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Affording Maine: Cumberland County

Can a median salary pay for a median Cumberland County home?

PORTLAND, Maine — The second part of our Affording Maine series swings us south.

Once again, we're going to approach this step by step with a local realtor.

We've spent a lot of time talking about home affordability in greater Portland - but is the math consistent further afield in places like Gorham and Westbrook?  

Cumberland County is Maine's most populated county and is home to the state's most populous city, Portland.

Portland is often touted as Maine's economic center and has an affordable housing crisis that NEWS CENTER Maine has reported on extensively in the past. 

But are luxury apartments renting for $1,600 a month really representative of Cumberland County as a whole? 

Tina Lucas, a Realtor with 34 years of experience who co-owns Portland-based Lucas real estate doesn't think so. 

"We're talking so much about all the development on the Peninsula which are very high-end condos overall, very pricy and that has made people think prices in Maine have gone up," said Lucas. "They have, but not to the degree that I think that particular segment of the market demonstrates." 

Lucas is also a native Portlander and says the city's transformation has stunned her. 

"What's shocking to me is what's happened on the East End," she said. "When I was growing up it was a very different neighborhood -- a neighborhood where you weren't going to spend time walking around in the dark, where your parents dropped you off if you had a friend you went to school with there and they picked you up at the door. Now it's changed so much and so much for the better."

That said, better, at least in Portland's case and to some degree, Cumberland County's is synonymous with another word, pricier.

"We definitely have seen an increase on median home price," said Lucas." 

For our affordability assessment, we are returning to data from the Maine Housing Authority.

It says the median home price for Cumberland County is $282,000.

That means you need to make $81,616 dollars annually to afford a home at that price with a 30-year mortgage, taxes, and insurance using no more than 28% of gross income. 

By that measure, Cumberland County is unaffordable and out of reach by about $15,000. 

However, if other variables, like your lender, your credit, your downpayment are in your favor or if you're willing to invest in fixing up a home, Lucas says you can make a home priced for a first-time buyer, $300,000 or less, more affordable.

"Most lenders are going to look at 45 to 46 percent income to debt ratio," she said.

"So if you're looking at a $300,000 mortgage at 4.75 percent interest rate for 30 years that's around $1500 dollars a month and you're still in the ballpark of $2000 making it really affordable especially if buyers have money in their pockets or if they want to make improvements then that makes it really affordable." 

Lucas also says a big obstacle, sometimes moreso than affordability in Cumberland County, is what kind of offer you're making on a home.

In 2018 there were multiple offers were made on many affordable homes and cash offers often won out. 

This year Lucas expects there will be fewer of those types of situations because buyers are tired of that happening and that will allow inventory to accumulate directing the market in favor of the buyer. 

On Wednesday, NEWS CENTER Maine will release Part Three of Affording Maine which will examine York County. 

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