it for weeks, hoping it’d come down into a feasible range for us.
It had essentially everything on our list — fantastic location in Portland on a dead-end street, right next to my favorite running trail along the water. Tons of natural light. Super efficient heating and hot water. Square, mostly fenced in back yard. A detached one car garage in nice condition. Lovely moldings and great curb appeal. There was even a (presently) useless office on the first floor that could be easily converted to a powder/laundry room.
The cons to this house were namely the price, and a whole boatload of deferred maintenance. There is asbestos in rough shape all throughout the basement. The roof is near the end of its usable life, and the house interior was badly in need of heavy-duty scrubbing and re-painting. It also only has one very cramped bathroom, and the layout of the kitchen and bathroom as-is don’t particularly make sense.
So which house did we choose?
The “pricey, love at first sight” house!
After stalking it for a few weeks, we noticed they were having an open house, and we decided to see if it was as great as we thought it was. It was. So we submitted our very best offer, knowing it was a full $25,000 less than their asking price. The offer was unfortunately refused, because the seller owed more than that amount on his mortgage. We stayed hung up on that house as we kept hunting, and our realtor kept in touch with the seller’s realtor (we referred to it as “our house, that he just hasn’t sold to us yet” for this time period.)
Two months after we made our offer, the seller came back and accepted it as written! He had to bring money to the table to sell it to us, but it all worked out in the end.
Now we’re on to the scrubbing, painting, and refinishing to make this house our new home.
Comments on Offbeat Home Hunters: The Maine character edition (or “other Portland” edition!)
I love pretty much all of these houses! We have the same taste 🙂
Note to OBH: These home-hunters posts are great. I want more!
I like ’em too! And we’ll keep running them as long as y’all keep submitting them: http://offbeathome.com/submissions
I, too, love these home-hunters posts! Keep them coming, people! 🙂
I’m so glad you got a house you love, and in a great location. At least now when you’re throwing money at your house, you know you really love it and it’s worth it! Good luck!
*waves a ‘congratulations!’ to her fellow Mainers*
This is so weird, but…I think we are neighbors-ish and you bought this from an old friend of mine, John. Cute house! Welcome to the neighborhood. Great article!
Pixie- you don’t happen to announce for MRD, do you? If so, I think we connected back in the day on the Offbeat Bride Tribe 🙂 Neat that we’re neighbors! I’m really looking forward to more neighborhood-type living after being smack in the middle of the city for the past decade.
I DO! 🙂 Or I did. Recently retired because I’m expecting, but still involved with the league as a volunteer. Aw, so glad that we could catch up–I loved being part of the Offbeat Bride tribe. I hope you have the best time in your new house-it’s a sweet little place. Perhaps I’ll see you walking the boulevard someday. Cheers!
Love the house you picked, and good luck getting it to where you’d like it! I will add my voice to the others who love this series 🙂 It makes me wish we had taken more photos during our house hunt so we’d have something to submit!
I’m from the “Other Maine” (specifically Washington County) and it’s interesting to me how different the markets are. In almost all of the rest of Maine (i.e. everything north and east of Cumberland County, where we refer to Portland as “North Boston”…;)) you can find huge, beautiful properties on a ton of land for next to nothing. The trade-off, of course, is limited access to resources, internet, and jobs. Random observation, I just found it interesting.
Also from another Maine. We just bought a house on TEN ACRES (*happy dance*) in Brunswick. We’re right on the line into yuppieville….not quite Portland, not quite rural. Our property is surrounded by agricultural preserve land that borders the suburbs. So…we have open rolling fields with cows, yet five minutes to the nearest Hannaford and other amenities (public library! Train to Boston! Quaint downtown! Schools! Fristy’s donuts!). So yeah, we’re right on the edge of that North Boston zone. But TEN ACRES!
That’s so awesome! Congratulations! Sounds like you have the perfect balance between the two Maines 🙂 We live in Vermont now because Maine was a black hole in terms of jobs for us (plus the distance from family is nice) but I have always loved Brunswick. 🙂
Wow it’s beautiful!!! Congratulations!! What an amazing place to make your home.
