A Place to Call Your Own?
Getting Started Horace Greeley's advice for young people to "Go West" is just as good today as it was in the 19th-century. Winner Judy Nesset, president of Blackwood Properties in Nashua lives and works in the Gate City, but her heart and about a dozen of her properties are in Claremont. "I think the Claremont of today is the Nashua of 25 years ago," says Nesset, suggesting young professional singles and couples looking to buy their first home should check out the little (population 14,500) city in western New Hampshire on the Connecticut River. It is just half an hour from Lebanon and Hanover, where real estate prices are much higher. It is a mere half-hour from I-89 exit 12, Mount Sunapee and a lot of other interesting places. "Did you know there are 15 ski slopes within a 30 minute drive of Claremont?" she asks. Claremont is coming back from its long economic slump. Both large retail outlets and manufacturing companies have settled there and abandoned mill properties are being turned into condominiums, restaurants and inns. And for a community that is widely known as the lead litigator in the still unresolved education funding suit against the state, Claremont's schools seem to be doing just fine, thank you. "All the education programs, I never heard of so much going on," says Nesset. "Everything from dental wellness to advanced education programs they've created for students." And there is natural as well as man-made beauty to behold in and around Claremont. "You get great views of Mount Ascutney, and there is so much beautiful architecture," says Nesset. And while real estate values in Nashua have declined by six percent in the past year, they have increased by the same amount in Claremont. The average single family home costs a little more than $165,000, Nesset says, while a good solid and attractive structure can be had for $90,000. A fix-up project might be available for $65,000. And, of course, there are homes available at the high end of the price scale as well. "If you were willing to pay half a million, you could get a 5,000 square-foot Victorian with an attached garage, a butler's pantry and woodwork you'd just die for." So whether you are looking for a nice place to live or a smart place to invest in real estate, you can't go far wrong in Claremont, says Nesset. It's kind of a no-brainer "when you've got a community where the real estate prices are so much lower than other communities." Runners Up What a difference a year makes. "Twelve to 18 months ago if someone gave a call who was looking for something under $200,000, there was nothing, says Mike Auger of Auger Realty in Manchester. "Now we have dozens of properties for them." New Hampshire's two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua, continue to attract newcomers who enjoy a style of life that enables them to be sufficiently removed from the hustle and bustle of Boston, though it's still a short car ride away. It's a one-day trip to New York or Montreal. For longer trips, the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is right here. Both cities are experiencing something of a renaissance, with nice developments in entertainment, new restaurants and sports events," says Auger. And the employment picture in southern New Hampshire is still favorable to job seekers. For those who are interested in moving here, it is the best residential buyer's market in years. We now have starter homes priced between $150,000 and $200,000," says Auger. In fact, a recent check of single-family homes available for less than $200,000 showed 99 in Manchester and 32 in Nashua. Those looking for condos for $150,000 or less had 82 to choose from in Manchester and 32 in Nashua. And those are the asking prices in what remains a strong buyer's market, Auger points out. With low interest rates, a good inventory to choose from and highly motivated sellers, single people or couples looking for a starter home may find it's a good time to acquire what may be turn out to be a profitable long-term investment as well as a good place to live. "The real pros are buying up these properties," says Auger. "Regular Joes will and should follow suit." Claremont Population: 13,264 Tax Rate: $31.58 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $171,750, Dec. 07: $167,350 Average Days on Market: 145 Median Age: 38.8 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 30.7% Median Household Income: $34,949 Manchester Population: 109,497 Tax Rate: $16.85 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $279,000, Dec. 07: $265,000 Average Days on Market: 123 Median Age: 34.9 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 22.3% Median Household Income: $40,774 Nashua Population: 87,157 Tax Rate: $17.20 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $279,000, Dec. 07: $265,000 Average Days on Market : 123 Median Age: 35.8 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 31.5% Median Household Income: $51,969
For the Young Family Load up the minivan - New Hampshire has lots of towns with primo schools and playgrounds. Winner "I was shocked," says New Boston Realtor Heidi Palmer, who recently took stock of the inventory of properties in town. "We still have a couple of houses at $195,000. They're really adorable - a three-bedroom cape in move-in condition. We have a couple in the mid-$200,000 range. There's a great farmhouse with acreage, enough room for horses, for $259,000. Just south of Goffstown on Route 13 and within a 30-minute drive of either Manchester or Concord, New Boston offers a wholesome rural, small-town life where folks come together for celebrations like an old-fashioned Fourth of July, with a barn dance on the night preceding the parade and a day of games and festivities for the whole family. Downtown is an old-fashioned village, with Dodge's General Store serving the classic role. Across the street is the antique store, the town library and The New Boston Community Church, where the Rev. Robert "Woody" Woodland leads worship each Sunday in friendly, down home non-denominational fashion. Runner Up Jim Pitts, town