Should You Retire in New Hampshire?
by Tina Boomerina (Christina Gregoire)
I'm from Seattle, so I’ve never given much thought to moving to New Hampshire, but my husband grew up in Manchester, so we visit his family every few years. And, because the Seattle area is so, so expensive (and our retirement interest income is almost zero), we are always on the lookout for places that my husband and I might like. And, New Hampshire is on our short list.
Hey, my husband and I are as different as night and day. I like Manhattan. He likes the suburbs. I like chi chi restaurants. He likes hamburgers. It’s almost impossible for us to agree upon anything, much less agree on a place to live. When we got married, I wanted to live in Seattle, but we ended up in the Seattle suburbs because he was the one paying for the house. And, it was a prime example of the Golden Rule.
People From Boston
In general, it seems that the people most likely to retire in New Hampshire (other than current residents) are folks from Boston, and that's because communities like Manchester, in the southern part of New Hampshire, are actually suburbs of Boston. I just looked it up to double-check, and it only takes an hour to drive from Manchester to the big city of Boston, and Manchester is so close (to Boston) that their airport is called the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
So, if you don’t want to be too far away from your family in Boston, but you want to retire to a place you can afford, I would say that Manchester is a good place to consider.
I’m Not From New Hampshire
Now, remember that I’ve lived most of my life on the West Coast and, if I won the lottery, I would choose to retire in Manhattan, Hawaii, Paris or Santa Barbara. So, as much as I like New Hampshire, it would not be my first choice...because I'm a city girl. However, if I won the lottery, I would buy a summer house on Lake Winnipesaukee (or one of those other beautiful lakes that I can't pronounce). Also, I’ve never been in New Hampshire during the dead of winter, so I would need to experience their cold, snowy season before agreeing with my husband that Manchester is the best place to retire. Yet, most of the time I’ve been in New Hampshire, there have been plenty of days with sunshine. And, seeing the sun gives me lots of energy.
The People in New Hampshire are Friendly
My husband likes the low cost of living and the low taxes, but I like the people. Folks in New England, especially those in Manchester, seem laid back and friendly compared to what I’m used to. The young, skinny store clerks are friendly. The girls at the seafood restaurants are friendly. The people giving directions to lost drivers are friendly. It’s weird…but in a good way.
New Hampshire is Casual
All the people in New Hampshire are casual in attitude and in dress. You don’t need to get dressed up to go anywhere…even to the mall…even to the restaurant…even to anywhere. And, for me, lady from the land of jeans and grunge, to notice that people are casually dressed, well, that’s really saying something.
My most recent trip was during May of 2012, and men (of all ages) were wearing shorts, women my age (Baby Boomer-ish) and older were wearing cropped pants (like clam-diggers), and younger women were wearing short-short, cut-off jeans and tank tops. It seemed like everyone thought they were at the beach. It’s good and it’s bad. You might have to go to Boston to get a chance to get dressed up. On the other hand, you don’t have to spend much money on clothes.
The Food is Great
I don’t know what it is, but food is better in New England. Even the bread tastes better. And, I’m talking about the cheapo chow found in fast-food restaurants. So, just imagine what the upscale restos must be like.
Our home base was a motel in Manchester, but we also took a few day trips, and these are the fast-food joints I loved:
- Clam King in Manchester, New Hampshire: Get the fried clams made with the whole clam. (Nom, nom, nom.) If you don’t want clams, get the Schondland’s all-beef hotdogs.
- Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine, near all the outlet-mall stores: Get the lobster rolls. Then, shop. Then, get more lobster rolls. (Another good place for lobster rolls is The Beach Plum in North Hampton.)
- Some candy store in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire: Yes, we took a picture of the store. No, we don’t have the name of the store because the camera broke. All I can tell you is that they had saltwater taffy and candy apples, but the best part was the fudge. We had chocolate fudge, walnut fudge and vanilla fudge (which my husband threw out by accident). The fudge was so good you could cry. (Fortunately, Hampton Beach isn't far from Manchester, so he's promised to take me back for more fudge next time we visit his family.)
- Ice Cream Delights in Lincoln, New Hampshire: Just look for the line of hungry people.
