As we continue moving through summer and into fall, StateImpact is taking stock of New Hampshire’s near-perpetual vacation season. Over the next month, we’ll be taking an up-close look at an integral—and under-studied—part of the state’s economy: vacation homes, the people who own them, and the towns that love their tax revenue.
For this week’s installment of our series, we start with the simple questions: Where are these homes that are used for “seasonal, recreational or occasional use,” as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau? How many are there? And who owns them?
The Tourism State
A significant portion of New Hampshire’s economy is based on tourism. In fact, the only reason it’s the state’s number two industry is because economists tend to combine the smart manufacturing and high technology sectors. Otherwise, it’s the largest economic sector. But if you talk to the Division of Travel and Tourism, you’ll find that they only keep track of “occasional visitors.” Those are people who make a day trip out here, maybe stay overnight, or even a few days, and then trek back home. What the division doesn’t keep track of are the people who maintain permanent vacation reservations, thanks to their second homes. But the Census Bureau does.
Vacation Homes By The Numbers:
NH Vacation Homes: 63,910
Percentage Housing Stock: 10.4
Net Increase In Number Of Seasonal Homes Since 2000: 7,497
Percent Increase In Vacation Homes Over Past Decade: 13.3
Towns, Grants and Purchases With Only Seasonal Homes: 5
Towns, Grants And Purchases With No Vacation Homes: 12
Town With The Most Vacation Homes: Moultonborough, 2,991
Information from 2010 US Census
But this is an important piece of New Hampshire’s economy, so it interests independent economists who study the state. Take Russ Thibeault. He’s President of Applied Economic Research in Laconia, NH, and he’s kept track of vacation homes for years. “There are just under 64,000 homes in New Hampshire that are held for seasonal or occasional use,” Thibeault says. “And that’s a little bit over ten percent of the housing stock in the state, meaning one out of ten of the housing units in New Hampshire is a second home.”
Most are owner-occupied, rather than rentals. Given trends over the past decade, this isn’t unusual for New England. The 2000 Census ranked New Hampshire third in the nation for percentage of housing stock represented by vacation homes, behind Vermont and Maine.
So where are these second homeowners from? Thibeault says that can depend a good deal on infrastructure—specifically, the lay of the roads. Vermont, for example, gets the bulk of New York vacationers, thanks to roads that make travel easy between the two states. So New Hampshire loses out on that front. But, predictably, the state wins when it comes to Boston.
“What we have in New Hampshire is relatively unique, in that we have really beautiful, outstanding natural resources in the form of ski areas and the lakes, very close to a very affluent and densely-populated metropolitan area, metropolitan Boston,” Thibeault says.
Home is Where the Lakes Are
Where are these homes? Thibault says most are (predictably) concentrated in the Lakes Region—Belknap and Carroll counties. The Seacoast also puts in a respectable showing for long-term, returning summer visitors. And the North Country, especially the White Mountains region, has a nice concentration of homes for the skiing crowd.
Using numbers from the 2010 Census, StateImpact has created the interactive map below. Just click on the town, and find out how many vacation homes are there, and how much they account for total housing stock. The darker the shade, the higher the proportion of vacation homes.
Interactive Map By Matt Stiles, NPR
Some information might surprise you. For example, some towns in the North Country report 75 or even 100 percent concentration of vacation homes among all housing units. (Of course, those same areas report having one, two, or four houses total…which is less surprising.)
The Lakes Region has by far the highest numbers of vacation homes—sometimes numbering over a thousand—but the saturation isn’t as great as in some North Country communities.
Keep checking in with StateImpact over the next month as we examine how New Hampshire’s second home industry affects the state’s taxes, communities, and demographics.