Everything You Need to Know About Waterfront Homes in NH

Before you buy a building near a water body in New Hampshire, you need to know that it’ll be a bit different from when you purchased your ordinary house. And by “different”, we mean more regulations. If you haven’t picked it up yet, we’re mostly referring to the New Hampshire Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act ratified in 1991.

Now we know, no one likes it when rules interfere with their plans. But to be fair, the state intends to protect its fragile shorelands from artificial impoundment, which happens to affect waterfront home ownership. Add to that the other regulations and the unbalanced supply and demand, and you see how challenging it is to buy a waterfront home in New Hampshire nowadays. Anyhow, let’s not get carried away because there’s more to buying a waterfront home in NH, and in this article, we’ll go through it all, so stick around!

Why New Hampshire Stands Out

When you think of retirement, you probably don’t think much about New England, where the weather is cold and living costs are high compared to sunnier states like Florida and Hawaii. However, New Hampshire is often ranked highly among the best states to live, work, and retire. It’s sometimes called the “Switzerland of America” because of the quiet yet affluent lifestyle you can develop there.

But why is the Granite State so highly regarded? Let’s look at a few points: taxes, landscape, leisure, and safety.


Unlike most New England and Northeastern USA states, New Hampshire is tax-friendly, especially for retirees. For reference, there’s no income tax on salaries or pensions, no sales tax, no inheritance tax, and no tax on any social security benefits. Property taxes can be high in New Hampshire. See which towns have the lowest property taxes.

Although the cost of living in New Hampshire is above average, the money you’ll save from taxes balances that out.


When it comes to geography, New Hampshire has it all – coasts, blue lakes, sandy lakes, pristine ocean beaches, hills, and white mountains up to 6,000 feet tall. All that in the 5th smallest state at less than 10,000 square miles. New Hampshire is divided into seven regions, so let’s talk a little about each of them.

Seacoast Region

The Seacoast Region is where New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline is. Here you’ll find great summertime joy along beautiful beaches with many maritime activities.

Merrimack Valley Region

If you’re looking for bustling cities with lively activities, then check out Merrimack Valley, which has some of the biggest cities in New Hampshire, including Concord and Manchester.

Monadnock Region

Home to the popular Monadnock Mountain and its various hiking activities, the scenic Monadnock Region has no shortage of invigorating activities and festivals. And being so close to several universities makes Monadnock an excellent place for your children.

Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Region

If various outdoor adventures sound like your thing, the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region is the place to go. Here, you can enjoy hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, and lake activities.

Lakes Region

Home to more than 250 lakes, the Lakes region is where you go to unwind by a calm lake while you sit back and enjoy a drink. But there’s more to it than lakes – popular mountain ranges and festivals can fill up your time.

White Mountains Region

The White Mountains region is famous for its Swiss Alps-like appearance. The highest point in New England, Mount Washington, lies here at nearly 6,300 feet above sea level.

Great North Woods

The Great North Woods region is characterized by its vast open spaces, picturesque woods, and breathtaking waterfalls, a goldmine for nature lovers.


The versatile climate and geography in New Hampshire allow for varied leisurely activities. Within the 9,300 square miles that make up New Hampshire, you’ll find more than a dozen ATV spaces, ski resorts, fishing spots, and mountains in all heights for an enjoyable hiking experience. And the best part? As New Hampshire is small, nothing is farther away than a 30-minute drive from wherever you are.


Considering New Hampshire has the third-lowest violent crime rate (behind its neighbor Maine) and the lowest property crime rate in the USA, we can say that the Granite State is one of the safest states to live in.

The Main Challenges in 2021

The market for waterfront homes in New Hampshire is facing a few challenges in 2021. In this section, we’ll talk about the two primary challenges: the unbalanced supply and demand and the upcoming flood insurance changes, which affect the buyers and sellers.

