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Affluent out-of-state homebuyers look to New Hampshire for escape
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Realtors in some sections of the state are experiencing significant increases in buyer activity as out-of-staters look to New Hampshire to purchase properties amidst the ongoing pandemic.

The Granite State, like many others, experienced a shut down early on when COVID-19 infiltrated the country and forced people to coop up indoors. When the shutdown was lifted, realtors in New Hampshire began seeing an uptick in activity which has continued into the fall season.

“We’ve sold more homes over $800,000 here in the last three months than I’ve seen in the last probably five years,” said Josh Brustin, owner and principal broker at Pinkham Real Estate in North Conway. “So, it’s a lot of cash flooding the market. Almost every decent property that comes on now is in a multiple-offer situation and that just never happened here before.”

According to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, statewide pending sales in August 2020 were up 30.7 percent from August 2019.

“This is the most active market that we’ve seen in this section of the state ever, and I’ve been doing this for 28 years,” Smith said.

The only thing that could slow down sales is more Granite Staters holding tight to the properties they own, realtors said.

From Vacation Destination To Primary Home

Buyers from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, southern New Hampshire and primarily Massachusetts are shopping for homes in North Conway, Bartlett, Jackson and Madison, Brustin said. Being in a four-season resort area, there are multiple amenities to offer people, from major ski areas to local resources for retirees, he said.

“So, there’s a lot going on up here and it’s a really nice place to escape to if you want to get out of the city, especially with COVID, or if you want to guarantee that you’ve got a place to go if something maybe happens again down the road,” Brustin said.

As people adjust to the new circumstances the pandemic has brought about — such as options for remote learning and remote work — Brustin believes people are seeing that they can live and work here in New Hampshire, and they’re choosing to do just that.

Since June, when the office started opening back up, Pinkham has seen an incredible amount of buyer activity, Brustin said.

“Now we’re at the point where we are breaking records left and right up here,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like the activity that we’re getting.”

Andy Smith, owner of Peabody and Smith in Franconia, said when the business restrictions were lifted, there was an influx of business from the three months that business had been restricted.

Smith noticed a very strong demand from people just not in their normal market area. Typically, customers are from along interstate 93, from areas like Rhode Island, Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Now with the pandemic, he said the company is seeing buyers from New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and even California. People are looking to New Hampshire as a safe place to weather the pandemic, he said.

“We’re certainly seeing a very strong push to buy homes that are much more primary homes that they can live in and they work in rather than their vacation home,” Smith said. “There’s definitely a shift in the use from a vacation resort, second home to a much more year-round, work out of the home property, and there’s an urgency to do it that we’ve never seen before.”

The Wolfeboro-based Dow Realty Group at Keller Williams is dealing primarily with out-of-state buyers, said CEO Adam Dow. The traffic on his website alone is showing many more people from outside of New Hampshire looking to the state to buy.

From May 1 through September 30 of this year, Dow had 38,150 people on his website from just Massachusetts. During that same time period in 2019, the number was 13,000.

“The people with money that used to travel are now securing their recreational house in New Hampshire so they’re not stuck in Massachusetts if this quarantine thing happens again,” Dow said. “If another quarantine happens, they don’t want to be the neighbor that doesn’t have a lake house looking at their other neighbors empty driveway.”

Despite the demand, Peabody and Smith hasn’t sold more houses this year than in 2019, in part because inventory is low, he said. However, more homes are becoming available for sale and Smith believes that by the end of the year both sales and revenue will be up compared to 2019.

Brustin, however, said that people who have a property in New Hampshire are holding on to it, so that they have a place to go if the pandemic becomes worse and stay-at-home orders take effect again.

With not a lot on the market, there is a lot of pressure in the pipeline but not a lot to offer buyers. In some cases, houses are selling more quickly. It’s not unusual for home to come on the market on a Thursday, and have five or six offers by Sunday, Smith said.

“That’s created a real lack of inventory in our market, and so we’re finding that folks who may have otherwise taken vacations to Colorado or planned two or three trips a year somewhere else, I think they’re seeing that’s probably not going to happen for a while,” Brustin said. “So, I think they’ve decided to instead of doing that, they decided to purchase properties in this area.”