manager of Bow is enthusiastic about Bow, the town he has been overseeing since 2002. "I don't want to offend any other municipality, so I don't want to make any comparisons," says Pitts. "But I absolutely love working here." Property costs are high, with the typical two-bedroom house on a two-acre lot costing $300,000 to $350,000, with prices considerably steeper for some hilltop properties that Pitts describes as mansions. "Our Parks and Recreation Department is one of the best in the state. It's huge in the variety of programs for both children and adults and it's the only parks and recreation department in the state of New Hampshire that operates a certified pre-school program." And Bow is known both within and out of the town for the quality of its schools. "I've had new residents tell me they moved here because of the school system," says Pitts. Bow residents have enjoyed a relatively low tax burden for decades, thanks largely to the town's largest taxpayer, Public Service of New Hampshire, which runs a large coal-burning electric generating facility there. New Boston Population: 4,993 Tax Rate: $15.30 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $279,000, Dec. 07: $265,000 Average Days on Market: 123 Median Age: 36.2 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 36% Median Household Income: $66,020 Bow Population: 8,098 Tax Rate: $27.99 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $256,000, Dec. 07: $214,500 Average Days on Market: 143 Median Age: 38.6 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 45.4% Median Household Income: $79,329
Place to Disappear If you yearn to "get away from it all," good luck. Even in the most remote places, things are hopping. It's the largest land mass of any township east of the Mississippi, larger even than New York City, which is home to some eight million New Yorkers. And it still has considerably fewer than a thousand year 'round residents. So it should be pretty easy to disappear in the town of Pittsburg, right? "Not any more," says Cathy McComiskey, the town secretary. "It's getting pretty crowded." A lot of people have been building vacation homes, says McComiskey, and some are "better than most of the (year-round) houses. They're pretty good buildings." New Hampshire's northernmost town, the last stop before the Canadian border, also draws a fair amount of visitors to the Connecticut Lakes and other scenic attractions at the far end of the Great North Woods. "There is not typical home in Pittsburg," says Joey Sweatt, associate broker with Great North Woods Realty in Stewartstown. "They range from the seasonal homes on roads with no electricity and outhouses to the log chalets right on the lakes." A year-round, two bedroom home may be had for anywhere from $100,000 to $140,000, while a summer camp on one of the lakes might cost $400,000. But where would someone go who can no longer disappear in Pittsburg? Well, maybe Errol, population 352 in a town 36 miles north of Berlin, New Hampshire's northernmost city. "We had a selectmen's meeting last evening and we started to discuss that 352 and where the 52 came from, " says Dottie Kurtz, administrative assistant to the town's selectmen. "We'd been saying 300 for years." Winner Pittsburg Population: 850 Tax Rate: $14.85 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $239,000, Dec. 07: $199,000 Median Age: 46 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 10.6% Median Household Income: $38,516 Runner Up Errol Population: 290 Tax Rate: $10.01 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $239,000, Dec. 07: $199,000 Median Age: 47.2 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 8.5% Median Household Income: $35,625
For the Artistic If a community has an arts commission (take Portsmouth, for instance) it's a pretty good bet there's a lot of art nearby. Winner Crime doesn't pay in Portsmouth, unless it's committed on stage, in a drama at one of the city's popular theater venues. Americans for the Arts, a national non-profit advocacy group, has calculated that non-profits arts organizations contribute $36 million to the local economy every year. "That's the equivalent of a city twice our size," says a proud Russ Grazier, executive director of the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center and president of Art-Speak, the city's commission on the arts. And, as he cheerfully notes, Portsmouth is the only municipality in the state to have an arts commission as a department of town or city government. In addition to a number of art galleries that may easily be visited in one of America's most pedestrian-friendly cities, the performing arts abound in New Hampshire's Port City. There are performances through most of the year at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, the The Music Hall and the New Hampshire Theater Project. And summer attractions include the opportunity to take in theatrical and musical performances and children's shows under the sun or stars during the annual arts festival that runs all summer long at beautiful Prescott Park, right opposite the Strawbery Banke museum. There are also a number of popular musical venues at Portsmouth's many popular restaurants and pubs. "Limousines come up from the Boston area to frequent the Café Mediterranean," says Kathleen Rush of Prudential Rush Realty in Portsmouth. But it is more economical for most people to commute to Portsmouth than live there. The average three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house costs between $400,000 and $600,000, says Rush. And condos at the new Harbour Hill development range from $370,000 to $1.2 million. There are some condos still available around the city in the $200,000 and $300,000 range, says Rush, but they require more work. But Greater Portsmouth also includes Kittery and other communities in southern Maine as well as neighboring New Hampshire towns that are close to the art and other activities in the Port City. "They can go out to Greenland or Stratham," Rush says. "There are options that let you still feel a part of the Portsmouth Community."
