Why are homes so pricey in Rockingham County?

Location and numbers tell the story behind the state’s highest median sale price

The February report from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors shows Rockingham County has the highest median price for a single-family home than any other county in the state.

Again. And by a wide, wide margin.

At $550,000, that median price in Rockingham County far eclipses the next closest, Hillsborough County, at $435,000, then Belknap County at $425,000.

And it’s been that way in Rockingham County for many months, according to a review of NHAR data.

The county first breached the half-a-million-dollar threshold in May 2021, recording a median price of $515,000. And it’s been on an upward march toward $600,000 ever since.

The reasons are varied, including the fact that the county’s Seacoast region has been selling many homes in excess of a million dollars for many months. Mostly, according to NHAR president Adam Gaudet, it’s a reflection of the Realtor’s mantra, with a caveat.

“Location, location, location … and reliable high-speed internet,” says Gaudet, who owns and operates 603 Birch Realty in Concord and is a past president of the Seacoast Board of Realtors.

“Southern New Hampshire allows for quicker trips into Boston and you’re still within an hour to the beach, lakes or mountains. There are plenty of commuters who work in Boston and surrounding area that find southern New Hampshire is more affordable than living in Massachusetts. As work-from-home becomes the norm, it just makes financial sense for some people to live and work from the Granite State. I have clients under agreement that are moving up from New Jersey, specifically for that reason.”

The economic principle of supply and demand has been hard at work in the real estate market since well before anyone ever heard of Covid-19. The pandemic exacerbated it, driving demand where supply is thin, therefore driving up prices, particularly in the Seacoast region.

The median price of a home on the Seacoast has consistently trended higher than the median price of a home in the whole of Rockingham County.

For instance, while the median price in the county stood at the record-breaking $550,000 in February, the median price on the Seacoast was $612,000, according to the Seacoast Board of Realtors’ statistician, John Rice, a broker with Tate & Foss International Realty in Rye.

Rice uses 13 sample communities on the Seacoast from which to extract his sales data month to month: Exeter, Greenland, Hampton, Hampton Falls, New Castle, Newfields, Newington, North Hampton, Newmarket, Portsmouth, Rye, Seabrook and Stratham.

In January, when the county’s single-family median price was $539,000, the Seacoast clocked in at $550.000. December saw the county at $505,000, the Seacoast at $621,500.

Compare that with the statewide median for a single-family home in the last few months: $400,000 in December 2021, $399,700 in January, and $405,000 in February.

All the while, the Seacoast, like other areas, has been plagued by record-low inventories of homes for sale.

Million-dollar sales

Another reason for the higher-than-the-norm prices in Rockingham County is the math of the higher prices on the Seacoast. The median is affected by the sale of higher range properties, in which the Seacoast has had plenty in the million-dollar plus range.

“Obviously with the big sales skewed towards the coast, we are bringing up the county median,” says Rice. By a factor of $50,000? “Could it be $50,000? Most definitely,” he says.

According to the data kept by Rice, there were 136 sales of $1 million or more for homes on the Seacoast in 2020. In 2021, that number jumped to 162, including 24 million-dollar-plus sales in September alone. In the first two months of 2022, there have been 18.

To compare Seacoast million-dollar sales to million-dollar sales in the rest of the county, Rice looked at data from August 2021 through February 2022.

In the whole of Rockingham County, there were 132 transactions involving homes that sold for $1 million or more. Of those, 96 occurred on the Seacoast, almost three-quarters of sales.

Of the 36 sales not in the 13 sample Seacoast towns, some 16 have been in Windham, seven in Salem and four in Derry,” says Rice. “These towns offer easy access to Massachusetts or Manchester via proximity to Route 93.”

He, like Gaudet, cites location as a driving force.

“All real estate is local, and location is the most important factor. I suspect our Seacoast big sales are driven by the ‘sense of place’ or ‘quality of life’ dream of living on or near the water or downtown Portsmouth,” says Rice. “By contrast, the Windham/Salem sales are grand properties in commuter towns that offer easy access to Massachusetts, Manchester and Boston. Sense of place can be an afterthought in these communities.”

What is happening in Rockingham County, and the Seacoast in particular, is symptomatic of the country as a whole.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, says that much of the current housing supply is concentrated at the upper end of the market, where inventory is increasing. Meanwhile, homes priced at the lower end of the market are quickly disappearing, leaving many first-time buyers behind, according to the NHAR’s February report.

“Clearly, more supply is needed at the lower end of the market in order to achieve more equitable distribution of housing wealth,” says Yun.

So what’s a potential buyer to do in pricey Rockingham County?

“My advice to someone looking to buy in Rockingham County would be to view the property as soon as it comes on the market – they don’t last long. If you love it, submit your highest and best offer from the start,” says Gaudet.

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