Rising home prices creates angst for New Hampshire's younger adults

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For people in their 20s and 30s, New Hampshire's home prices are rising as fast as their concerns over affording a place to live.

New Hampshire notched the highest home prices on record in 2019. Prices are up, sales are strong and inventory is down.

"We don't have housing to meet all the income levels in the state of New Hampshire, and economically, we can't grow. We can't bring in or expand business if we can't attract or retain our young people or attract new young people," said Rachel Eames, past president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

"Unaffordable housing" repeatedly topped the list of those ages 21 to 40 who showed up at a series of regional meetups in recent months to gauge their concerns.

"It was the most consistently talked about, and frequently was the first issue mentioned, when asked about challenges facing young people," said Will Stewart, executive director of Stay Work Play NH, which works to retain and attract younger workers to New Hampshire. The group hosted the nine regional events.

Renters also face challenges. The median monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit with utilities was $1,347 statewide, more along the state's southern tier. The median marks where half the prices fall above that level and half fall below.

For people looking to buy a house, the median price hit $300,000 statewide in 2019, $17,000 more than during the previous year.

In Rockingham County, the median price for a single-family house came in at $386,000 for 2019, or $16,000 more than a year earlier. For December alone, that mark stood at $397,000 ($42,100 more than in December 2018).

Stewart said some people in their 20s and 30s are living with parents or roommates rather than staying alone in an apartment or buying a home.

"They just want a place to afford," Stewart said. "The type (of housing) depends on their personality and the type of lifestyle that they want."

Affordability is dictating living choices. "There are those living in areas that would not be their first choice, but the only place they can afford," Stewart said.

For people graduating from college or entering the workforce after high school, "if they can't afford a place to live in the area, I think they're going to go someplace where they can afford to live," he said.

Last year's $300,000 median price for a single-family home was the highest since the association started tracking numbers in 1998 and was likely the highest ever, according to Realtors association spokesman Dave Cummings.

For the fourth straight year, Realtors sold more than 17,000 homes annually. Last year's 17,615 home sales represented 60 more than in 2018.

The association's numbers represent more than 90% of all New Hampshire sales, Cummings said.

Not enough homes

A lack of homes on the market is preventing even further sales.

"It certainly stands to reason if there were more homes to be sold, our members would be selling more homes," Cummings said.

In one measurement, it would take only 2.2 months at the current pace of sales to sell off all homes that were on the market in December 2019. A decade earlier, it would have taken about 13 months, he said.

Stewart's group is sending its findings to legislators and is also pushing for certain legislation, including mandating training for local planning and zoning officials.

More than 300 young people in meetups from Nashua to the North Country offered their thoughts. Other top concerns included a lack of diversity and too little affordable child care.

"I'm surprised a little bit by the number of zoning suggestions. Everything from municipalities allowing higher densities in their towns and cities to more tiny houses were mentioned," Stewart said.

Providing incentives for developers to build more reasonably priced housing also was suggested. Eames agreed.

"My point is until something changes with regulation, we're stifling our own growth, and more importantly, we're pushing our own young people out of state," said Eames, who operates Eames Realty Services in Concord, Epsom and Newmarket.

The state, ranked as the second oldest by median age, is "just going to grow older and older" unless more is done to retain the state's young people, Eames said.

A new law going into effect in July will shorten the appeals process when developers want to challenge decisions by local planning or zoning boards. Developers can avoid going to Superior Court by taking their case to a new housing appeals board, which will make a decision within 150 days. An appeal could take years in court. (Some legislators this session are looking to kill the appeals board.)

"There's no silver bullet, certainly," Stewart said. "It's a lot of little things."

Children a factor

During a Jan 30. presentation to the Greater Manchester Chamber, economist Russ Thibeault noted the rental vacancy in New Hampshire is 1%, "which is to say if the paint's dry, it's rented."

New Hampshire is adding about 3,500 new homes to the housing stock annually; the market demand calls for as much as 20,000, meaning it will be several years before the state reaches capacity, Thibeault said.

"Many communities are still afraid of children," he said, noting that the number of schoolchildren in the state deceased by about 20,000 over the last 10 or 15 years.

"There's this residual thought that if we let people build housing in a community, we're going to go broke. I think that almost the opposite is true," he said. "We cannot have a healthy economy without enough housing because we can't support in-migration of people when there's just no housing available."

Housing prices rose in all 10 counties.

Hillsborough, the most populous with Manchester and Nashua, saw the median price rise by $20,000 in a year's time, to $318,000 in 2019.

In contrast, Coos County, which includes Berlin, saw prices rise by $3,100 to $116,100 in 2019. Grafton inched up the least. a mere $400 to $227,000.

Statewide, condo sales also hit new highs based on records going back 15 years.

The median price stood at $215,000, or $10,000 higher than in 2018. Rockingham County once again topped the price list at $275,000.

Why are prices so high? "It's simple economics of supply and demand," Cummings said. "There's just so little out there that sellers are still at a significant advantage.

"We're at a critical state in New Hampshire right now as far as affordable housing goes," he said.

For many buyers 35 and younger, "they don't have the financial savings to outbid when there's multiple offers," Eames said.

Unlike 2016 and 2017, more younger buyers are "coming to view properties with a very realistic viewpoint: If you like it, you better jump on it," she said.

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Affordable housing Housing affordability Purchasing power Home prices New Hampshire