Frank Roche, owner and principal broker at Roche Realty Group in the Lakes Region is also facing an inventory shortage. He said that people are considering their second homes a safe haven, so are keeping them. In addition, there has not been enough new construction.

“I think overall sales for next year could be lower unless we can increase the inventory supply,” Roche said.

Roche said the pandemic alone doesn’t explain increased interest from buyers: low interest rates and civil unrest in more urban parts of the country are also causing people to look at moving to the Granite State, he said.

“How could you not fall in love with New Hampshire,” Roche said. “It’s got so much going for it and in an age of severe turmoil, social unrest and uncertainty in this country it’s definitely a slice of heaven in terms of offering something for everyone in a small state, with very low density and tremendous natural resources for everyone to enjoy.”

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State reaching new highs in number of coronavirus cases
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New Hampshire announced another one-day record for new coronavirus cases Thursday with 252.

The number is a bit deceptive. A reporting issue at a laboratory meant about 50 results should have been included in Wednesday’s data but instead were released Thursday, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said at a news conference.

Still, that would have meant about 200 new cases Thursday and 170 Wednesday — the second and third highest totals to date. And either way, the state has averaged 153 new cases per day over the past week, another new record.

“We continue to see increasing community transmission throughout the state, in all areas of the state,” Chan said.

Though many cases earlier in the pandemic centered on long-term care facilities like nursing homes, Chan said state contact tracers now see more transmission out in the general community. He noted that spending time in crowds and getting together indoors increases the risk.

“People are gathering indoors more,” he said. “People are getting tired of the pandemic, wanting to get out and socialize, be with family and friends. And so it continues to be a struggle, I think, putting the message out there and having people hear that they need to continue to limit social interactions.”

And outbreaks at group-living settings aren’t over. N.H. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette on Thursday announced three new outbreaks, including one at Woodlawn Care Center in Newport.

This week’s COVID-19 stats are the continuation of a trend. New cases in the state had hit a low around mid-August, dropping from their May peak of about 100 a day to fewer than 20, according to a Sentinel analysis of state health data. They rose again gradually through September before increasing sharply in October.

While more people are being tested now, state officials have said they believe the numbers reflect an actual increase in the spread of COVID-19, not just the increase in tests.

Though still well below the levels of the spring, hospitalizations have also gone up in recent weeks. As of Thursday, Granite State hospitals admitted 44 COVID-19 patients, compared to fewer than 20 two weeks ago.

State officials also announced Thursday that two more people have died due to COVID-19 — a man and a woman from Hillsborough County, both at least 60 — bringing the total to 486.

Cases have also ticked up in Cheshire County lately. On Thursday, the state announced at least five new cases in the county. Over the past week, the county has averaged more than four new cases per day, a new high.

The state health department tallies 38 currently active cases in Cheshire County — 14 in Rindge, eight in Keene, five in Jaffrey and between one and four in each of the towns of Chesterfield, Winchester, Swanzey, Fitzwilliam, Harrisville and Dublin.

Elsewhere in the Monadnock Region, Antrim had six, Hillsboro had five and Bennington, Charlestown, Greenfield, Peterborough and New Ipswich each had at least one.

In addition to the Cheshire County cases, the state announced 33 new cases in Hillsborough County outside Manchester and Nashua and four new cases in Sullivan. The county of residence was still being determined for 13 of Thursday’s new cases.

The Valley News reported Friday that 16 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed at the Woodlawn Care Center, the largest known COVID-19 outbreak in an Upper Valley nursing home.

The outbreak at the Newport nursing home includes 13 residents and three staff members, said Woodlawn administrator Chris Martin. One staff member has recovered, he said.

“Nursing homes in the Upper Valley have been largely spared until now,” Martin said in a Thursday phone interview.

At Thursday’s news conference, Gov. Chris Sununu said he is not considering any new restrictions on activity at this point.

But he said he and his public-health team monitor the data closely, and contact tracing allows them to pinpoint clusters related to particular sectors. Sununu said that allows the state to respond quickly and modify industry-specific restrictions as needed. He cited as an example the state’s temporarily closing ice rinks in October before allowing them to open with new requirements, after outbreaks linked to hockey.

