Housing is a complex challenge and everyone’s story is different. In this blog series, Vital Communities Housing and Transportation team member Ellen Hender offers close-up views of how our neighbors are affected by current Upper Valley housing realities.
When they decided to seek a home in Lebanon, Alyssa and her husband faced unexpected challenges. But where they really feel the impact of the housing shortage is their business.
Alyssa and her husband bought their first house in Manchester in 1998. The offer they made was under the asking price, they got a good mortgage rate, and they were able to have the owners make some requested changes before the closing. Fast forward to last year and it was a different story.
They were commuting from Manchester to Lebanon where they own a furniture business but with their kids reaching adulthood, they decided it was time to downsize a bit and, in particular, shorten their commute.
The first thing Alyssa noticed when their housing search began was that there was very little housing in the middle price range. There were options for big and expensive houses and some options at the lower end, most needing a lot of work, but almost nothing in between.
Their main concern was finding something close to their business and while it wasn’t an easy search, they were able to find a home less than two miles away. But, as anyone who has recently been in the market will likely relate to, they were only able to get this house because they made an offer over the asking price the day after finding the posting without seeing the house in person and they waived the inspection. Even moving that quickly, there had already been five other offers. And it’s a house that will need some finishing touches.
Alyssa has two children, now 18 and 21. While they were able to downsize to some extent, the pandemic led to some bumps in their children’s plans which means they are still at home, so it wasn’t quite the downsize they had originally anticipated. She does, however, plan for this to be the home they retire in. Perhaps a little different from some other housing stories as well is that they haven’t sold their Manchester house yet, noting that they’re finishing up some needed fixes first. In hindsight she feels it would have been better to sell it as is.
It hasn’t been easy to move to a new community during a pandemic either. Alyssa shared that there were few community events to get to know the area and the people, so she’s still feeling like a bit of an outsider. But she has appreciated some of the amenities of the Upper Valley, in particular the public transit provided by Advance Transit. One of the impacts of the pandemic has been a delay in her youngest getting his license, but he is able to take the bus from their store to the community college.
And the move has certainly met their goal of improving their commute. Being just a couple miles away and on a main road means it’s an easy drive, even in winter weather. All in all, they’re happy with where they ended up, she said. “We’re lucky to have gotten our home, but it definitely feels like we overpaid some.”
As a business owner, however, Alyssa sees the impact the housing shortage has on her employees and the business’s potential to grow. Of their 15-20 employees, only one lives in Lebanon. The rest live 30 minutes to an hour away. She notes that this is a challenge in inclement weather when they only have a couple of people able to make it in.
Most don’t have plans to try to move closer, in part because they enjoy where they live but perhaps in part because there aren’t many other options. Lebanon is a good location for their business though, so the business is staying put. She would however like to open a second store that offers lower priced items, but staffing is the main barrier to moving that forward.
So while Alyssa and her husband managed to find housing that works for them, even in a tough market, the challenges for their employees – and, as a result, their business – remain.
– Ellen Hender