Real estateGenerally speaking, New Hampshire real estate is fairly expensive compared to the average in the United States. There are several factors I have identified that contribute to that problem.
First, the most populated areas in the state (from Concord south to Nashua east to the coast and up to Portsmouth) are all near enough to Boston to commute and/or be dramatically effected by the Boston economy. Because Boston is one of the most expensive markets in the nation, that raises the property values in southern New Hampshire.
Second, New Hampshirites seem to have culturally adopted the idea that larger lot sizes are better. Larger lots naturally raise the cost of land. At any given time, there are few building lots available and the demand is high, so the prices are expensive.
Third, there are no unincorporated areas in southern New Hampshire. All of the towns have expanded their borders to the adjacent towns. Additionally, all of the towns impose zoning and land use restrictions that substantially raise the cost of building. Examples are additional taxes on redeveloping open space in to dense housing (current use tax), lot size restrictions, and setbacks. In many areas, attempting to construct new a facility identical to that which already exists is illegal. The towns zone and tax the property in such a way as to make it very expensive.
Fourth, there are some geographic features somewhat unique to New Hampshire that causes the cost of building to be higher than in some other areas of the country. The cost of drilling and excavating is increased by the abundance of granite under the soil. Because of the weather, bringing utilities to the surface is cost prohibitive.
All of the above factors make creating new housing expensive which also raises the cost of existing housing. The raw land prices are highest in the south eastern part of the state. Western and Northern New Hampshire feature lower land prices but only in the far northern parts of the state will you find areas that have fewer restrictions on building (either through unincorporated land and/or towns with no zoning and/or land use laws).
While we were there, we investigated modular home building. I'll include the information here since most of these builders will build in significant portions or anywhere in the state of New Hampshire. There were three builders who build three different manufactures' modular homes that we got information from. Contact information is available upon request for any of these builders and/or manufacturers. In order to determine pricing, we pursued roughly similar ideas with each builder: a 2200-2500 sq. ft. two story colonial home with 3-4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, at least 8 rooms (preferably 9) and a 2 car garage.
Bob Lebel of RML General Contractor build Epoch Homes which are manufactured in Pembroke, New Hampshire. Bob's office is in Amherst. While we were there we met with Bob and took a tour of the Epoch Homes factory and model in Pembroke. We spent quite a bit of time discussing our ideas with Bob but could not nail him down on a price for any particular model of home. Our impression is that the quality of Epoch Homes is excellent, and I suspect a somewhat better quality home than you could get from a site builder at a comparable cost. The model was very attractive and different rooms were appointed in various levels of trim from basic to significantly upgraded. Epoch homes does have a website at www.epochhomes.com and they have excellent promotional materials available including a CD with hundreds of floor plans on it. Bob said he can custom build just about any floor plan and the cost is typically 10% - 15% less than a comparable plan in a site built home. I could not nail Bob down on a price for the type of house we were interested in, however it sounded like his price would be something over $200,000 for everything except the bare land.
Value Homes of New England has a model in Nashua. I went there after having toured the Epoch factory with Bob Lebel. I spoke with the sales agent who gave me quite a bit of information. They build Excel modular homes which are manufactured in Pennsylvania. Their model, like Epoch's, is attractive and appointed in a variety of levels of trim. Based on the spec sheets, it appears as though they are largely comparable, however in a couple areas it sounds like Epoch's standard features are slightly better than Excel's. We were able to get some pricing information from Value Homes. They estimated site work at roughly $40,000 for a lot requiring well and septic and roughly $25,000 - $30,000 for a lot with city water and sewer. Their completed home costs for 2000+ square foot capes ranged from about $145,000 to about $185,000 excluding garage ($22,000), site work, and land. One particular model that we were interested in costs $168,000 (+ site work and land) and includes a garage. Those are models in base trim but fully completed.
Camelot Home Center is located in Tilton and sells both modular homes and mobile homes. They are a lower end builder. I didn't tour a model and only got a few pages of written information from them. They estimate site work at $35,000 to $45,000 which includes well and septic. It appears as though their specs are on the lower end and their prices are too. They gave me three floor plans, none of which really suited us and only one of which had any kind of pricing information available. The one with a price was a colonial (2 story) 3 bedroom, 2 or 3 bath (the third bath is a $5,150 option) which appears to be roughly 1,800 sq. ft. for $88,000. My guess is that there would be a substantial amount of additional work to get it in move-in condition (could be anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 of completion work?). That would bring the completed cost for that smaller home to somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 excluding land (that's an extremely rough estimate).
Commerce and Restaurants
All put together, New Hampshire does offer most or all of the
conveniences that other states offer. They may not come in exactly
the same forms you are used to but it appears to me that it should
please most everyone. The best cities for shopping and restaurants
are Salem, Nashua, and to a slightly lesser extent, Manchester and
Concord. Though we didn't tour Portsmouth extensively, I suspect
it has good shopping as well. Salem and Nashua even have a CompUSA
(for you computer geeks out there). Tilton stands among very small
towns (population around 3,500 or so) not only because it has a Wal-Mart
and most every fast food place you could want but also because it is
home to the outlet mall. There are 50 or so manufacturers outlet
stores there which, I can only presume, are located there because of the
tourism from the lakes region.
The other two towns that stand out are Keene and Lebanon (specifically, West Lebanon). Lebanon is right on the Vermont border at I-89 and features excellent shopping right along the river. The area is roughly comparable in population to the Keene area but I presume because of the proximity to Vermont and not having sales tax, there's some additional business there from across the border. As a result, there are a few more stores than Keene has, specifically a Best Buy, a wholesale club (ala Costco - there may have been one in Keene but I didn't find it), and a Denny's. We didn't go in to either, but the Wal-Mart in Lebanon looked substantially larger than the one in Keene.
