Lifestyle

The Maine Thing


Maine's summer real estate market has dipped, but it still offers great luxury and beauty at a fraction of the price of the Hamptons

Want to own an historic mansion surrounded by acres of hills, lakes, and meadows? Looking for a bedroom with an ocean view? How about your own island?

Maine's luxury real estate market offers the kinds of amenities that cost millions more in Nantucket, Mass., or the Hamptons, N.Y., and aren't available most anywhere else. Maine isn't where the wealthy go to show off; it's where they find peace, beauty, and anonymity.

"I find that people that live here arrive in a G4 or Global Express [jet], and they go get the mail themselves in an old Nash [car]," said Story Litchfield, a Realtor with LandVest in Northeast Harbor. "It's not so much here about being flashy. It's about enjoying the area and the environment and the casual lifestyle."

Escaping the "Wolves" of Wall Street

Maine is generally popular with summertime residents, many of whom own first and second homes in Greenwich, Conn.; Aspen, Colo.; or Palm Beach, Fla., Litchfield said. The house in Maine is where they go between Memorial Day and Labor Day to hike, bike, sail, and escape stress. The name "Far from the Wolf," given to a 19th century shingle cottage in the small village of Winter Harbor (on the market for $9.6 million), says it all. The name refers to the "wolves" of Wall Street, Litchfield said.

Maine's luxury enclaves are spread out around the state. They include Mount Desert Island, home to the quiet beauty of Acadia National Park and Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast. Many high-end homes are also located in York and Kennebunkport along Maine's southern coast, which is known for sandy beaches, lighthouses, and restored bed-and-breakfasts.

Cape Elizabeth, one of the state's wealthiest enclaves, is located just south of Portland, Maine's largest and most cosmopolitan city. And in the midcoast region, wealthy buyers are attracted to towns such as Rockport and Camden, which also have thriving artistic communities as well as proximity to the wealthy summer colony on nearby Islesboro island.

A Bargain for Gothamites and Californians

But choices are limited for super-high-end buyers. Only 24 homes were listed for more than $3 million in 2007, said George Wheelwright, manager of Jaret & Cohn Real Estate in Camden. Wheelwright's listings include a $4.5 million house in Rockport with a 60-foot deepwater dock.

For buyers who earn their money in New York or California, Maine is a bargain, Wheelwright said. "You can't touch anything on the water in California that doesn't have a $5 million tag, so they find our values are low," Wheelwright said.

The luxury market in Maine has been flat of late, Wheelwright said. But not that many grand estates are sold even in the best of times, he added.

Litchfield said the luxury houses that come on the market are sometimes unusual. Take, for instance, the 19th century lighthouse on its own island, which she sold to an architect for $1.125 million a couple of years ago. The sale also included the keeper's home, built in 1876 with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. The property is located on Mark Island, not far from Ned Island.

The property is off the market, but interest from buyers remains strong. "I have a buyer who asked about the lighthouse just last week," Litchfield said. "He said, 'Has that guy gotten tired of it yet?'"

See the BusinessWeek.com slide show for a roundup of the most expensive homes on the market in Maine.

Gopal writes about real estate for BusinessWeek.com in New York .

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