The decision to buy in the Lakes Region or on the Cape is a question that surfaces when working with a number of buyers looking for a second home in this area. I'll attempt to look at the question objectively.
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 generally not 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. Still, the list of famous homeowners and visitors is lengthy, including former president Barrack Obama, Taylor Swift, 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 its share of the rich and famous: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, politician Mitt Romney, actress Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Adam Sandler, Triple H, Vince McMahon, and hotel magnate J. Bill Marriott, to name a few. Comedian Bill Murray visited the Lakes Region during the filming of the movie What About Bob? 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 likely end in a draw.
Here are a few things to consider in the comparison. 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 its forty-eight 4000-footers, are an easy drive north, and the Belknap Mountains are in your backyard. Beautiful ocean beaches on NH and Maine's coastline are just over an hour away. When winter finally settles in, it is dynamic, filled with numerous sports, including alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, skating, the popular pond hockey tournament in Meredith, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, the ice fishing derby, and sled dog racing. NH 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. But most of the businesses and activities are geared towards four 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 saltwater, arguably, swimming in a lake is more enjoyable. Lakes are generally safer; the water is warmer. There are no strong waves or currents; there is no tide and no sharks!. Some people feel a swim in the ocean leaves you salty and sticky, whereas a dip in the lake is cleansing and refreshing. Saltwater is more corrosive than fresh water. A boat and its engine used in saltwater will have a shorter life expectancy than one used in freshwater and will need more maintenance. Additionally, boating regulations and navigation are much more complicated on the ocean.
Both the Lakes Region and Cape Cod appear to be convenient to Boston. But traffic and the Sagamore Bridge leading to the Cape are the problem. 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 homeowner, 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, for 2020 to September 30th, in Laconia, NH, the average was $326,453, and the median price was $245,000. In Gilford, NH, the average price was $508,218, and the median was $327,450. In Meredith, NH., the average home price was $696,017, and the median price was $445,000. In Wolfeboro, NH, the average price was $516,714, and the median was $345,000. Compare this to Osterville, MA, where in 2020, the average selling price was $897,540 and the median $675,597, and Chatham, MA, where the average was $932,941 and the median $710,667; and Provincetown, where the average selling price was $855,428, and the median was $734,873 Not to mention the more expensive areas on the Cape, such as Nantucket, where the average price is $2,763,386, and the median is $2,340,080.
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 water-sports, dinner at one of the many lake-accessible restaurants, or a tour of a quaint New England village. 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. Beaches get packed with tourists; they are noisy, and seaweed accumulates. 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 straightforward. But the reality is there will never be a winner declared in this age-old debate. For the buyer, it comes down to one simple question. Which has the greater appeal: ocean or lake? For me, I like the four seasons aspect, and I love skiing, hiking. When I'm looking for a change of pace, I can be at the coast in just over an hour for that salt air experience.
This article was written by Frank Roche. Frank is president of Roche Realty Group with offices in Meredith and Laconia, NH, and can be reached at (603) 279-7046. Lakes Region data was compiled by a NEREN search on 11/13/2020 at 11:00 am EST and is subject to change. Cape Cod data was compiled by a Home Junction Inc. search on 11/13/20 at 11:00 am EST and is subject to change. Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market.