Where Can We Find Direct Waterfront Access for $200,000 to $400,000 in New Hampshire?

Post by Chuck Braxton, REALTOR® GRI, Roche Realty Group, Inc.
cbraxton@metrocast.net  603/677-2154

Today’s question comes from a couple relocating from Florida so I wanted to provide my perspective on the mindset and metrics that might help find what they are looking for and in the process save you significant
time and avoid a great deal of frustration.
Prospective buyers in the Lakes Region from the Maine border to the Connecticut River south of the White Mountains who want direct access to the water and have a budget somewhere closer to $200K-300K than
$400K describe a very large (and largely frustrated) segment of the buyer population that we have seen over the past four years or so.

Lake Massasecum

Case in point is a 15-acre waterfront listing in Bradford on Lake Massasecum for $399,000. Annual taxes $4,700. Twenty four buyers have viewed this property over the past two years, but despite the fact that seasonal cottages half the size on less than 0.2 acres sold for $295K on this lake, this property has had no offers. Earlier this fall, I contacted the buyers or their agents who had shown the property. Not one buyer had purchased anything!! Combining that with my other experiences working with buyers in the “under $400K direct water access” segment is the basis of my conclusion that this is a large community of largely unfulfilled buyers. (See P.S. below for update).

So, here are a few points that may be helpful to buyers with these wants and needs:

1. As you discover in exploring New Hampshire, stunningly beautiful areas can be cheek-by-jowl with “Bob’s What Not Shoppe” properties where the owners have all of their assets in open air storage. Local knowledge is crucial.

2. Once your fellow buyers do find a great candidate property they often say, “Oh, this is not private enough.” As you get closer to the water, you should expect to get closer together with others and if the waterfront is affordable, it will likely be on smaller frontages with higher densities. You may not want to rule out properties with a road (regardless how unused) between the house and the water. Thus, “a sense of privacy” is what needs to be sought (BTW: this is the exceptional value factor of that Lake Massasecum property).

“Waterfront in name only”

3. What do you want to do at the water? There is a marked difference in value between “swimmable waterfront” and “WINO”–waterfront in name only. Your general search criteria are going to bring up a lot of WINOs. Nice water to look at and would be the center for wildlife viewing, but it may take some intrepidity to get wet or may simply be impractical. If you have interest in power boating or waterskiing, a small water body (say, under 150-300 acres) is not going to offer much. If fishing is an interest, know about the fishery.

4. Know your water bodies. While limnologists understand the difference between a lake and a pond, in many cases the folks who assigned names made no such scientific distinction. I would recommend some websites as tools in trade for your search. Glad to share them with you.

Newfound Lake

5. Understand invasive species. Many water bodies in New Hampshire have populations of Eurasian milfoil, a water weed, in spots. Some lake communities have taken steps to control the milfoil so it is not an issue. Newfound Lake is the largest water body in NH that is free of invasive species, thus, there will be a premium there. Other water bodies have significant areas of milfoil infestation that affect property values. You may rush an hour or two drive to a home on a lake only to find the waterfront unappealing. Research on the web may be helpful, but there is no substitute for local knowledge.

6. Take an analytical approach to what you are viewing. If you want swimmable waterfront, the land is going to be the largest part of the value and if you want reasonable boating and fishing opportunities, that may be even a larger part of the value. Disregard the house and ask yourself how the land and waterfront measure up. There are about a dozen factors to consider from slope and exposure to view quality and affects of wind. I have an article if you want details. Then, turn your attention to the structure and the quality of development.

7. You will want to understand the rules of the NH Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act because waterfront properties within this price range may have some, uh, surprises regarding their waste disposal systems. Nothing that cannot be solved with money and time in most cases. It seems that sellers often feel that their property holds happy memories and think nothing of having not dealt with the potential unpleasantries and real costs of replacing a vintage septic system when it fails. Another factor of the Act is that structures located closer to the water than allowed by state and town regulations today are going to have a premium in their pricing for that regardless of the condition of
the structure.

8. Taxes may be a big factor in affordability. Remember point #6. Since a lot of the value of a property is in the land, taxes for modest waterfront properties seem proportionally high vs. waterfront properties with more development. While properties in the towns with the lowest property taxes will tend to reflect a slight price premium, you want to be sure that you are comfortable with paying those annual bills. One of the biggest challenges that I see in this price range is that the tax burden trumps the “surprise and delight” aspects of the property. You might be paying $6,000-$8,000 per year in taxes at the upper end vs. half that in a low tax town. Also, beware the precinct tax. A few localities have created a separate local tax districts for a waterfront and water access community. The precinct
tax in some areas can add 15-40% to your total tax bill.

9. How might a shared private waterfront property meet your needs instead of owned waterfront? An article on the value of property in water access communities might be helpful in your search. It is at this link: https://db.tt/Pgeve7A. If you decide to go in this direction, it is important to “buy the community” first in terms of location, the lake, other local factors, rather than compare one community to another. Why? Values vary. On Newfound Lake an access community might have half acre parcels for $75-100K that are 1,000 yards from the beach whereas Lake Waukewan (a deep, 900 acre lake) has 2-3 acre parcels for the same price.

Waterfront View

10. How much of your budget do you want to spend on the view? In this price range, many buyers become quickly frustrated because they want a great view as part of the package. That is going to severely limit your choices and waste countless hours of time looking at properties that do not measure up. This article, entitled “What is That View Worth?” might be helpful https://db.tt/JQCxqb9.

The most important implication of these points is that given what you want and the budget you have, the ideal property is very likely going to involve tradeoffs among the things you are hoping to find. I could point out case after case where once a great property was found, the members of the buyer decision making unit were unable to deal with those trade-offs.

In general terms, as a buyer you will likely find a lot more to choose from that fits the budget in the eastern part of the state where there are several small, swimmable water bodies. Due to more difficult access from the south among other factors, prices tend to be somewhat lower so this area is worth a closer look while keeping the above ten points in mind.
PS:: In January 2011, the sellers reduced the list price from $399,000 to $349,000. In August 2011, one of those 24 buyers I polled
did purchase a waterfront property on another lake; the others still are at large as far as I know. In 2012, the sellers relisted at $295,000.

About the Author: Chuck Braxton is a REALTOR® with the Meredith, NH office of Roche Realty Group, Inc. He is a Graduate of the Realtor Institute. His real estate practice extends from border to border across the northern two-thirds of the state. He has applied his 25+ years of experience as a business executive to the challenges facing sellers and buyers of real estate in the Lakes & Mountains Region. Mr. Braxton has authored several articles and financial models on valuation for project development and real estate applications. In addition to this article, current works include: What Is That View Worth?; Owning an Undeveloped Lot in a Subdivision: Going for Gold or Holding the Bag?; How Much Should I Pay per Acre for Land in the Lakes & Mountains Region of NH?; The Tax-Deferred Exchange: Is It Right for You?; and several analytical series on the values of undeveloped land, and waterfront, water access, and vintage properties in the Lakes & Mountains Region of New Hampshire. His website is at www.ChuckBraxton.com. Mr. Braxton may be reached at his direct line: 603.677.2154, by email: cbraxton@metrocast.net or toll free any time of day or evening at 1- 800/926.5253, ext. 342.

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