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The Granite State may be known as one of the smallest in the U.S., but it packs a punch when it comes to history, natural beauty and value.
One of the original 13 colonies, New Hampshire was the first colony to declare its independence from England and adopt its own constitution. That spirit of independence persists today in the state’s tax-friendly laws — New Hampshire has no income tax and no sales tax, which makes it a huge draw for those privileged enough to put down roots wherever they so choose.
Over the span of just a few short years, more luxury buyers have caught on to the state’s appeal with its drivability from major East Coast hubs, lush green mountains and lakes, tax benefits and quaint towns. As a result, luxury transactions have seen a huge spike in recent years, tripling from 2021 to 2023.
“I think there’s an awakening to New Hampshire’s lifestyle,” Adam Dow of the Dow Realty Group at Keller Williams Coastal and Lakes & Mountains Realty told Inman.
“I think people go to Maine and Vermont perhaps more than New Hampshire, for whatever reason. And with New Hampshire, you’re looking at a couple different things — just from a practical tax perspective, there’s no income tax, there’s no sales tax and they’re phasing out dividends and interest.
“So those that would prefer not to pay as much taxes as [in] neighboring states and enjoy mountains and lakes and ski areas and ocean and all that, there’s an awakening to the advantage of living here from a practical standpoint.”
From a value standpoint as well, savvy luxury buyers can oftentimes get more bang for their buck in New Hampshire all around in contrast with other New England vacation home markets.
“There’s great value here for the type of home and price tag attached to it,” Diane Davidson of the Fine Homes Group at Keller Williams Metropolitan told Inman. “If someone can buy something for $3 million that would cost them $5.8 million in Greenwich, Connecticut, or in a suburb of Boston that’s in Massachusetts, they would pay maybe twice as much. And there’s no particular advantage to having Massachusetts as the state you live in.”
Local agents say the appeal for New Hampshire’s luxury markets bridges both out-of-staters and locals looking to move up, but opportunities for buyers remain somewhat limited because once an owner gets their hands on a nice lakefront or oceanfront property, they tend to hold onto it — oftentimes for generations.
As word has spread about the state and its offerings, some of its luxury markets have now become bona fide second-home destinations, putting New Hampshire on the map.
Moving the needle
“It is fascinating how the market up here has drastically changed in a short period of time,” Brie Stephens of the Lake Life Realty Team at Compass told Inman.
Little by little after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, luxury buyers started to turn their eye towards New Hampshire because of its space, abundance of lakes, tax benefits and relative affordability compared to other luxury markets on the East Coast like Boston or Greenwich.
Historically, New Hampshire has seen a handful of home sales per year that can hit the $5 million or above price point. Between Aug. 1, 2018, and July 31, 2019, Prime MLS recorded six such sales at or over $5 million, according to data provided by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors (NHAR).
The following year, from Aug. 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020 — as COVID ripped across the country and halted many transactions — the number of sales at that price point dropped to two. During the same period from 2020 to 2021, the state saw a rebound to eight $5 million-plus transactions, and the following year, that figure hit 11 recorded sales.
Then suddenly from Aug. 1, 2022, to July 31, 2023, the number of $5 million-plus sales surged to 30.
Since 1998 when the MLS began tracking data, only five $10 million-plus transactions have been recorded, and all have rolled in within the last year. Three of those transactions have occurred thus far in 2023.
Out of the five $10 million-plus sales that have closed in the last year, four of them were lakefront properties — the biggest and most popular lake in the region is Lake Winnipesaukee — and one was on New Hampshire’s Seacoast.
“Before those prices were even fathomable on the lake, we were seeing the average price for the luxury end of the market around $5 million,” Stephens told Inman. “So we went from $5 million to $14 million on the lake in just about three years, which is pretty fascinating.”
Emerging second-home markets with longer-term residents
A big shift that’s happened since the pandemic has been in perception, Dow said. People are starting to see select towns in New Hampshire, particularly on Lake Winnipesaukee, as primarily second-home markets whereas they were previously seen as more mixed with more full-time residents.
“When you think of Nantucket, you think of every property on the market as being a vacation home because it’s Nantucket,” Dow said.
“When people thought of New Hampshire pre-COVID every property was not considered a vacation property,” he continued. “It was just a waterfront [home] with views, things like that. But with COVID and people wanting to drive to vacation with Airbnb, now for certain towns in New Hampshire, the whole town is being considered a second-home market versus just certain homes with certain attributes. So that has driven demand to [properties even] off the water, and driven prices up.”
The town of Wolfeboro is one place that has made such a transformation, Dow said. Nestled on the easternmost edge of Lake Winnipesaukee and also encompassing Lake Wentworth, the town has always been desirable because of its access to water, parks and skiing, but wasn’t necessarily always seen as a mostly vacation-home market.
That has changed now though, Dow said, as it has become a destination for second homeowners. Homes off the water near the walkable main street strip are also now regularly selling above $1 million, he added, a price that non-waterfront homes in the past could have never achieved.
Another shift is that the lake towns are more occupied for longer stretches of the year because of remote work options, Melissa Starkey of Starkey Realty told Inman.
“[Second homes] sat vacant all the time,” Starkey said. “You’d ride around the lake and be like, ‘Man, nobody’s at any of these properties.’”
“But then COVID came and they could work remotely or didn’t necessarily have to be [in their primary] home as much, or were trying to quarantine, and that was another big draw for our state just because we’re kind of spread out and less populated. Then all the people came back and started using their second homes more as primary residences or more frequently.”
The high-ticket sales and their buyers
Stephens and her team were involved in 4 of the 5 priciest transactions in the state in the last year, on both the buy and sell sides, all of which were located around Lake Winnipesaukee.
The estates all have direct waterfront access, span between an average of 9,000 to 15,000 square feet and include around 2 to 20 acres of land. They are majestic properties with stone fireplaces, cathedral ceilings and exposed beams, and one can imagine something similar in California easily costing $30 million instead of $14 million.
Stephens said that several of the buyers involved in these transactions had either recently retired or were considering retirement, some of which were selling their tech companies and reinvesting some of the profits in New Hampshire’s luxury real estate.
Because of the long attachments that owners form to these lake properties — Starkey noted that one of her sellers had kept a property in the family for nearly 100 years — Stephens said that the buyers of the year’s biggest transactions realized immediately when these listings came to market that, “wow, these are opportunities.”
“A lot of [the buyers] plan to make New Hampshire their primary residence,” Stephens added. “I would say most of them come from Massachusetts or Florida, and they have other places, but their primary will be here.”
The agents Inman spoke with said that most of the buyers they see attracted to the state’s luxury markets still have some existing tie to New Hampshire, whether they grew up in the area, spent summers there as a kid or have family or friends who live in the state. But as word gets around, fewer people need some sort of connection to be drawn in, Starkey said.
“Some literally Googled it and were like, ‘Yeah, New Hampshire sounds great!’ and I’m like, ‘Have you been here at all?’” she said with a laugh. “So really, I think part of it is Googling and part is word of mouth or those who have some sort of connection.”