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.”
Eventually, it was time to head out to Merrymeeting Bay, where six rivers (the Kennebec, Androscoggin, Eastern, Muddy, Cathance, and Abagadasset) come together to provide one of the most nutrient-rich water bodies in the world. It was, we’d guess, about a 10-minute drive from downtown, past many beautiful homes on the water or at least with water views.
At one time, Sharon explained to us, there were scores of shipyards along these various riverbanks, establishing Bath as “the City of Ships.” Today there’s just one — but it’s huge. That would be, of course, the famous Bath Iron Works, established in 1884 and currently building destroyers for the U.S. Navy.
Yes, Sharon was right. We absolutely loved the house the second we turned off Eagle Point Road onto its hot-top driveway and parked in front of the two-car (heated) garage. A stunning contemporary center-chimney timber-frame Cape with two high gabled wings, it’s sited amid tall pines. Patios and an enormous deck overlook the bay. With 2.3 acres and 400 feet of water frontage (including a sandy beach at low tide), as well as nearby access to a shared deepwater mooring area, it most definitely seemed to us like one of those properties that ordinarily sell for millions.
Two cats met us at the front door. The current owners, Dennis and Suzanne Tan, who built the home six years ago, have moved to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area for business and family reasons. The cats belong to a family who is currently leasing the house (away the day of our visit).
With 4,400 square feet divided among 10 rooms on three levels, the home features lots of glass with fabulous views of the bay, and big wooden timbers, joined by pegs rather than nails, throughout. The master bedroom and bath are on the third level over the garage; the main area of that floor contains two children’s bedrooms.
A fully equipped kitchen and separate adjoining dining room are on the second level. Next to the dining room is a gorgeous living room — Sharon calls it the “great room” — with a handsome fireplace and glass doors leading out to the spacious deck. A guest room, laundry room, and entry hall complete the floor.
On the first level is another guest room, plus a fully furnished in-law or guest apartment with one bedroom and bath, a nice kitchen, and doors leading out to a patio overlooking those wonderful water views. There’s a sprinkler system, and almost every room in the house is wired for every sort of high-tech device you can imagine.
The highlight of our visit, however, was our walk with Sharon down a beautifully landscaped pathway from the deck to the private, secluded beach and a nearby point of land with its granite bench, where you can enjoy the sunsets. Truly magical.
Soon after our visit, we phoned owner Dennis Tan. He said he felt bad that he’d had to put his dream house on the market, and that he missed walking down to the beach with his son. Often they’d see harbor seals, even bald eagles. On occasion they’d head out in the small motorboat he kept down there — once going as far as Boothbay Harbor. “It was wonderful to be on a lake-type setting, but with access to the ocean,” he recalled. “Maybe it was just too good to last.”
Well, before this new year of 2008 becomes old, someone else will be walking down that path for a morning swim. Not this month, though. The Kennebec is freezing-cold, and most of the area’s mooring buoys and floating docks have been hauled out. For now, it’d be best to just sit by the fire in that great room and gaze out through the pines at the bay. Of course, you could also be enjoying some hot, fresh gingerbread just out of the oven.
Thanks, Sharon, for all of your good real estate tips — particularly that one.
For details, contact Sharon Drake, 136 Front St., Bath, ME. 800-561-1005, 207-443-1005; sharondrake.com