By Lisa Prevost, April 26, 2023, New York Times

(Photo credit: Allegra Anderson for The New York Times)

By the time they decided they were ready to start a family a couple of years ago, Patrick and Sophie Sayre had become disillusioned with life in Los Angeles. So they began looking for a home in Connecticut, Ms. Sayre’s home state, focusing on the southeastern shoreline.

“I wanted land and more space,” said Mr. Sayre, 37, a creative director who grew up in Los Angeles. They were also looking for proximity to beaches, he added, “which I can’t live without.”

Their search extended from Essex to Mystic, and after about eight months of looking, they found a property they “couldn’t resist,” he said. It was a 4,500-square-foot home on an acre in East Lyme, a town on Long Island Sound, in New London County.

The Sayres submitted an offer last May and were disappointed when they lost out to another bidder. But when that deal subsequently fell through, the owner circled back to the couple and they closed in July for $500,000.

Now raising a newborn daughter, they have grown fond of the restaurants and shops in downtown Niantic, one of two villages in this 34-square-mile community. And their neighbors, they say, couldn’t be nicer. Overall, “we love the fact that it’s clean, safe, peaceful and quiet,” Mr. Sayre said.

Julianne and Todd Cooke were living in northeastern Connecticut when they began scouting for property just before the pandemic. They were looking for a better school system for their youngest son and landed in East Lyme because of a nephew who had a good experience with the schools there.

They found a three-story, two-bedroom waterfront home in a family-friendly beach community in Niantic, paying $424,100, and finished the basement so that Ms. Cooke, 42, a pediatric speech and language pathologist, can work with her young clients there.

“We have beautiful beaches within a mile of our home,” she said. “Everybody’s looking out for everyone in our community, and it’s an excellent place to raise a child. There’s an Easter egg hunt and a field day around the Fourth of July.”

“And,” she added, “there’s one way in and one way out of our neighborhood, so it feels very safe.”

With a population of roughly 19,000, East Lyme sits just outside the city of New London, directly off Interstate 95. The village of Niantic is in the part of town below the highway and along Long Island Sound.

Dense, mostly year-round beach communities with private strips of sand line the Niantic Bay and Niantic River shorelines. The most exclusive of these, Old Black Point, claims the tip of a peninsula that juts into the Sound. Condominium complexes and 55-and-over developments are scattered throughout Niantic and the village of Flanders, on the northeastern side of town. Larger homes on expansive lots are set away from downtown, north of Interstate 95.

Strip malls, pharmacies and fast-food restaurants cater to everyday needs along the major commercial corridors, while locally owned shops and restaurants draw visitors to Main Street in downtown Niantic. The village of Flanders is known for the seafood at Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant, on Route 161.

In addition to its extensive shoreline, the community has several ponds and lakes, and considerable stretches of protected land. Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, along the Niantic River, has numerous hiking trails winding through its 457 acres. Nehantic State Forest has a boat launch and picnicking facilities. The public beaches at Rocky Neck State Park attract lines of cars awaiting entry on summer mornings.

The village of Niantic is also home to the York Correctional Institution, Connecticut’s only prison for women.

What You’ll Pay

Inventory is very limited these days, so multiple bids on new listings are the norm. As of mid-April, there were 15 active listings for single-family homes, ranging from a 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom house on 0.33 acres for $280,000, to a new six-bedroom modernist home on 4.5 acres for $5.95 million.

“We all have buyers waiting in the wings,” said Mary Poola, a broker with William Raveis.

The median sale price for a single-family home for the 12 months ending on March 31 was $427,500, for which you can buy an older three-bedroom house in a neighborhood some distance from the beach, Ms. Poola said, or a cottage-style house on a small lot closer to the water. The median sale price for a condominium or townhouse for the 12 months ending in March was $320,000.

The Norton, a new luxury condominium building with ground-floor retail on Main Street in Niantic, has raised the bar for condo prices in the area. The building’s 12 units, which have access to a roof deck overlooking Niantic Bay, were priced from $425,000 for a one-bedroom to $1.195 million for a penthouse. All but two have sold.

“The community was like, ‘This is never going to happen. How can they ask that price?’” said Amanda Gaudette, the development’s listing agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty. “Then they started pending, and then they started closing.”

The tight sales market has led to an equally squeezed rental market. As of last week, only about 17 rentals were available, some of them seasonal. “I put one on for $2,100 a month recently, and we had swarms of people,” Ms. Poola said. “You feel bad — the market is just so constricted.”
The Vibe

Downtown Niantic is the heart of the community. The stretch of Main Street along Niantic Bay draws locals and visitors alike to boutiques, shops, small restaurants and the Niantic Children’s Museum. Across Main Street, on the bay, are a mile-long boardwalk, McCook Point Park and Hole-in-the-Wall Beach, which takes its name from the short tunnel beneath the railroad tracks used to reach the beach.

“It’s a beach town, but it’s not like Watch Hill or Nantucket — it’s very relaxed,” Ms. Poola said, referring to pricier, better-known areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “You can come off the beach, pull your hair back in a scrunchie and go to a restaurant downtown.”

A farmers’ market operates downtown on Thursday afternoons from June through October.

Just outside the town center, on West Main, the Book Barn invites shoppers to browse through thousands of used books that fill the main barn and several outbuildings.

The Schools

The East Lyme public school district serves roughly 2,600 students. About 70 percent of them identify as white, 10 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 10 percent as Asian and the remainder as two or more races; 23 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Three elementary schools serve students in kindergarten through fourth grade: Flanders, Lillie B. Haynes and Niantic Center. The Integrated Preschool offers three- and five-hour daily programs for preschoolers with special needs along with their typically developing peers.

Students in fifth through eighth grades attend East Lyme Middle School, which has an enrollment of about 750.

East Lyme High School has about 1,000 students. The four-year graduation rate is 98 percent. In 2021-22, the average SAT scores were 572 in reading and writing and 557 in math, compared with state averages of 501 and 486.

The East Lyme Aquatic and Fitness Center, on the high school campus, has a public swimming pool and gym. Memberships for residents are $40 a month for individuals and $60 a month for families.
A woman in a pink top and black shorts runs along a road edged with rocks and large trees.
There is plenty of space for running at Rocky Neck State Park, a 708-acre park on Long Island Sound.Credit…Allegra Anderson for The New York Times
A woman in a pink top and black shorts runs along a road edged with rocks and large trees.

The Commute

At Union Station, in New London, about 15 to 20 minutes away, commuters can catch Amtrak and CTrail Shoreline East trains. Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train to Penn Station in New York City runs throughout the day and takes about three hours. A one-way coach ticket is $125 to $140.

For service to Grand Central Station, commuters can take the Shoreline East train to New Haven and transfer to Metro-North, a trip that takes around three and a half hours in total. The one-way peak fare is about $34; a monthly pass is about $605.

Union Station also offers ferry service to Long Island.

The History

The stone pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park was one of the largest projects built in the state under the federal government’s Works Progress Administration, in the 1930s. The long, two-story cobblestone structure curves to follow the contours of a bluff facing Long Island Sound. The main level is an open hall with massive stone fireplaces and tree trunks serving as supports for the upper level, now reserved for weddings and other private functions. Most of the materials used to build the pavilion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were taken from state parks, forests and quarries.