Low Taxes and a Low Cost of Living
Now, we can get down to the real nitty gritty. One of the main reasons you should retire in New Hampshire, rather than a nearby state, is because it’s cheaper to live there.
Live free or die. New Hampshire has low taxes. They don’t have an income tax or a sales tax. (It’s so weird for me. If something says $15, it’s $15.) Unfortunately, interest and dividends are taxed at 5%, but there is a partial exemption if you’re over 65. Seniors also get tax breaks for military benefits and for property taxes. Check into this with someone who knows more about it than I do.
Houses Are Cheap Compared to Similar Areas
Even though New Hampshire has a high per-capita income, houses are cheaper than in other Boston suburbs. According to Zillow, the median home prices are:
- Manchester NH: $166,000 (about 55 miles from Boston)
- Burlington MA: $365,000 (about 20 miles from Boston)
Crime is Low
I feel really safe in the Manchester and Bedford areas. New Hampshire has the third lowest crime rate of any state. Actually, Maine and Vermont, the other low-crime states, are all about the same. Vermont and New Hampshire feel just as safe as Seattle did in the 50s and 60s…back in the day…when we never even locked our doors. However, I don’t recommend doing that today...no matter where you live.
Small Town Charm
While Manchester feels like a suburb (but not in a bad way), there are all kinds of cool little towns in New Hampshire that feel like the fictional community of Mayberry R.F.D. My recommendation is that you look for a college town, so you’ll get an influx of new blood from all over the country. Some small towns in New Hampshire feel a little too inbred for me. (It's nothing against New Hampshire. I prefer college towns in other states, as well.) Also, college towns usually have great medical facilities. However, almost all of the small communities I saw had cool things going for them: beautiful forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, and/or little old-fashioned town centers. Here are just a few of the many cute towns, along with their median home prices:
- Concord: $167,900. This is the capital of New Hampshire: hospital, Center for the Arts, Granite State College, cute little downtown area.
- Nashua: $188,700. Nashua was twice named as best place to live by Money Magazine. Nashua was part of Massachusetts until 1781: hospitals in Nashua and nearby in Massachusetts, several colleges, 46 miles to Boston.
- Plymouth: $148,200. I don’t know if this little town makes any lists, but my husband’s cousin lives there so we rambled on over to Plymouth and I really liked it. This town is located between the Lakes Region and the White Mountains. (You do know that there are cool lakes and beautiful mountains in the northern part of New Hampshire. The state has lots of fishing, camping, hiking, and snow skiing.) Plymouth State University, Speare Memorial Hospital, cute little downtown.
- Portsmouth: $251,000. Portsmouth is a bit high end according to Zillow. This town consists of urban power families (high-income couples), power singles, and upper-class couples: Portsmouth Regional Hospital, New England charm by the sea.
- Hanover: $375,200. Hanover is home to Dartmouth College (one of the best schools in the world), but it has enough oldies that they have their own senior center, and Hanover is a gorgeous town that could easily be mistaken for a cute little place in Northern California. Of all the little burgs I saw, I think this would be my favorite place to retire.
The Downside of New Hampshire - A Few Small Things
- New Hampshire is a really beautiful place with gorgeous forests, but most of its geography is flat. Well, I’m from a state where I navigate by hills, rivers, lakes, and other landmarks, so I get disoriented and a bit lost when driving in Manchester. Of course, if I had to drive on snow, I’d want the roads to be flat.
- To me, New Hampshire feels like it’s all suburbs, and I’m a city chick. Yes, I know that Easterners dislike big cities, and with those horrid crime statistics, I can understand why. So, if you prefer the burbs, you’ll be right at home, even in the “big city” of Manchester.
- Property taxes are high in New Hampshire. So, if you buy an average house in Concord (about $168,000), your property taxes will be about $3,700. But, in my opinion, New Hampshire is almost as nice as Washington State, and the cost of living probably makes New Hampshire a better place to retire.
I think I’ll have to spend more time there to see if New Hampshire could be my new home, and I'm looking forward to going back.
Have you ever lived in New Hampshire or anywhere in New England? What's it like? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
- Main Photo: Doug Kerr Flickr creative commons.
- Friendly People in New Hampshire: National Garden Club1 Flickr creative commons.
- New England Lobster Rolls: Chung Chu Flickr creative commons.
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