(we referred to it as “our house, that he just hasn’t sold to us yet” for this time period.)
My wife and I are in that situation with our first home purchase right now! We’re waiting on the seller’s bank to approve the short sale. Yesterday I went over to “the new place” and picked up some trash in the front yard, talked to the neighbors, and took measurements for our garden plan. It might be overstepping juuuuust a bit… but we’re the only offer in, the seller wants to sell to us, no one lives there now, and we’ve had a damn offer in since January! I am impatient.
Oh man, I’m sending “get the house” vibes your way! I would be going bananas (then again, I am about the least patient person on earth.) I had a hard time waiting the 6 weeks between agreeing to buy the house and being able to get in there and start working! We’re moving in this Saturday- it’s a totally different place with just 3 weeks of work.
Thanks! It has been so hard to wait (and there were some extenuating circumstances, so I know not ALL short sales take this long). When we finally get acceptance of the offer, we have to do inspections before closing. I know we are going to need to do some repairs/light remodeling before we can move in. (Our home loan rolls the construction costs in with the costs of the purchase, if the work is done within 60 days of closing.) I hope the inspections won’t uncover anything major. And THEN, after the move, we can get started with the garden (base landscaping, sheet mulching, raised beds).
Since January?! You’re not impatient! We’ve had an offer in on a short sale for 2 weeks and I’m biting my nails to the beds. The seller has accepted, and now the bank needs to agree. Good luck, summer would be a great time for all of us to move in! Here’s to short sale solidarity!
This is my favourite OBB house hunters yet!
Yay Mainers! I did this about 2 years ago too, ended up with a fixer upper with a big yard in SoPo. Fantastic neighbors, giant gardens (and oodles of wallpaper, urine soaked mattresses left behind, and everything leaks) and we are so happy. Being this close to downtown is a dream. Welcome to homeownership! And yay, Portland(ish)!
I would LOVE to see a follow-up article in a year or so showing the updates to the property. Such a cute house: congrats!
To add to this, I would love to see one year later updates from all our Home Hunters so far! It’ll tide me over until husband and I can become our own Offbeat Home Hunters!
Love it! Thanks so much for sharing!
Another Mainer here! Our house hunting experience was much more drawn out because we wanted LAND, but had a limited budget AND we had to live (because of his job) in a select few towns that were all on the coast. We literally looked at over 100 houses before FINALLY buying on in Brunswick that we only found by some miraculous coincidence just before it was listed, so we were able to offer and get under contract before anyone else saw it. Phew!
Anyway, congrats on finding the perfect home! Portland is a fine place…for a city. 😉
I cannot even handle the rentals in this area anymore! we are in the same boat. the apartment we lived in when we first moved to Portland is now $500 more a month than when we lived there! so, theyre getting $1500 a month for a two bedroom. it is in the West End, so its a nice area, but still. outrageous. we are now renting a small apartment in Cape Elizabeth, complete with obnoxious, noisy neighbors. but we pay significantly less than in town. but they raise our rent every year, and new tenants are paying $200 more a month than we are. we are hoping to find a house or some land soon, because renting in Portland is basically just like throwing your money away with nothing to show for it at this point!