The Unbalanced Supply and Demand

Most markets experience highs and lows, and we can say that the waterfront homes market in New Hampshire has been experiencing a historic low since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in March 2020. The main problem right now is the unbalanced supply and demand. There’s more demand than supply, which means that homeowners looking to sell their waterfront homes have the upper hand when making a deal.

“What’s the result of this imbalance?” we hear you ask.

For starters, most sellers list their homes for unreasonably high prices. On the other hand, reasonably priced homes are bought almost instantly after being spotted and inspected by clever agents. Moreover, there’s a third category – reasonably priced homes with a good-looking listing that have been up for sale for more than a week. At first glance, these bargain listings may look like an attractive opportunity. Still, you have to be careful as these often have hidden flaws that the seller didn’t disclose because the average buyer isn’t savvy enough to notice them.

The Upcoming Flood Insurance Changes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) perceives that flood insurance is under priced in New Hampshire. It’s looking to increase flood insurance premiums and require flood insurance in areas where they aren’t required. These changes are supposedly coming in October 2021. Considering that New Hampshire recently accepted an update to FEMA flood maps, we’ll likely see a rise in flood insurance costs since the new map already requires more properties to be insured. Check NH flood zone maps here.

Define Your Goals

You need to know what you’re looking for before making such a big purchase. That being said, let’s discuss the most important points to consider.

Buy the Lifestyle, Not the Home

When purchasing your waterfront home, whether it’s a new primary home, a secondary home, a seasonal cottage, or a future retirement home, remember that you’re buying the lifestyle around, not the structure itself. In an everyday home in the city or suburbs, your home doesn’t affect the kinds of activities you do very much. Yet, in a waterfront home, it’s the exact opposite – the setting around your home makes all the difference.

For instance, think of the following questions:

  • Are you looking for skiing or snowmobiling activities in winter? Then look for a home near the snowier lake sides.
  •  Are you looking for a cozy summer cottage and would like to swim or dive in the warm months? Then look for a home near the coastal lowlands or somewhere with deep waters of high quality.
  • Are the waters sandy? This might be a hindrance if you’re looking to swim. You might have to jump into the water yourself and check the sandiness once before buying it to ensure it fits your needs.
  • Are you looking for motor boating activities? Do you already have a motorboat? It would help if you learned about the motorboat regulations in New Hampshire, find out which lakes allow motors and how much horsepower they allow.
  • Are you looking for a peaceful lake to kayak in without any motor activities? Then, search for the lakes where engines aren’t allowed.
  • Are you looking for vast waters that you can explore freely and get lost in or a small lake where your family can wander without getting lost?
  • Are you looking to fish near your home? Research the kinds of fish that reside in the waters near the house and see if they suit your liking.
  • Are there specific places you’d like to be close to? Perhaps a museum, resort, some tourist attraction spots, or else?

These are some of the sample questions you may ask yourself when attempting a purchase. Of course, there are more things to consider depending on your demands. So it would help if you thought through all the logistics before your purchase. You can also talk to your family to get an idea of what they’d enjoy. Before buying a house, make sure the spot is somewhere you’ll be happy staying in for an extended period. If it’s the kind of place you see once, and that’s enough, or if you think you’ll get bored of the area within a year or two, then you probably shouldn’t be pursuing it.

All things considered, we can summarize this part with two sentences: buy the setting and not the house; the house can be changed but not the geography.

Think of the Water

The highlight of a waterfront home is the water – it’s what you’re buying the place for, and it should be on the top of your list when choosing whether a house is suitable for your needs or not. First, you want a nice view of the water from inside. But even if the house doesn’t have a lake view, that shouldn’t be a problem since you can have one made. The real problem is the water quality, so let’s talk a little about it.