Speaking of Denny's, there is sales tax in New Hampshire on meals at restaurants. Every place we ate at the rate was 8%. So while there's no sales tax on goods, it's not exactly accurate to say there's no sales tax at all.
There is at least one Dunkin' Donuts in every town in New Hampshire. If there's ten people there, there's at least one Dunkin' Donuts, but there might be three or four. In a town like Hillsborough (population 5100) there are probably 90 or 100 of them. I'm sure there are several million in Nashua. In fact, I'm highly confident there are more Dunkin' Donuts in New Hampshire than there are police officers in the entire world. I'll spare you the agony of reading that there's a Dunkin' Donuts in every town. If I say there's absolutely nothing in a town, there's still a Dunkin' Donuts there. You might not have electricity, or be able to buy milk or gasoline, but at least you won't go hungry for lack of donuts...
Generally speaking, our experience was that the cost of everyday goods (groceries, other consumables, etc.) is comparable or less than in other parts of the country, especially California. An example is that we were able to pick up a gallon of highly overpriced milk at 7-11 after midnight for roughly the same price as a gallon of milk in a lower cost grocery store in Fresno. The milk in the Market Basket in Nashua was almost a dollar per gallon less than we normally pay in California. Gas prices were in the $1.50 to $1.60 range in most places while at the same time gas in Fresno was $1.75ish (roughly $.20 per gallon more). I compared insurance prices to California and it appears the New Hampshire rates (in my case anyway) were about 15% less. I was unable to determine exactly how utility costs would compare, but I got a rough idea and it sounds as though New Hampshire is, again, a little cheaper than California, though now that energy prices have stabilized, it didn't sound dramatically less. High speed Internet prices are comparable.
While we were in New Hampshire we drove by and visited several
churches. Generally speaking, our observation is that the churches
in New Hampshire tend to be smaller than elsewhere in the nation,
particularly places like Florida, Texas, and California (home to some of
the larger churches in the country). When I think of a large
church, I think of one with weekly attendance of over 1,000. In
New Hampshire, a large church would be one with something over
100. I don't know what the largest protestant church in New
Hampshire is but I suspect Grace Fellowship in Nashua is at least in the
top 5, and they run just under 1,000 per weekend.
While the churches are smaller, they are found all over New Hampshire. I don't think we visited a town that didn't have at least a couple of churches. I would imagine that in the southern 1/2 of the state, there should be a church within a reasonable drive (20-30 minutes) that would suit pretty much anyone, as long as you are able to adjust your size and style preferences to fit the New Hampshire culture. For some of us, that'll be a rather big adjustment unless we're able to grow some 'mega churches' which, at the moment, seems unlikely.
OtherAll of the drive times are listed here and not on each individual location page (so as not to duplicate too much information).
|Keene Wal-Mart to Manchester
|Keene Wal-Mart to Nashua (Exit 8)
|Peterborough to Keene
|Nashua (Exit 8) to Manchester
|Manchester (293/101) to Concord
|Nashua to Concord (Mapquest from
city to city)
|Manchester (293/101) to Lebanon
(Exit 20 / 89)
|Enfield (Shaker Hill / 4A) to
|Enfield (Shaker Hill / 4A) to
|Manchester (293/101) to Tilton
(Exit 20 - timed / City Center - Mapquest)
|Concord (89/93) to 202/89
|202/89 to Hillsborough
|Manchester (293/101) to
|Boston to Nashua (Exit 8) -
night / no traffic / construction / via 3
|Nashua to Boston (Exit 8) - day
/ heavy traffic / construction / via 3
|Henniker to Weare (via 114)
|Weare to Goffstown (via 114)
|Goffstown to Manchester (293/101)
|Wilton to Nashua
The above times should allow you to do two things: get a very good idea of how long it takes to do some of the standard commutes, and use Mapquest to accurately estimate driving times. Weather for all of those estimates was either good or only raining (which didn't slow things down noticeably), and traffic didn't seem particularly heavy for any of them (except as noted). In winter and/or poor traffic, times would be longer. Based on conversations with the locals, it sounds as though snow removal is efficient in New Hampshire compared to some other states.
I did notice that the road quality in New Hampshire was generally very good. The toll roads we drove on (Everett Turnpike between Nashua and Manchester, and 93 between Manchester and Concord) are multi-lane, well maintained, and traffic moves along nicely. The tolls are $.75 for each stretch, however, you can buy a roll of 40 tokens (each token pays $.25 worth of toll) for $5.00 which works out to half price. We were there for 12 days driving those roads regularly and went through a roll and a half of tokens. Also, navigating can be tricky in some places as many of the streets are not well marked. Sometimes there are lots of good street signs and sometimes it's difficult to tell where you are at all. This is true all over the state, but we noticed it particularly in Nashua.
The people of New Hampshire were friendly. I didn't detect any of the 'attitude' that seems to prevail in Boston or New York, even when I was in the 'big cities' of Nashua or Manchester. Though the accent is similar, it seemed to me that the people were noticeably nicer.
The weather while we were there varied. For roughly half the time we were there it was overcast and intermittently rainy. Roughly the other half of the time it was clear and cooler. The temperatures were typically in the 40's and 50's for most of the trip. The fall foliage was well past its peak when we arrived on November 1st but it was still attractive to look at. As the week and a half progressed we saw much of the end of the change of colors and leaves falling off the trees. It did freeze a couple of times and on the drives to and from Keene we noticed the first signs of ice forming on the lakes.
Copyright 2003 Varrin Swearingen - to reproduce in any way (in whole or in part), please contact the author at: varrin at varrin dot com.