“Even though the numbers continue to rise, we very confidently feel like this is something that can and will be managed,” Sununu said, “but again, a reminder to everybody that we all have to take that personal responsibility, wearing masks, social distancing.”

And, he added, “We ask everyone to be on the extra-cautious side when making their plans for the holidays.”

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Political experts urge patience with presidential race in balance

Americans continue to wait for the final result of Tuesday’s presidential election, with thumbs across the country having been sufficiently twiddled and knuckles well-cracked in the days since.

But political experts in New Hampshire have a singular message for residents anxiously awaiting the race’s outcome: Be patient.

Neither President Donald Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden have earned 270 Electoral College votes as of Friday morning, and the presidential race hinges on several battleground states that have not finished tallying their votes, including Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona.

The protracted count in those states is the result of voters’ having cast a record number of absentee ballots this year, according to Michael Welsh, a political science professor at Keene State College.

The U.S. Elections Project, a voting database run by University of Florida Professor Michael McDonald, estimated that more than 65 million Americans — nearly half of all voters this year — cast mail-in ballots after many states eased their requirements for absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And as volunteer poll workers nationwide continue to process those ballots, Welsh said people should avoid making inferences about their contents.

“There’s some very close states out there, and you cannot do much more than to trust the people that are counting and give them the time and the space to do it,” he said.

Welsh added that a deluge of public polling before the election, in addition to the drawn-out vote count, contributed to an “emotional rollercoaster” among election watchers, with many expecting substantial Democratic victories that do not appear to have materialized. To avoid further stress, he recommended that people wait for final results before reaching any conclusions.

“Unless you enjoy that kind of mood swinging, it’s best just to relax and let it happen,” he said.

JoAnn Fenton, a member of the Cheshire County Democratic Committee, said she and about 20 other volunteers spent Thursday collecting candidates’ signs from around the county. She was monitoring the news periodically for updates in the presidential race but noted local Democrats’ confidence that Biden will ultimately prevail.

“We keep checking in to see if anything’s changed, but we’re not biting our nails,” Fenton, a Keene resident, said.

Neither Cheshire County Republican Committee Chairwoman Marilyn Huston nor N.H. Republican National Committeewoman Juliana Bergeron could be immediately reached for comment Friday morning.

In New Hampshire, more than 260,000 voters cast absentee ballots, representing 32 percent of the state’s turnout. Since poll workers were allowed to “preprocess” absentee ballots — the state’s term for making sure they were cast lawfully and notifying people whose ballots were rejected — before Election Day, however, most communities reported results that night.

Biden picked up the state’s four electoral votes, but down-ballot Republicans were largely successful, with Gov. Chris Sununu of Newfields coasting to re-election and the GOP capturing majorities in the state Legislature and Executive Council. Those results indicate that many Granite Staters cast ballots for candidates of both parties, Welsh noted.

“I think that Sununu’s popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into popularity for the president,” he said.

Welsh explained that “split-ticket” voting typically increases as public trust in political parties wanes, but added that it may be particularly common in New Hampshire because residents are well-informed about individual candidates.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said he was not surprised by the results, explaining that Granite State governors have historically been able to separate themselves from national politics. He argued, however, that state Republicans’ new legislative majorities are the result of favorably drawn political districts, rather than convincing electoral margins statewide.

Noting that the relaxed absentee-voting requirements this year were due to emergency order rather than a new state law, Smith said GOP lawmakers may be hesitant to codify those changes.

But Welsh predicted state officials will look to improve absentee voting and perhaps even make permanent its expanded accessibility, noting that mail-in ballots are rarely fraudulent and draw greater participation.

“It’s not wrong for people to sit down and talk to each other as they’ve got the ballot in front of them and maybe they’re confronting some of the … choices for the first time,” he said.

With all ballots now cast and many, including those that will decide the presidency, still being tabulated, Smith echoed Welsh’s calls for patience.

“Don’t get glued to the screen and watch the results,” he said. “They will eventually come in, and there’s nothing you can do by watching them that is going to influence what the ultimate results are, other than make you stressed out.”