Off the Grid Tired of high electric bills? Just pull the plug. Winner When George Nudd put an 1,800-foot driveway between Route 107 and the house he built in Belmont 22 years ago, Public Service of New Hampshire told him it would cost him $10,000 to be wired to the nearest electric pole. Instead, he spent $6,000 on solar panels and a battery bank to run the lights, TV set and water pump at his home. Later he put in a generator for additional power. Belmont is the kind of town that appeals to someone like Nudd, who lives independently on his 113 mostly forested acres. "Oh, I love it," he says. "It's quiet. You don't get a lot of hassles from neighbors and you don't hear the neighbors' dogs barking." But Nudd, a veterinary technician with the state Department of Agriculture, recalls a time when an uninvited four-footed visitor made a haphazard visit to his property. "A Scottish Highland Bull came wandering down," he recalls. "Neighbors came down chasing it around. The police came around and there was nothing they could do. The neighbors wanted me to chase it down toward the road. That was not a thing that I would do, chasing a cow out into the road." But the growing ratio of people to livestock in the Lakes Region community is not a development Nudd really enjoys. "There are a few houses on the road, but it's not heavily developed," he says. "There's a development going on behind us that's built 20 to 25 houses, but they want to put 70 in there. I don't like to see the development, but there are more people all the time, so what are they going to do?" Runner Up The runner-up is Colebrook, at least for people like John Harrigan. Granted there aren't many people like John Harrigan, but of that small and rugged minority many live in the far north township of Colebrook. From his 1850 farmhouse on a hilltop (elevation 1,650 feet), at the edge of town, Harrigan boasts that he can see into one state (New Hampshire) and two "foreign countries" (Canada and Vermont). What he does not see are a lot of houses or utility polls. Under normal conditions, the farmhouse gets its electricity the usual way, but normal isn't always common in a Colebrook winter. With severe weather and high winds, Harrigan often goes "off the grid" involuntarily. That's when the Harrigan household goes into its survivalist mode with a couple of large buckets of water on hand, Coleman lamps, six or seven flashlights with fresh batteries and a dozen candles. And since they are already heating with wood, they have heat and firelight anyway. "When the power goes out all we need is a box of matches and we're in business," Harrigan says. And then he has his camp somewhere north of town. (Yes, there is a north of Colebrook in New Hampshire, just ask the folks in Pittsburg.) There, Harrigan snowshoes in, packs in what he needs and hauls out everything, including the trash. There is no electricity and a carefully constructed fire is used to melt enough snow to wash dishes and cooking gear. Harrigan will sometimes bring invited guests to his hideaway, but there are strict rules. No transistor radios, for example, and no battery operated TV sets. And definitely no cell phones. "I don't even let them bring wrist watches," Harrigan says. Belmont Population: 7,268 Tax Rate: $25.69 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $239,000, Dec. 07: $199,000 Average Days on Market: 166 Median Age: 38.4 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 16.3% Median House Household Income: $47,717 Colebrook Population: 2,395 Tax Rate: $23.16 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $125,000, Dec. 07: $99,000 Average Days on Market: 292 Median Age: 41.2 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 12.5% Median Household Income: $32,244
To Live Free or Die If General John Stark and Ron Paul are high on your list of heroes, you are not alone in New Hampshire. Winner The good news for libertarians and old-style conservatives is that with all of 80-something votes, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas carried the town of Richmond in this year's New Hampshire Republican Presidential Primary. The bad news is, that's the only town he carried. So what does that say about Richmond? "That we're smarter than other people?" suggests Bob Carbone, a Richmond attorney and Ron Paul supporter. Carbone is also a weekly, even daily when possible, communicant at Saint Benedict Center, a Catholic monastery on Martin Road, a challenging uphill ride on a dirt road off Route 119 that can make your "bones denounce the buckboard's bounce," as in the horse and wagon days. A number of old-style Catholics have moved to Richmond to be close to the monastery, where the traditional Latin liturgy is the only Mass celebrated and people still regret the modernist tendencies of many Vatican II pronouncements. And they tend to be as conservative politically as they are liturgically and theologically. In that, they are of kindred spirit with many of the longtime residents of the old Yankee Republican town. A recent check of the local real estate market showed 