Affluent out-of-state homebuyers look to New Hampshire for escape from COVID-19

Some of the high-end homes currently featured on the Pinkham Real Estate splash page. Screenshot/

Realtors in some sections of the state are experiencing significant increases in buyer activity as out-of-staters look to New Hampshire to purchase properties amidst the ongoing pandemic. 

The Granite State, like many others, experienced a shutdown early on when COVID-19 infiltrated the country and forced people to coop-up indoors. When the shutdown was lifted, realtors in New Hampshire began seeing an uptick in activity which has continued into the fall season. 

“We’ve sold more homes over $800,000 here in the last three months than I’ve seen in the last probably five years,” said Josh Brustin, owner and principal broker at Pinkham Real Estate in North Conway. “So, it’s a lot of cash flooding the market. Almost every decent property that comes on now is in a multiple-offer situation and that just never happened here before.”

According to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, statewide pending sales in August 2020 were up 30.7 percent from August 2019. 

“This is the most active market that we’ve seen in this section of the state ever, and I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” Smith said. 

The only thing that could slow down sales is more Granite Staters holding tight to the properties they own, realtors said. 

From Vacation Destination to Primary Home

Buyers from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, southern New Hampshire and primarily Massachusetts are shopping for homes in North Conway, Bartlett, Jackson and Madison, Brustin said. Being in a four-season resort area, there are multiple amenities to offer people, from major ski areas to local resources for retirees, he said. 

“So, there’s a lot going on up here and it’s a really nice place to escape to if you want to get out of the city, especially with covid, or if you want to guarantee that you’ve got a place to go if something maybe happens again down the road,” Brustin said. 

As people adjust to the new circumstances the pandemic has brought about – such as options for remote learning and remote work – Brustin believes people are seeing that they can live and work here in New Hampshire, and they’re choosing to do just that. 

Since June, when the office started opening back up, Pinkham has seen an incredible amount of buyer activity, Brustin said. 

“Now we’re at the point where we are breaking records left and right up here,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like the activity that we’re getting.” 

Smith said when the business restrictions were lifted, there was an influx of business from the three months that business had been restricted. 

Smith noticed a very strong demand from people just not in their normal market area. Typically, customers are from along interstate 93, from areas like Rhode Island, Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Now with the pandemic, he said the company is seeing buyers from New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and even California. People are looking to New Hampshire as a safe place to weather the pandemic, he said. 

“We’re certainly seeing a very strong push to buy homes that are much more primary homes that they can live in and they work in rather than their vacation home,” Smith said. “There’s definitely a shift in the use from a vacation resort, second home to a much more year-round, work out of the home property, and there’s an urgency to do it that we’ve never seen before.”

The Wolfeboro-based Dow Realty Group at Keller Williams is dealing primarily with out-of-state buyers, said CEO Adam Dow. The traffic on his website alone is showing many more people from outside of New Hampshire looking to the state to buy. From May 1 through September 30 of this year, Dow had 38,150 people on his website from just Massachusetts. During that same time period in 2019, the number was 13,000. 

“The people with money that used to travel are now securing their recreational house in New Hampshire so they’re not stuck in Massachusetts if this quarantine thing happens again,” Dow said. “If another quarantine happens, they don’t want to be the neighbor that doesn’t have a lake house looking at their other neighbors empty driveway.”

Tight Inventory as People Hold New Hampshire Properties

Despite the demand, Peabody and Smith hasn’t sold more houses this year than in 2019, in part because inventory is low, he said. However, more homes are becoming available for sale and Smith believes that by the end of the year both sales and revenue will be up compared to 2019. 

Brustin, however, said that people who have a property in New Hampshire are holding on to it, so that they have a place to go if the pandemic becomes worse and stay-at-home orders take effect again. 

With not a lot on the market, there is a lot of pressure in the pipeline but not a lot to offer buyers. In some cases, houses are selling more quickly. It’s not unusual for home to come on the market on a Thursday, and have five or six offers by Sunday, Smith said. 

“That’s created a real lack of inventory in our market, and so we’re finding that folks who may have otherwise taken vacations to Colorado or planned two or three trips a year somewhere else, I think they’re seeing that’s probably not going to happen for a while,” Brustin said. “So, I think they’ve decided to instead of doing that, they decided to purchase properties in this area.”

Frank Roche, owner and principal broker at Roche Realty Group in the Lakes Region is also facing an inventory shortage. He said that people are considering their second homes a safe haven, so are keeping them. In addition, there has not been enough new construction. 

“I think overall sales for next year could be lower unless we can increase the inventory supply,” Roche said. 

Roche said the pandemic alone doesn’t explain increased interest from buyers: low-interest rates and civil unrest in more urban parts of the country are also causing people to look at moving to the Granite State, he said. 

“How could you not fall in love with New Hampshire,” Roche said. “It’s got so much going for it and in an age of severe turmoil, social unrest and uncertainty in this country it’s definitely a slice of heaven in terms of offering something for everyone in a small state, with very low density and tremendous natural resources for everyone to enjoy.”

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