During our search, we saw 2 bedrooms with a washer/dryer and dishwasher renting for upwards of $1,800 a month- it’s genuinely crazy! We definitely lucked out that things worked out. I wish you luck with your search, now is the time to make it happen if you can. 🙂
To those of you who are still looking for a dream house in Maine, rural and private, our lovely modern 3 bed, 2 bath log cabin is available! 34 acres, one square mile of land, all yours. Ready to move in, good for anything you want to do…homestead, farm, homeschool (even tho there is an elementary school just a couple of miles away), be a compassionate grower, have farm animals (we had close to 100 free range chickens and sold eggs and lots of ducks too), or just chill and watch the seasons from our new sunroom with 5 foot windows all around and 4 skylights and Jotul woodstove, furnished and with a man cave in the basement including furniture, pool table and surround sound entertainment system, all new kitchen with EER appliances and heated floor…we are including a Rhino UTV with winch, a John Deere riding mower and many other extras. You can check it out on Craigslist, Uncle Henry’s and Zillow, pics and more description. If you are looking for the Maine dream, this is the place to find it. We are only selling due to husband’s health issues, we need to be close to family, otherwise we planned to stay here until the day we died, but it’s too much for one middle aged woman. This is a real heartbreaker for us, and we would love to see someone, a nice young family maybe, come in and love this as much as we do. YOU CAN HAVE THE MAINE DREAM COME TRUE, we have no realtors involved and are willing to hold SOME paper as well. If you wanted to rent this, it would probably be upwards of $2500 at the very least. But a mortgage would be much less, especially with a first time buyer and many other incentives being offered by local banks. You could basically bring your toothbrush, we are leaving it mostly furnished, and our stuff is not junk, it is quality, just too heavy for warmer climes. Huge full fireplace in living room too, and a few cords of wood already cut, with several years at least of wood to cut yourself right out the back door. Take a look at it, more pics available if you need. This is truly the dream, we have been here for almost 2 decades, and trust me, if you want this dream, this is the place. Only 15 minutes to Penobscot Bay and Belfast and scenic Route 1, all the state parks, lakes, hiking, central to everything…but when you come “home,” you are quiet, the views are outstanding, and watch the seasons change leaf by leaf, snowflake by snowflake…I have counted over 60 species of birds at my feeders, and assorted, well, furry wild things as well. Very quiet and if you sit on the wraparound deck after dark, you can actually watch the constellations change as the Earth rotates and catch a falling star…during meteor showers, you will feel like you need to duck or catch them in your hands. Northern lights at times also. I only write this not as a sales pitch, but to let you all know there are dream properties available in Maine in small rural towns you have never heard of or would never think to look. Sometimes the best places are those on the outskirts, in tiny villages that really have nothing other than nice people and beautifully groomed properties where folks take pride in their land. Yes, there are a lot of older farmhouses as well, but why not invest in something that is move in ready, you can expand all you want, there are really no building codes here other than electric and plumbing, you can build away all you want. Certainly with a square mile of land, you could even build another home or two and sell/rent. If only you could see it in person, you would fall in love. Ideal for a family, kids can rocket down the hills in winter or summer. Wild blackberries and raspberries all over, stream, etc. So if you want a Maine dream, want to explore this great state, this is a fabulous central location, the rural town of Monroe, POP appx 850, wow!!! At night, you can hear the coyotes, owls, and all the things that go bump in the night, we have enjoyed many nights sleeping out on the screened porch and just listening…amazing. So don’t forget about the small towns in Maine, and not just us, but many others. Sometimes being a few miles outside of the busier places can really be quite magical. Maine is a wonderful state, and you can spend a lifetime exploring it, and have a central home to come back to. Guaranteed, you will never, ever see the entire state and all of its variations. But do check out my post for Monroe, Maine on CL, Zillow and Uncle’s, and just see a portion of the tiny piece of the state we call ours. I will be posting more pics soon as well. The best part of it is, we have a lovely “neighborhood” if you want to call it that, no one is on top of anyone, and you are very private, but if you need something, just pick up the phone or knock on a door, they will be right over to give you a hand for nothing (of course you will do something in return at some point just because…). Wonderful people, we have the best area in the whole town I believe. New folks moving in soon too, a group of young farmers who are going to grow wine grapes on an old dairy farm, lots of organic farmers, this is an area which will never develop into a “city,” but a lot of people coming in with new ideas. Had a neighbor who grew hops for a few years, and sold them to local microbreweries you may have heard of. The land is for the most part pure, and most have no problem getting certified organic. Altho I was not born in Maine, I have come to love it as if I were, and will miss it tremendously, would love to see someone who appreciates the true beauty of it, and cry like I do when the first snowflake falls. If you love nature, you will love Maine, whether it is our place or another, great place to raise children, so much to do and see, you will never get bored, ever. For the other writers and readers here, you have not really experienced America until you have at least visited Maine, when you see the foothills ablaze with color in the fall, the lupines in June, and guaranteed a white Christmas…you just haven’t seen anything.