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A look at the housing market

  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.
  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.
  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.
  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.
  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.
  • Candace Starrett puts up  For Sale sign at a home in Rindge last week.

As the snow melts and days get warmer throughout the Monadnock region, many people start to seriously look at either buying or selling a home. Some may have had enough of winter and don’t want to go through another like the one we just endured. Others might be looking to downsize to a smaller residence. Some are thinking of a vacation home, or perhaps looking to get more house for their money, even if it means a longer commute. So as they peer cautiously into the future, local real estate agents see a number of trends that indicate the housing market is about to pick up steam.

Who’s buying, who’s selling

“The spring market’s just starting, so it’s hard to get a feel,” says Candice Starrett of Candice Starrett Real Estate in Rindge. “We’ve had a long, cold winter, so the season’s been delayed by a month.”

Starrett is seeing buyers coming in from the Worcester, Mass., area as well as from Boston and Connecticut. Some of them are people looking to retire to New Hampshire and some are older folks looking to stay put, but perhaps in a smaller house.

Sarah Pyle of Country Brokers Real Estate in Francestown has seen an increase in second-home buyers.

“That’s kind of encouraging,” Pyle says. “People are coming over here from the Manchester area. We’ve even had a number of buyers from the Amherst area who are looking for acreage and privacy. We have some gorgeous towns in the region. That’s very appealing to people.”

Marc Tieger of Tieger Realty in Jaffrey says first-time buyers are still plentiful.

“I see them buying homes around $150,000, with mortgages that require little or no down,” he says. USDA Rural Development, FHA, and Veteran’s Administration loans all have reasonable rates and allow sellers to contribute to closing costs.

“That makes quite a difference,” Tieger says. “Closing costs can easily be $6,000 or more.”

Anna Schierioth of HKS Associates in Jaffrey and Keene says first-time buyers accounted for 43 percent of her sales between January and April, while 36 percent were to people, some from outside the region, who were moving up to larger homes. Just 14 percent of her sales were to investors.

“The investor market is soft right now,” Schierioth says. “There are fewer foreclosure properties. A year and a half ago, I managed over 400 foreclosures. I’m managing about 40 right now.”

Hancock real estate agent Ken Moller of The Mollers Realtors says many of his sales are to people retiring to the Monadnock region, mostly from out of state.

“When I got into the business 42 years ago, 80 percent of our sales were to retirees,” Moller says. “In the ’80s and ’90s, we had young people moving in. Now we’re going right back to retirees.”

As for sellers, each situation is unique, according to Tieger.

“We sold a house recently for a couple who are moving back to Washington state,” he says. “Another couple is moving to the Cape. We have a client moving because of a job transfer.”

He said properties that have been on the market for a while are starting to sell, usually because the price has come down.

“It’s really a question of seller’s motivation,” Tieger says. “If you have an estate to settle or a job change, you don’t want to wait.”

Starrett says a lot of people are thinking of scaling back.

“Empty nesters are putting big houses on the market,” Starrett says. “I’m seeing older women who are now single who are wanting to find something smaller.”

Starrett says single-story residences are in demand for people looking to downsize, while people coming from cities or heavily populated suburbs are looking for larger properties, with land.

The state of the market

Tieger says the Monadnock region lags behind other parts of the state for one reason.

“We don’t have enough jobs here. That’s the biggest single problem,” he said. “In the early ’80s, we had people coming in droves because there were jobs and it was more affordable here. We just don’t have that anymore.”

The Monadnock region always lags behind when an economic recovery starts to occur, according to Schierioth.

“It all has to do with where the job opportunities are and the distance people have to drive,” she says. “That’s why Hollis and Bedford and Brookline have higher values. The market is good over there. Our recovery is slower.”

She says many buyers are looking to telecommute.

“It’s important to have good Internet service,” she says. “In the towns that don’t, it holds them back a little bit. If I show a house with poor Internet or cell service, it can be hard to make the sale.”

Pyle says the market has shifted in the last two decades, with perhaps fewer people willing to invest in older homes.

“A lot of the housing stock in this area is antique and unique,” she says. “A lot of buyers are concerned about energy efficiency and cost of upkeep. That’s not a new challenge; we’ve had it for the last decade.”

But those antique homes can be very attractive to the right buyer, especially once they can see them in nice weather.

“We’ll see a better level of activity once people feel like going outside again,” Pyle says. “A lot of what people are buying for is the land around the house. The setting matters. It’s hard to make a buying decision if that land is under 6 feet of snow. That’s why we get so slow in the winter.”

Andy Peterson of The Petersons Country Real Estate in Peterborough also sees the trends that Pyle and Schierioth have noticed.

“Many people now are looking for newly built, well-insulated homes with less maintenance,” he says. “They need fast Internet, and municipal water and sewer are important. For many people, it’s important to be near a vital town center.”

Peterson says an economic recovery is coming our way.

“The people who felt in 2008 that Chicken Little was an optimist are starting to come around,” Peterson says. “Our employment base has held pretty well. Our unemployment rate has been good through the whole recession. Now people are feeling confidence to move forward.”

Peterson says hot spots around the state, including the Seacoast and the towns around Nashua, are likely to recover first.

“That’s typically how it goes,” he says. “It takes six months or a year for that to take effect here.”

The school factor

The quality of local schools is important to many buyers, real estate agents agree, but it’s difficult to quantify.

“In truth, some people will want district A and not B; others want B and not A,” says Tieger. “It really is an individual decision. When someone asks about school districts, I sometimes say, ‘Here’s the superintendent’s number. Give him a call.’”

Peterson says the perceived quality of a school district makes a difference.

“Maintaining a high-quality school system is important,” he says. “If people are forced to send their children to private schools, it directly affects property values.”

Moller says school districts are less important to the older retirees who are buying homes.

“They want to get into a town with a good tax rate,” he says. “They’re looking for a quality home at a good price, with not a lot of traffic, not a lot of noise. Most of them really enjoy the outdoors.”

What’s ahead

In general, the local agents seem optimistic about the near future.

“I think 2014 will be a pretty good year,” Moller says. “Sales are creeping up. At the height of the recession, we had 34 properties listed in Hancock. Now we have about 16. Everything under $200,000 is selling, but the sales over $400,000 are still scarce. We were the last to be affected by the recession and we’ll be the last to come out.”

In some parts of the state, agents are starting to see multiple offers on homes, but that hasn’t happened here yet, according to Moller.

“If a house is priced for the market, there’s usually not a lot of negotiation,” says Starrett. “The waterfront market has been good in the past and we’re starting to get new listings now. We have mobile homes in a co-op park that are selling. Everything is selling; it just might take a while.”

Tieger says the market for sellers is getting better.

“The foreclosures and short sales created a wholesale market until fairly recently that was competition for individual sellers,” he says. “So it’s been a buyer’s market. We’re finally starting to see an upturn. It’s not happening overnight. It may not happen this year. But it will happen.”

Peterson says the quality of life that is the chief calling card for the region will help boost sales as the local economy continues to improve.

“There’s pent-up demand both to buy and to sell,” he says. “My feeling is that 2014 will be a year when people can accomplish their plans. Buyers feel they will get a fair price and they’re willing to pay a fair price. We have a very desirable area here, and mortgage money is available at or near historic lows.”

And Pyle says last year was the strongest one in the past five years, so she’s encouraged.

“I expect this will be similar, but it’s way too early to say we’re going to have a banner year,” she says. “I hope we will.”

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