New Hampshire's priciest homes tend to have one thing in common: waterfront views. The lush scenery has held the interest of wealthy buyers, even as the nation faces the worst real estate downturn in decades.
"In 1995 my lakefront homes ranged from $600,000 to $1 million," says Joe Skiffington, a builder who completes about six luxury homes in New Hampshire's Lakes Region each year. "Today they range from $2 million to $8.5 million.… Prices still are going up. There's only so much lakefront."
In 2007, 20 properties sold for more than $2 million along tony Lake Winnipesaukee compared with 11 such sales in 2004, according to Adam Dow, a Realtor with Prudential Spencer-Hughes Real Estate in Wolfeboro, N.H.
Home Away from Home
Many of state's wealthiest residents live in the Lakes Region, especially Squam Lake and the 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee. Other high-end destinations include the seacoast, which stretches 18 miles from Massachusetts to Maine and includes Rye, the site of the state's first settlement and the historic seaport of Portsmouth. Lake Sunapee in western New Hampshire is close to ski slopes and attracts famous vacationers including rock star Steven Tyler.
Wealthy buyers see New Hampshire as a four-season destination where they can hike, bike, and sail in the spring, summer, and fall, and ski, skate, and ice fish in the winter. They move to New Hampshire for the natural beauty, proximity to Boston, and the tax benefits—the state has neither an income tax nor a sales tax. During the last couple decades, new mansions have popped up where early 20th century camps and cottages once stood. The land is just too valuable these days to justify a modest getaway pad, real estate agents say.
"People are using them more as a home than just a place to throw a towel," Dow says. "They want the same luxury they have in their primary residences."
Buyers are willing to pay a premium for large parcels they can remake to fit their needs. One 29-acre compound along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee is on the market for $15 million. The property includes two primary residences, boathouses, docks, beaches, and a large barn with a two-story stone fireplace, a commercial-grade kitchen, and a surround-sound entertainment system. Previous owners have used the barn to display collectible cars.
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 11-acre estate on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee includes a contemporary six-bedroom lake house and a stable, which was converted into a guesthouse, according to a recent Newsweek article.
Guesthouses are common; so are pools, elevators, and chef's kitchens. But you'll also find stone fireplaces, wooden interiors, and log exteriors designed to replicate the warmth and informality of a lodge.
"Though it's a $6 million or $7 million home, you're still putting your ski boots up on the coffee table," Skiffington says.
Business and Pleasure
Corporate executives, politicians, and entertainers come to New Hampshire to escape attention. "They come here because they're left alone," says Rick Mazzarella, director of fine homes for Prudential Spencer-Hughes Real Estate. "They are not inundated by the media and they're not bothered by the residents."
But it's not just those seeking a secondary property who appreciate New Hampshire's many attractions. The state is also a good place to work, as it's home to offices for Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) in Hampton, Timberland (TBL) in Stratham, Bentley Pharmaceuticals (BNT) in Exeter, and New Hampshire Thrift Bancshares (NHTB) in Newport, to name a few.
Major private employers in New Hampshire include Brookstone, regional health-care providers Catholic Medical Center and St. Joseph Healthcare, and financial companies TD Banknorth and Fidelity Investments.
Check out the BusinessWeek.com slide show to see the best homes on the market in New Hampshire.