The Water Quality Rating Scale Explained

Water quality is usually affected by the organisms that live in the body. The more organisms, the lower the water quality, and the less safe it is for fishing or swimming. You can usually tell the water quality by color. Dirtier waters are greener due to turbid waters, algae growth, cyanobacteria, or weeds, while cleaner waters are near the clear shades of blue. Yet, the water quality scale doesn’t work on a sightseeing basis – an official doesn’t see that a body is a particular shade of green then decides its quality rating. The rating is determined by the water’s fertility, which is defined by the amount of nutrient content and biological productivity in the water. This is because the more fertile a body of water is, the more it’ll allow for the growth of algae, bacteria, and other organisms that pollute the water. Furthermore, there are three water quality ratings, from highest to lowest: oligotrophic, mesotrophic, and eutrophic.

Oligotrophic waters are the highest rated in terms of quality. This is because they have low nutrient content and low biological production and, by extension, clear pristine waters where you can see the sandy or rocky bottom. As a result, oligotrophic waters have a high oxygen content, allowing for the growth of fish species like salmon and trout – perfect for fishing.

There are mesotrophic waters as well, which are characterized by medium nutrient content and biological production, allowing for some algal growth, though not too excessive. So while mesotrophic waters are also clear, you’ll see the bottom with some algae-covered spots here and there.

Conversely, you also have eutrophic waters – the worst water quality rating on the scale. These waters have high biological production due to the excess of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. You can spot a eutrophic lake from a mile away by its distinctively green color. Sometimes the algae will be so excessive that it even kills some of the fish there.

While picking, you have to be careful because a lake’s water quality rating can change if its conditions change. So we’d recommend getting an expert’s opinion on the body early on.

Water Depth and Breadth

As we’ve mentioned, you need to consider what you’re looking for when thinking about the water depth and size. For example, if you’re looking to swim or dive, you’ll probably want a lake about six feet deep in the area surrounding your home. On the other hand, if your children are the ones who’ll do the swimming, you may want shallower water for them. Also, lake size matters. Larger lakes with lots of inlets are very easy to get lost in, so if this sounds like a concern, you’ll want a smaller lake where you won’t get lost.

Neighbors Matter

Lastly, think about your new neighbors before buying. This might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but you don’t want to ruin your experience because you chose the wrong neighbors. We recommend talking to people next door to the place you’re targeting. See if you’re comfortable with them and if you can live in their proximity in the long term. And remember, it’s all right not to want neighbors at all.

Important Rules You Need to Know

Our next point here is about the rules you need to be familiar with before buying a waterfront home in New Hampshire, so let’s get into it.

New Hampshire’s Shoreland Waters Protection Act

The daddy of New Hampshire’s water regulations is the Shoreland Waters Protection Act, which recognizes how fragile the state’s shorelands are and aims to protect the quality of public waters. The act is imposed on the building or modifying of any structures within 250 feet of a public water body, so if you’re looking to do business on a waterfront home, the act will apply to you. Suppose you’re planning to build a new waterfront home, renovate or develop an existing one, cut some trees around it, create a patio or gazebo near the water, or such. In that case, you’ll need authorization from the state’s Department of Environmental Services. There are more specific stringent rules in place as well. For example, walkways, patios, and gazebos must be at least 20 feet away from the waters, and any structure that’s an essential part of the house must be at least 50 feet away. The best advice is to speak with a legal expert or an agent knowledgeable about the matter and have them at your disposal during your search.

Hire an Expert

Last but not least, we can’t stress the importance of hiring an expert enough. Most people aren’t knowledgeable enough about this niche topic, and going in without expert knowledge can lead to getting highballed or even scammed. By contrast, an expert is well-versed on the topic from a legal and practical side. So having an expert working on your purchase full-time could save you thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, and will sew up a better deal that’s worth your money.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, we’ve given you a thorough walk through of waterfront homes in New Hampshire so you can start your search without falling for any of the classic blunders. Out of this article, the two best pieces of advice we should reiterate are buying the setting, not the house, and hiring an expert to handle the nuanced side of things. Honestly, we know this sounds like a much bigger hassle than buying an ordinary house, but it’ll all be worthwhile in the end when you’re making memories in a beautiful place by a pristine lake.