From Victorian to Modern Open Homes
By Andrew Liebs
Whether you are looking to buy a home or relocate a business, the New Hampshire Seacoast provides diverse opportunities to settle into an area of breathtaking beauty, rich history, and unparalleled quality of life. The recent technology boom, the development of the Pease International Trade Port, and Portsmouth’s perennial inclusion on "best places to live" lists makes the 23 miles of the New Hampshire Seacoast one of the most prized areas in the nation.
"The quality of life you find in the New Hampshire Seacoast is pretty hard to match," says John Rice of Tate & Foss, Inc. of Rye. "You have the ocean, you have skiing an hour away, three major airports an hour away, with the one in Manchester becoming a very attractive alternative to Boston; and now with the railroad, the Seacoast adds a solid infrastructure to its great location."
The Home Market
"Though the inventory is low right now, there is a wide variety of housing stock in all price ranges," says Rice. "We are not as moderately priced as some parts of the country, but for between $250,000 and $300,000, you can find a pretty decent house."
The variety of available housing along New Hampshire’s Seacoast runs the gamut from one-bedroom condominiums in restored mill and factory buildings, 18th and 19th century farmhouses, single-family homes in Portsmouth’s historic Strawbery Banke and the red-brick duplexes in Atlantic Heights that served as shipyard worker housing during World War I, to fully modern townhouses at Spinnaker Point, apartments and condos converted from Victorian mansions, and newer single family and luxury homes.
The dream of having a saltwater farm on the ocean might cost you $10 million, but you could find something along those lines within a half an hour of Portsmouth for well under $1 million, Rice says.
Though the variety is wide, the rapid appreciation of the region, extremely low interest rates, and overall growth has kept inventories low and the market competitive. "Shop around," says Rice. "Keep in mind what amenities you want, what your budget is, and where you want to be. Anything within walking distance of downtown is extremely desirable, and almost any property that has been kept up and modernized will not last long on the market."
"If you are looking for a bargain, you want to be looking in Somersworth, Rochester or Barrington," Rice says. "You will get more for your money and you may still find the proverbial real estate buy."
"It’s a maturing market," says Wanda Syphers, President of Century 21-Syphers Realty of Portsmouth. "The inventory is generally very low, but I think Portsmouth will always be desirable for its culture and amenities." Syphers, who is also 2003 president of the Seacoast Board of Realtors, points to the diversity of properties in town, from renovated houses in the historic district, to conversions on tree-lined streets, to new subdivisions and intentional communities.
Two trends Syphers notes are the conversion of multi-unit apartments into condos and the growth of retirement communities. Among the latter is Blue Bay Terrace in Hampton, one of three senior communities under construction in the Seacoast. "Many people love the area and want to retire here, but don’t want to have to worry about upkeep, so we’re seeing several senior communities springing up in the area."
As with single-family houses, which range from low six-figures to high seven figures, the rental property inventory is low, with September the best time to find values.
The Business Market
The attractiveness of the Seacoast has had its effect on business development as well. Companies are seeing that the Portsmouth region attracts skilled workers looking to build lives as well as careers.
"The Seacoast now offers three things that should make any company looking to relocate take notice," says David Choate of Grubb/Ellis Coldstream Realtors. "We have a highly educated workforce, lots of skilled labor available, and a wide variety of inventory, from 200,000 square-foot facilities, to office suites in the center of town."
The rise of the region as the "eCoast" in the late 1990s, a nationally known high-tech hub between Boston and Portland, and its recent transformation as an entrepreneurial incubator, has drawn top people to the area, many of whom fell in love with the Seacoast enough to weather the recent economic storms.
"The business market is really stratified right now," says Choate. "The office market has lots of vacancies. The dot.com bust has made lots of sublease space available. The industrial market has fewer vacancies since there was not as much speculative building and that sector has seen a lot of activity lately, lots of short-term projects. Retail is very strong as is multifamily investment properties."
Much of the development of the past decade has come at Pease International TradePort, which in a decade has succeeded in developing about 90 percent of its available space, and whose growth has opened up office space in downtown Portsmouth.
Downtown space is a tougher sell because despite its charm and the convenience of a central location, providing free parking for employees is a never-ending challenge.
"A big trend now is companies wanting to buy properties rather than lease," says Choate. "This is largely based on the low interest rates. The problem is, there is not much inventory in this segment."
The Pease Factor
Pease International TradePort is now about 90 percent developed and is enter its 6th year of self-sufficiency, according to David Mullen, executive director of development for the Pease Development Authority.
About 2.6 million square feet of office space have been developed thus far. It is not cheap: the going rate is from $130,000 to $200,000 per acre for which businesses pay a 10 percent annual fee. "The cost for Portsmouth is really above the market value, and we did that on purpose," Mullen says. "We never wanted anyone to say they built at Pease because it was a cheaper deal. They pay a premium at Pease, which we can command because of our location."
Pease, Mullen says, is at the center of the wheel in terms of labor market demographic reach, within a 45-minute commute from Boston and the Route 128 corridor, Portland, Manchester and Concord. "Companies can find the space for growth they are looking for in terms of land mass, and they could be situated closer to their customers and employees."
Mullen says the owners of the empty Celestica building have shown the massive property many times, though its size (206,000 square feet) makes it a hard fit for most companies looking at Pease. The building could be divided into two, Mullen says. Celestica, which makes electronic components for Cisco Systems, was once the tradeport’s biggest tenant, peaking at 900 employees in August 2001. They now have 75 at their Salem, N.H. facility. Celestica’s fall helped sink total Pease employment from 6,300 to its low of about 4,300 a year ago. But Mullen points out that employment has grown in the past year to over 5,000. In addition, the 950,000 square feet of construction in 2002 was the largest amount of development in any one year, according to Mullen. "There have been no cancellations of any plans to build buildings here," Mullen says. "Pease has remained recession-resistant."
Mullen foresees Pease employing about 7,500 once current development is complete.
Pease has added nine holes to its golf course and is in the process of upgrading its clubhouse. The airport is also undergoing change. With domestic flights now in place, the PDA is hoping to attract more cargo traffic in the coming months that can utilize the long runways at the facility.
The new jewel in the PDA crown is Lonza Biologics, which has more than 600 employees and is in the midst of a major expansion, which will create a 350,000 square-foot campus with options to expand further.
Things to consider
For businesses thinking of relocating, David Choate says a main consideration is a business’s need for customer accessibility and parking. "Pease has succeeded by being accessible from all directions," says Choate. "You can have a great business, but if customers can’t find you, or employees can’t find parking, where are you?"
Another consideration, Choate says, is communication. Bay Ring Communications and AT&T have laid fiber optic cable all throughout Pease giving businesses access to advanced networking technologies. If a business needs such technology, it might be more cost effective to select space that is already wired for global access.
For residential properties, Wanda Syphers advises not to wait. "There are no perfect times, just great locations," Syphers says. "When I started in this business many years ago, people were paying seven points to get their interest rate down to 13 percent. And the month I opened my own company, the Pease closure was announced. Times change. Rates are low. Pease TradePort is now a business hub. And Portsmouth properties will always be highly prized."