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House For Sale: Bath, Maine

House For Sale: Bath, Maine
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It wasn’t hard to find Sharon Drake’s real estate office on Front Street in downtown Bath. Everyone in the convenience store where we stopped to ask directions knew her — customers as well as those behind the counter.

Not surprising when you consider that she’s been selling homes in the area for more than 30 years and heads up a business employing 10 people — including a son, a daughter, a cousin, and even her husband, Ted, a retired physician.

“All these folks work for you?” we asked after she’d introduced us around her office (a remodeled boxing arena — and, at an earlier time, a house of ill repute) and we’d settled ourselves at her desk with a cup of hot coffee. We wanted to ask her a few questions about buying and selling real estate these days, before visiting a home on Merrymeeting Bay that she’d promised we’d absolutely love.

“They all work with me,” she answered firmly. Sharon’s success over the years has been due in no small part to her attention to detail and, as we realized at that moment, her choice of words, too.

We started by asking what she felt was the most important thing a person should consider before buying a home. “The community,” she answered without a second’s hesitation. “People should choose their community first, their house second.” She said that before showing prospective buyers any homes, she tours them around Bath and often the other towns that make up the Bath “community,” too — the neighboring towns of Phippsburg, Woolwich, Arrowsic, and Georgetown.

“What about Brunswick?” we wondered. After all, it’s right next door. Well, no. Turns out that Bath residents consider Brunswick, a college town (home to Bowdoin), to be part of an entirely different community.

Along the way, Sharon points out that Bath is the sort of town that still has, for instance, a trolley, a city clock, its own bank, and even an ice cream truck. Of course, she mentions that Bath rates high on the list in Norman Crampton’s book, The 100 Best Small Towns in America, and that the National Trust for Historic Preservation included Bath in its roster of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” for 2005.

Naturally, Sharon’s tour includes the Maine Maritime Museum, the new YMCA, Popham Beach (where the English established a temporary colony 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth), Reid State Park, and Patten Free Library, with its large new addition for children. “You can judge a community,” she’ll say, “by how it treats its children.”

Sharon often conducts her tours by boat — her boat, a 21-foot Seaswirl, which she keeps at her house on the Kennebec River. “And there’s nothing like viewing waterfront property from the water,” she smiled.

Well, okay — community first. but what else should a buyer be concerned about?

“First, have a wish list,” Sharon replied. “Second, be prepared to compromise on your wish list. Third, be brutally honest with me — ‘I hate this, I love that’ — because expressing strong opinions not only helps me but also makes you think about what you really want. Fourth, dress comfortably. High heels on Maine’s rocky shoreline or on my boat, well … Fifth, always hire a good building inspector.”

Any advice for sellers? “First, arriving at the proper price is critical,” noted Sharon. “For instance, the home on Merrymeeting Bay I’m going to show you really ought to be two million. But because of the real estate market today — despite amenities including five bedrooms and four baths — we’re offering it for only $899,000.

“Second, be ready to show your house at all times. Third, be courteous in refusing a low offer. For instance, don’t say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ A better response would be: ‘We appreciate and thank you for your offer, but unfortunately we can’t accept it at this time. But would you consider …?’

“Finally, when prospective buyers come to inspect your house, serve them some hot gingerbread right out of the oven. Brings the blood sugar up, and most important, they stay longer.”

Updated Friday, December 21st, 2007
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