Country Converts All Want a Piece of Falmouth, a Tiny Town on Maine's Coast

02/18/2021 | 01:16pm
David Banks

By Hannah Selinger

For Colleen Kavanagh, an entrepreneur, and her accountant husband, Matt Guida, the town of Falmouth, Me., is the perfect mix of city and country. The couple and their 2-year-old daughter relocated from Boston, Mass., in September to Ms. Kavanagh's home state to fulfill their lifelong dream of renovating a historic home. They recently purchased a five-bedroom, 5 1/2 -bathroom, 4,500-square-foot home for $830,000 in Falmouth. "We started looking around the Portland suburbs," Ms. Kavanagh said. "But in my heart, I knew where I wanted to be."

Where she wanted to be was a 32-square-mile town boasting rocky coastline, rural farmland, and, according to U.S. News & World Report, the No. 4 public school system in the state. Located about 5 miles from Portland, which is home to numerous James Beard Award-winning chef-led restaurants, Falmouth enjoys the duality of the rural Maine lifestyle and proximity to country clubs, Casco Bay, and the cultural offerings of the state's largest city.

Aided in part by the pandemic, Falmouth's market is hot and it has surpassed many of its neighbors. In the town, which has a population of just over 12,000, 77 single-family homes sold between July and October 2020, a 108% increase over the same period a year earlier, according to realtor.com data. Eight homes sold for more than $1 million. The average price per square foot is $233, up over 5% in 12 months. As of November 2020, the average listing price for a single-family home in Falmouth was $848,000, compared with $758,000 in 2017.

In the nearby town of Cumberland, which has a population of about 8,500 and where the price per square foot is $224, 34 single-family homes sold between July and October 2020, up 42% from 2019. However, only one sale exceeded $1 million. Freeport, roughly 14 miles to the north, also home to about 8,500 people, has a price per square foot of $231 and saw 32 single-family homes sold between July and October 2020, an increase of 45% over 2019, also with only one sale over $1 million.

Only Yarmouth, with about 8,500 residents, which neighbors Falmouth and enjoys a similarly rated school system (U.S. News & World Report ranks it third in the state), has a market as robust, with sales up 80% between the July to October 2020 period compared with the same period a year earlier. However, only 18 homes sold in that July to October 2020 period, none over $1 million.

Falmouth's desirability arrived at a moment when people are making decisions about how they want to live, said Michelle Libby, associate broker at Century 21. For urban refugees, Falmouth's blend of city access and suburban space makes it a good choice, she said.

Buyers are arriving to the area without a specific town in mind, but are making quick decisions based on the market's competitiveness, she said. "The houses are on and off the market so quickly," Ms. Libby said, that buyers "don't have a lot of time to choose."

For Ms. Kavanagh and Mr. Guida, proximity to Portland played a central role in their decision to purchase their 1912 carriage house, on which they have done $100,000 in renovations.

"We go into Portland for coffee in the morning during the week," Ms. Kavanagh said. The couple finds that they are able to take advantage of a city in ways that they were not able to do in their former Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. "It has that really distinctly small-town community feel, while also being less than 10 minutes from downtown Portland."

Other homeowners have fallen for Falmouth after a search of the area's competing towns. Mallika Malhotra, brand photographer and CEO of MikiFoto + Co, and her husband, Sunil Malhotra, a surgeon, purchased their $2.11 million home, which has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and two 1/2 bathrooms, in September 2019. Dr. Malhotra, who had accepted a position at Maine Medical, came to the area first. Mrs. Malhotra followed in March 2020 with the couple's three sons. "We came for a weekend and we never left," she said of arriving at the start of the pandemic. The couple's 4,500-square-foot home sits on 2 acres and was built in 2018.

The summer before purchasing in Falmouth, the couple rented in Yarmouth, where they searched for homes in neighboring communities. "We really fell in love with the Falmouth Foreside," Mrs. Malhotra said of the upscale waterfront neighborhood in Falmouth where she and her family ultimately settled. "I didn't want to live somewhere that felt really remote, coming from New Jersey, where everything is kind of at your fingertips." The Falmouth Foreside, she said, was just minutes away from downtown Portland, and some of the other communities they looked at didn't have as many options as Falmouth in general, like proximity to larger supermarkets, Starbucks and, notably, Portland's airport. She wanted "more hustle and bustle," she said, and ultimately only Falmouth fit the bill.

Beyond proximity to the city, Falmouth has features that have drawn buyers specifically during the pandemic, said David Banks, broker/owner of The David Banks Team, Re/Max By The Bay. The town's three country clubs provide golf, indoor and outdoor pools, and restaurants for members. In addition, "it's instant access to the open ocean," Mr. Banks said. "You're a five-minute boat ride to the different islands."

The town's proximity to the ocean was what made Falmouth Ms. Kavanagh's "Someday I'll live here" neighborhood, she said. "We feel like we're living a very different life here than we were a couple of months ago in Boston because of the space and the ocean," she said.

What to See in Falmouth

Mackworth Island

This 100-acre island is accessible to Falmouth by causeway and includes walking trails, unobstructed views of Casco Bay, and bird watching.

Falmouth Nature Preserve

A nature preserve with 10 acres of public land that can be used for hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, biking, and more.

Martin's Point Bridge

Connecting Falmouth with East Portland across the Presumpscot River, Martin's Point Bridge offers scenic walks and bike rides.

Museums on the Green

This museum is a collaborative group of historic homes and exhibits that is maintained by the Falmouth Historical Society. It includes the Cultural Center and the Dr. Francis Wicks House, a circa-1790 Federalist home that visitors can tour. The museums are currently closed to in-person visits due to the pandemic and the winter season, but virtual lectures and reference materials are available. The museums plan to reopen around Memorial Day.

Maine State Ballet

Normally, the ballet puts on about 40 performances a year at Falmouth's Lopez Theater, though they have been on hold since the pandemic started. The Ballet is, however, planning to reopen for performances later this year.

The Dockside Grill

A restaurant with a water view that focuses on modern New England fare, The Dockside Grill, which is closed until March due to Covid, is Falmouth's most upmarket option.

Town Landing Market

This market, on Falmouth's Town Landing Road, has been serving local goods to members of the community since the late 1800s.

Foreside Antiques

This 18-year-old antiques store sells everything from Oriental rugs to rare books.

Corrections & Amplifications

This article was corrected at 2:00 p.m. ET because Colleen Kavanagh's name was incorrectly spelled in the original version.

This article was corrected at 3:43 p.m. ET to reflect that Mallika Malhotra is CEO of MikiPhoto + Co. The original version incorrectly referred to her as co-CEO.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

02-18-21 1316ET

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