16 houses on the block in Richmond, ranging from a five-room, three-bedroom garrison with one bath for $155,000 to a 1790 colonial with 3,240 square-feet, four bedrooms and 2.5 baths for $449,000. If you like a quiet place to enjoy the woods and the wild and to read, think and reflect on things both temporal and eternal, Richmond (population 1,200) might be your kind of place. The runner-up in this category is not so much a place as a state of mind, says Calvin Pratt, spokesperson for the Free State Project. The project hopes to lure about 20,000 liberty-minded individuals to the state that they recognized as being most receptive to principles of self-government and individual rights. The snappy license plate motto wasn't all that they liked about New Hampshire, he says, noting the lowest per capita state tax burden was another incentive. Pratt says that Free Staters (about 300 new arrivals so far, by one estimate) do not have an "enclave" in the state, but are locating the same way as most other newcomers - seeking out affordable housing and jobs along the I-93 corridor, for the most part. Richmond Population: 1,172 Tax Rate: $19.97 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $216,000, Dec. 07: $190,250 Average Days on Market: 118 Median Age: 37.9 years Bachelor's Degree of Higher: 29% Median Household Income: $49,141
Ready to Retire Many retirees head to the sunny south, but hardy N.H. sorts are willing to take the bitter (cold) with the better. Why do famous New Hampshirites like Hilary and Cotton Cleveland, former New Hampshire Senate President Alf Jacobson and children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola all live in the quiet, tourist-friendly town of New London? Well, for one thing, they can afford it. Homes in the southwest New Hampshire community run anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million, says Realtor Pam Perkins, owner of The New London Agency. In fact a home on one of the town's larger lakes will likely run about $500,000 for a "seasonal structure," i.e. one that is not winterized. And to winterize it? "Oh, about another 50K," says Perkins. But it's a great place for those who can move in, with a walkable village center and Colby-Sawyer College, an institution of higher learning that fits the town and enhances the life of the mind there with "Adventures In Learning" opportunities for New Londonites. Dartmouth College in Hanover is a mere 20 minutes away, the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport Airport is but a 45-minute jaunt. There is a plethora of recreational opportunities and with senior discounts for skiers at nearby Mt. Sunapee, the hale and hardy are still speeding down the slopes at age 90 or more. "There are plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in the community as volunteers," says Town Administrator Jessie Levine. The only drawback: Even after your home is paid for, New London can be a little pricey, says Levine. "People here tend to have more disposable income and as a result prices are a little higher," Levine says. And if you drive to Concord and back you may burn up more money on gasoline than you save on groceries. So if price is a problem, you may want to move to Concord. Runner-up: But is Concord a good retirement community? "US News and World Report seems to think so," says Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sink, noting the national news weekly rated New Hampshire's capital city among the top 10 cities in the nation for retirees. "That was received positively and not so positively," Sink says, noting that both the city and the state want to attract younger people as well. But there is plenty in Concord for both young and old to enjoy, with good city schools, a budding nightlife and a good city library. Not only are the prices better at the supermarkets, several shopping centers are within easy walking distance the city's vibrant downtown. A number of good restaurants and pubs line Main Street in the heart of the city's downtown, where a new repertory cinema shows first-run art and foreign films across the street from the Concord Center for Performing Arts. And for retirees who want to see how laws are made (they're like sausages, only messier) - or even run for office - the Statehouse is right in the middle of downtown. You can go all the way to Boston or Canada without a stoplight on the interstate. And being north of the Hooksett tollbooth you can go to most places in New Hampshire without paying a toll. You can even go northwest on I-89 to New London and see what you're missing. Winner New London Population: 4,455 Tax Rate: $12.89 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $256,000, Dec. 07: $214,500 Average Days on Market: 143 Median Age: 37 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 59.7% Median Household Income: $61,520 Runner Up Concord Population: 42,378 Tax Rate: $19.22 Median Home Selling Price (by county): Dec. 06: $256,000, Dec. 07: $214,500 Average Days on Market: 143 Median Age: 37 years Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 30.7% Median Household Income: $42,447
