How a modest home on the York River became a $3 million property

YORK, Maine — On the York River near the harbor entrance sits a three-bedroom home. While its exterior may look modest, according to the family selling it, it is listed for nearly $3 million.

The house at 18 Simpson Lane was once the family home of the late Dan Donnell, who died at 105 years old this year. He was a storied figure in York Harbor, as well as a Boston Post cane holder.

Donnell’s son Mike said he was not sure what the home cost when his dad bought it in 1962. Today, it’s on the market for $2,998,888.

A rare waterfront home at 18 Simpson Lane in York Harbor is on the market for $2,998,888.

The price has much to do with its dock access and a 270-degree view of the York River and the Atlantic Ocean, according to Realtor Troy Williams. He said there are only a small handful of properties in town with that access to the ocean. The home has deep-water access to safely dock a vessel on the river.

“You have your yacht parked right in front of your house on your own property,” Williams said. “No matter the tide, high, low, you can get to the open ocean in no time. To say there are so few of those properties is an understatement.”

The water front property at 18 Simpson Lane is on the market for through Troy Williams Real Estate for $2,998,888.

Williams said the price of the home is also in part the result of continued demand for living in Maine that began with the COVID-19 pandemic. New construction has slowed since the 2008 housing crisis, he said. When an influx of people came looking for homes in 2020, he said the market was poised to see prices skyrocket.

Also, near York Harbor is the Knollwood estate built in 1907 at 610 York St., priced at $1,498,000. Williams likened the home to the Bush family’s Walker’s Point Estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s hidden down a landscaped circular drive behind a grand stone wall and offers five bedrooms and four bathrooms, plus a short walk to Harbor Beach.

“That attracts people who enjoy, not just a project, but like a legacy-type asset,” Williams said. “A family retreat.”

Realtor Troy Williams shows off the property at 610 York Street which has a lot of history. The former bed and breakfast once called ''Knollwood'' is on the market for $1,498,000.

Elsewhere in York, Williams said the most expensive sale on the Nubble peninsula recently closed for $5.25 million, up from its sale in 2020 for $2.9 million. In Kennebunkport, he sold a home in 2020 for $3.3 million that was sold again in March 2022 for $4.2 million.

“It kind of caught up with us,” Williams said. “We saw the bomb ticking, but COVID just then took prices off the charts.”

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Home prices hit new highs, driven by tighter supply

Real estate data from the Maine Association of Realtors shows fewer homes are on the market while prices have continued to rise. In July last year, there were 1,691 homes sold in Maine. The number sold in July 2023 was 1,337, down by 20.93%.

Meanwhile, the median sales price in the state rose from $354,000 to $380,000. In York County, the median sales price went from $460,000 to $485,500 with the number of homes sold dropping by 22.19%.

“There are still plenty of buyers seeking homes across Maine,” said Carmen McPhail, 2023 president of the Maine Association of Realtors, in August. “They are facing a sustained tight supply of for-sale inventory.”

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Similar trends are being seen across the country. The National Association of Realtors reported a dip in sales of 16.3% in the past year while the national median sales price rose 1.6% in July compared to last year to $412,300.

Realtor Tracy Jackson McCarty said the market has led to buyers taking as long as two to three years to find their next home. She frequently goes with clients to see different properties where the competition is fierce.

“We go from open house to open house every weekend,” McCarty said. “Only one person’s going to get the house.”

The high prices are coupled with high-interest rates that were raised by the Federal Reserve to around 7-8% to address inflation. Williams said more buyers are using cash to pay for their real estate purchases as a result.

Williams said the dip in sales has resulted in a “recession” for the housing industry. He said Realtors, lenders, mortgage brokers, bankers, title companies and other professionals who rely on closings are getting less work.

“There are crickets,” William said. “Lenders went from not having enough people, title companies not having enough people, to now, just, they had to go bare-bones and lay off a ton of people.”

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Real estate agent: Increasing housing supply will lower prices

Williams said new construction is how the market will shift back to more affordable prices. He said many are taking those matters into their own hands and have resorted to buying land to build themselves.

In York, he said zoning for construction can be restrictive and the land expensive. That means people are saving money by moving to towns further into York County. The Berwicks, for example, are seeing “tremendous growth,” he said.

Williams said a home in one of those towns could cost approximately $600,000. Buying an empty lot there would cost about $150,000, he said, with an average house costing $450,000 to build.

“It’s putting people further out … to Lebanon, to Sanford, to towns where, you know, in the past, people wouldn’t really consider going,” Williams said. “Now it’s the only option that they really have.”

Knollwood estate, built in 1907, at 610 York St. is on the market for $1,498,000.

With the current conditions, Williams doubts the prices will come back to where they were before the pandemic. He said he believed this at the end of 2020 when he told agents in his firm that the market was working with “a new bottom” for pricing.

“I don’t think we’ll see too much regression, prices coming down,” Williams said. “The demand is so out of whack.”

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Donnell property a rare opportunity for buyer

For the late Dan Donnell, 18 Simpson Lane was a means of working and living on the water. He bought the building in 1962, his family also owning other property nearby. Donnell, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II, used the building for Cap’n Dan’s Restaurant started by his wife Georgiana. The restaurant was razed eventually, according to Mike Donell, at which point the Donnells moved in to live there.

“I would say that the house itself is a modest house,” Mike Donnell said. “I think somebody that eventually ends up with the property could in fact put a mansion there.”

Those who knew Dan Donnell say his life was intertwined with the history of York Harbor for his care of the docks and his generosity to those who visited. His son knows whoever gets the property will have pockets as deep as the river where its dock sits.

“I hope whoever gets it does something worthwhile with it,” Mike Donnell said. “That’s all you can hope for.”

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