The decision to buy in the Lakes Region or on the Cape is a question that repeatedly surfaces when working with buyers looking for a second home in the New England area. The answer to the question is easy for someone who has lived on the lakes all his or her life. But let us at least try to look at the question objectively.
The Lakes Region versus Cape Cod debate is not an age-old question in the same category as what the universe if made of or the biological basis of consciousness, but it is an old question. Both the Lakes Region and Cape Cod have long histories as resort areas. Wolfeboro on Lake Winnipesaukee claims to be the nation's oldest resort town. According to many accounts, Colonial Governor John Wentworth built the first summer country estate in the town in 1771. On the other hand, the English settled Cape Cod in the mid 1600s, primarily as small farms, fishing villages, and whaling centers. It wasn't until the late 1800s that the Cape had its beginning as a summer destination for city dwellers. If longevity as a resort was to be the deciding factor in our great debate, it would appear the Lakes Region would win by over a hundred years. But second homers and semi-retirees are not normally swayed by history.
If the rich and famous are good barometers of desirability, each area has attracted a host of celebrities through the years. Cape Cod is best known for the Kennedy family compound, but the list of famous homeowners and visitors is lengthy including actress Meg Ryan, film director James Cameron, TV host Phil Donahue, model Christie Brinkley, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The Lakes Region has had it share of the rich and famous as well: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, politician and former governor Mitt Romney, actress Drew Barrymore, and hotel magnate J. Willard Marriott, to name a few. A personal favorite, comedian Bill Murray, visited the Lakes Region during the filming of the movie What About Bob?. And of course, the movie On Golden Pond brought Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, and Katherine Hepburn to Squam Lake and Winnipesaukee. Compiling a list of celebrities at Cape Cod and the Lakes Region would most likely end in a draw.
Here are a few practical factors to consider in the debate. The Lakes Region is a four-season destination. This is a definite advantage for second homers. When summer boating and swimming ends, fall fairs, foliage tours, hiking, and biking kick into high gear. The White Mountains with forty-eight 4000-footers are an easy drive north. Even beautiful ocean beaches on N.H. and Maine's coastline are just over an hour away. The fall and winter seasons overlap with early skiing and skating. When winter finally settles in, it is dynamic, filled with numerous sports including alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and sled dog racing. N.H. has many fine four-season recreation areas including Gunstock, Loon, Ragged, Waterville Valley, Cannon, Bretton Woods, Sunapee, Attitash, and Wildcat, all an easy drive from the centrally located Lakes Region. The winter months lead into spring skiing, hiking, biking, and early season boating before the transition into fun-filled summer months.
The Cape has a summer tourist season that begins on Memorial Day and runs to Labor Day. In recent years, businesses have expanded their operations to extend the season by 2 or 3 months with "off season" rates for those visitors without school-aged children and for the retired. But most of the businesses and activities are geared towards three months and the summer vacation experience. The point here is clear. Homeowners in the Lakes Region can maximize a second home for their own use (or as a rental) into the fall, winter, and spring months long after Cape Cod owners have closed their homes for the winter.
When comparing fresh and salt water, arguably swimming in a lake is more enjoyable. Lakes are generally safer, the water is warmer, there are no strong waves or currents, and there is no tide. An important factor for some people is that a swim in the ocean leaves you feeling salty and sticky, whereas a dip in the lake is cleansing and refreshing. Saltwater is more corrosive than freshwater. A boat and its engine used in saltwater will have a shorter life expectancy than one used in freshwater. Additional, boating regulation and navigation are much more complicated on the ocean.
Both the Lakes Region and Cape Cod appear to be convenient to Boston. But looks can be deceiving. The deception can be described in two words – Sagamore Bridge. The Lakes Region has had its share of traffic backups on one of more of the major commuting highways after a holiday weekend. But nothing can compare to the nightmare of driving off the Cape towards the Sagamore Bridge at the end of a summer weekend. Cape Cod is technically an island. Many agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) treat the Cape as such for purposes of disaster preparedness and other issues. The Cape Cod Canal, dug over a hundred years ago runs across the base of the peninsula and cuts the Cape off from the mainland. Only two bridges allow commuter traffic on and off the island. The bridges over the canal close when winds reach 75 mph, as they did with Hurricane Bob. These events are infrequent but one thing that has become a regular saga is the mega-traffic jam to get off the Cape during the summer. After experiencing one of the super-jams that reportedly lasted two days with traffic backed up 25 miles from the bridge, Rabb, a 58-year-old woman who often traveled to the Cape told the Boston Globe, "I will not do that again." Another traveler's comment in the same Globe article goes to the heart of the matter. "It was a perfect trip in every way until the end." Even the most beautiful destination can be ruined by a grueling commute home. If you retire and can live permanently on the Cape, that's one matter. However, if your wish is to become a "weekend warrior" second home owner, you might take this into consideration.
Now comes a big consideration. What can your money buy? Let's do a little market comparison. Take for example, Meredith, N.H. For 2015 to date, the average home price was $393,284 and the median price was $283,509. In Gilford, N.H. the average price was $248,593 and the median was $227,083. Compare this to Osterville, Mass., where in 2015 the average selling price was $527,181 and the median $390,619, and Chatham, Mass. where the average was $779,934 and the median $612,500. Not to mention the more expensive areas on the Cape such as Nantucket, where the average price is $1,326,015 and the median is $1,088,017.
The significance of owning your shore frontage and docking system cannot be underestimated. There is nothing better than walking across your backyard to your boat for a day of watersports, dinner at one of the many lake-accessible restaurants, or a tour of a quaint New England village. This is a beautiful reality for many homes and condominiums in the Lakes Region, at many different price points. Only a limited number of homes on the ocean can have docks adjacent to the house because of the tides and other issues. These homes come with a high price tag. For most homeowners on the Cape, boating requires the additional expense of a slip at a marina and the inconvenience of having to travel to get to your boat. Another consideration when purchasing an oceanfront home is whether or not there will be sunbathers enjoying the beach in front of your beach home. Compare this to the lake where you own your shorefront exclusively.
In this obviously one-sided analysis, the decision of Lakes Region or Cape Cod may appear clear. But the reality is there will never be a winner declared in this debate. For the buyer, it comes down to one simple question. Which has the greater appeal: ocean or lake? For someone like me, who cringes when the movie Jaws is mentioned, the answer to that question is easy.
Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Mary O'Neill is a sales associate at Roche Realty Group in Meredith & Laconia, N.H. and can be reached at (603) 366-6306. rocherealty.com
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