Best places to invest in real estate Winner: Squam Lake Runner up: The Seacoast New Hampshire remains one of the fastest-growing states in America, so real estate is always a good investment. For those with deep pockets and a quest for the good life, Landvest Inc. in Concord has some fantastic properties to show. The Seacoast is still a great place to buy," says marketing coordinator Susan Murphy. Those who can afford to buy oceanfront properties in Rye or the Hamptons may be confident those properties will hold their value. That is due in large part to the state's geography. "We have such limited ocean front that it's the law of supply and demand," says Murphy. "The less land available, the greater the value." The Lakes Region offers more waterfront properties, but they remain much in demand. Holderness, Center Harbor, Moultonboro and other towns on Squam Lake, of "On Golden Pond" fame, have properties that have more than held their considerable value through the economic surges and downturns. A lot of buyers don't want ocean-front property because they feel it's too busy," says Murphy. "A lot of property on Squam Lake is protected from further development." In the spring of 2005, Landvest brokered the most high-priced residential real estate transaction in New Hampshire history - a $9 million sale of a compound on Squam Lake. To protect the privacy of the buyer Murphy would not be more specific, except to say the property includes "significant frontage, views and land." Real Estate Pointers Homes are spending more time on the block these days and sellers are enjoying it less. Here are a few helpful reminders that may make those troublesome transactions go a little more smoothly. "The Price is Right" or "Let's Make a Deal." However obvious it may appear to others, it's not easy for a seller to recognize and accept a buyer's market. "I think the sellers still haven't accepted the fact that prices have adjusted," says Century 21 broker Rick Dumont of Manchester. "It has to be a deal to sell." And buyers should avoid being overly eager. There is often room for negotiation and a buyer needs to be able to walk away from a sale when the price is not yet right. All the home is a stage. "Staging" your home means presenting it in a way that is most appealing to the potential buyer. That may require painting the interior as well as the exterior with neutral colors for the walls. Keep personal mementos out of sight as much as possible. Buyers should be able to envision the house as their new home. So don't let the house have too much character. Your idea of character might be their idea of weird. Clutter's Last Stand. What better time to rid the house of the clutter you've been meaning to get rid of for years? You don't want the place to look crowded. Don't forget the garage, which you may have been using as warehouse/tool shed/landfill. Stash those old tires elsewhere. Kids are clutter, too Who needs kids tracking in and out of the house and asking a bunch of irrelevant and possibly embarrassing questions when you are trying to sell your home? They may be adorable, but they are your adorable kids. The potential buyers want to envision this as a home for their families. Send Fido packing What we've said about the kids goes double for the dog. At least the kids don't bite, right? The dog probably doesn't either, but not everyone is a dog lover and some are even afraid of man's best friend. Leave the dog with a neighbor or family member or have someone take the pooch for a nice long walk. (Bringing him back is optional.) Take a hike or a drive. Most brokers find it easier to sell the home without you there. And prospective buyers feel more comfortable in asking pointed and important questions if the owners aren't present. Don't freeze the buyer. If you're going to be away for any length of time, leave the house sufficiently heated so a prospective buyer won't feel uncomfortably cold when viewing your home. Shop for an agent. Even in a buyer's market, says Janet White of Buyer's Option Realty, it's important for buyers as well as a sellers to find the right agents to represent their interests. "You really need to be concerned about finding the right agent or you may be stuck working with someone you don't want to work with." Interview two or three, she suggests, but don't give out too much information until you have found the right one. Find a local lender. You may find a better deal on the Internet, but try to find that lender when things go south. Your local banker or mortgage company will work with you. They're really not looking to build up their inventory of foreclosure properties. Don't let your ARM break your heart. Enough people have been burned by adjustable rate mortgages. Interest rates are still favorable to buyers, who would be wise to get locked in at a low rate. Be patient. No one should act in haste, but it's a good time for buyers to make their move and sellers to sit tight if they can. Everyone knows the housing market will turn up again, though no one knows just when.