What’s Up (or Down) with the Real Estate Market? An In-Depth Look at NH’s Mt. Washington Valley

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While the real estate market is down or flat in neighboring states, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, home prices increased over 16% in the first three months of 2006 over the same period a year ago. In a recent interview, Dick Badger of Badger Realty in North Conway, NH, who’s been selling real estate in the Mt. Washington Valley for 44 years, provides an historical perspective on the real estate boom and why he continues to have confidence in the resort area’s real estate market.

The Bay State is now a buyer’s market; in the first quarter of 2006, sales of detached single-family homes fell 6.5% and condominium sales were flat, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. In Maine, during the same period, housing sales and prices were also relatively flat.

But in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, in the first three months of 2006, home prices increased over 16% over the same period a year ago. Still, the number of homes sold dipped and the average number of days a home was on the market increased slightly.

What does that mean for those considering buying or selling in the Mt. Washington Valley area? To find out, we sat down with Dick Badger of Badger Realty, who’s been selling real estate in the area for 44 years.

Q: Dick, over the past four decades, you’ve seen real estate boom and bust years here in the Valley. What’s your take on the current real estate market?

DB: The real estate market in Mt. Washington Valley continues to be strong, although I expect we’ll have a slight adjustment in prices—maybe a 10% dip from the height of the market—and then an initial leveling off before they climb again.

Q: So sellers shouldn’t be nervous—and it’s still a good time to buy?

DB: It may take a little longer to sell a home—and there are more properties to choose from than a year ago—but sellers definitely shouldn’t be nervous, unless they’re looking to flip a purchase made at the height of the market.

Q: What makes the situation different in Mt. Washington Valley compared to other areas, like Boston?

DB: To understand what is different in the Valley, you first need to understand what’s caused the real estate boom, which actually started about six years ago. In 2000, the first Baby Boomers turned 55 years old, and many started to think about retirement and moving out of urban or suburban areas to a more rural area—but not a remote area. This group wants to enjoy an active lifestyle in an area that has an infrastructure—meaning quality healthcare, shopping and other services—similar to what they’re used to. They want to be in an area of low crime, and they want to have easy access to highways and airports.

In other words, they want what we have here in the Mt. Washington Valley.

These Baby Boomers are at the peak of their earning power and they’re looking for larger homes. Up to ten years ago, a big vacation home here was 3,000 square feet—but now we’re seeing homes that start there and go up to 12,000 square feet. And while prices here have gone up, they aren’t as high as Boston and the Maine coast, for example. Here prices are in line with replacement costs, which have steadily risen, thanks in part to the building boom in Asia which has driven up the cost of materials.

Keep in mind that, while Baby Boomers are driving the market, this area is becoming more attractive to a broad range of people. Taxes in New Hampshire are the lowest in New England; the state’s been named the Most Livable in the nation; and the median income is tied with New Jersey and Connecticut. It’s a great place for entrepreneurs—witness the Technology Village and the success of other small businesses—and it’s becoming a regional shopping center. The result is that we have more types of buyers.

Q: What about the rise in interest rates? Won’t that impact sales?

DB: The continued rise in interest rates has had a dampening effect—but keep in mind that the appreciation in real estate has been superior to the stock market. Buyers who wait to make a purchase to see if prices go down may find that the increase in rates will cancel out any potential benefit in price. Sellers who wait for the market to peak again may find that the tax situation is not as favorable in the future.

The decision to buy or sell should be made independent of the market; it should be based on use: if you need a home, buy now. If you’re not using a property, then sell and invest elsewhere.

Q: Any last thoughts for those thinking about buying or selling Mt. Washington Valley?

DB: I think there’s every reason to be confident in the market in Mt. Washington Valley. Be patient; let your own needs and goals—not the market—determine the choices you make. And don’t forget to get out and enjoy all the Mt. Washington Valley has to offer. After all, isn’t that why we all want to live here?

About Badger Realty

Since 1965, Badger Realty has been a leader in residential and commercial real estate in the Mt. Washington Valley, including North Conway, Jackson, Bartlett, Glen and Conway, New Hampshire, and in western Maine. http://www.badgerrealty.com. 603-356-5757.

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Brenda Leavitt
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