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7 Best Places to Live In North Carolina – Calling the Tar Heel Home

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North Carolina is known for its scenery, thriving economy, and booming housing market, making it a hotspot for potential residents. Not only are the Blue Ridge Mountains and pristine Atlantic beaches located here, but the state ranked number 3 in the country as America’s Top State for Business in 2023. 

With so many unique cities and towns to choose from, having an idea of the type of neighborhood you want to move into will help make the transition simpler. In this guide, we’ll explore the best places to live in North Carolina. 

Whether you’re relocating for work, looking to raise a family, or are in the process of retiring, iBuyer.com can provide you with a simple way to sell your current home. We make home sales simple, so you can focus on your upcoming move to North Carolina. Get ready to find your perfect match!

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Key Factors in Choosing a Place to Live

Choosing where to live is a big decision. It is, after all, where you’ll be spending a significant portion of your time. Whether you’re looking to relocate for work, retire, or simply start a new chapter in life, here are several key factors to keep in mind.

Cost of Living

One of the most crucial factors to consider when deciding on a place to live is the cost of living. This includes the cost of housing, groceries, transportation, utilities, and taxes. North Carolina has a relatively low cost of living compared to other states, which makes it an attractive option for many.

Job Opportunities

North Carolina is home to several major industries like healthcare and technology. Most job opportunities exist within the Research Triangle, a hub for companies based in or around Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. When searching for a new home, consider the number of available jobs, the types of industries, and the average salary.

Quality of Education

North Carolina currently ranks No. 16 nationwide in education but No. 9 for higher education, likely due to the presence of the world-class universities mentioned above, including Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The best school districts throughout the state are in Chapel Hill, Columbus, and Monroe.

Healthcare

While North Carolina doesn’t rank top for healthcare nationwide, the state offers a range of healthcare options, from major hospitals and medical centers to smaller clinics and practices. Depending on your needs, you may want to prioritize proximity to medical facilities or the availability of specific services.

Safety

North Carolina has a relatively low crime rate overall, but there can be variations between different North Carolina cities and regions. When evaluating potential locations, look for information on crime rates, emergency services, and neighborhood safety.

Lifestyle Amenities

Lastly, your lifestyle preferences are essential when deciding where to live. Are you an outdoor enthusiast? Do you enjoy urban centers or coastal areas? North Carolina has plenty of options for everyone, but you’ll want to understand your preferences before looking for where to live in North Carolina.

The Best Places to Live in North Carolina

From the stunning beaches on the Outer Banks to the vibrant city life in Raleigh and the charm of Asheville, there’s a city for every kind of lifestyle in North Carolina.

To help you decide which is the best for you and your family, we’ve explored the best places to live in North Carolina below, giving you all the details you need to decide which suits your budget, needs, and lifestyle.

1. Raleigh

Raleigh is the place to be if you’re looking for a city with plenty of opportunities, great cultural experiences, and world-class education. The capital city of North Carolina has made a name for itself as a hub for innovation, thanks in part to the Research Triangle Park, a technology and research park home to over 375 companies.

Economic Opportunities

The Research Triangle Park is a major driver of Raleigh’s economy. Companies like IBM, Cisco, and GlaxoSmithKline are in the park, and plenty of other companies and startups are based in Raleigh. The city has a strong job market, low unemployment rates, and a median annual income of over $78,000.

Cultural Scene

Raleigh’s cultural scene is as diverse as it is vibrant. The city is home to the North Carolina Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love the city’s diverse and growing food scene, which includes classic Southern fare, international options, and plenty of craft breweries.

Educational Institutions

Raleigh is also home to some of the best colleges and universities in the state, including North Carolina State University, Wake Technical Community College, and Saint Augustine’s University. These institutions provide a great education and serve as a gateway to opportunities that extend far beyond the classroom.

Housing Market

While the Raleigh housing market is becoming more competitive, home values are expected to remain mostly flat this year, giving potential buyers more time to save for their dream home. With big companies like Apple, Google, and Meta set to move into the area, more dense housing will pop up in the coming years, providing even more options for those looking to call Raleigh home.

2. Charlotte

Charlotte is a bustling city known for its southern charm, cultural diversity, and vibrant business scene. If you’re looking for a city with endless opportunities for career growth and exciting recreational activities, moving to Charlotte might just be for you.

Business Hub and Cultural Diversity

As the largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is home to headquarters for companies like Bank of America and Duke Energy, meaning the city offers plenty of job opportunities for young professionals. The city is also home to a growing startup scene, making it an appealing destination for entrepreneurs.

Beyond its business prowess, Charlotte is known for its cultural diversity. Uptown is the business and banking hub of the city, for example, while Plaza Midwood boasts a funky charm, and NoDa is equivalent to New York’s SoHo district. Throughout each of the two latter neighborhoods, you’ll find plenty of art installations, craft breweries, and unique restaurants to visit regularly.

Recreational Activities

Charlotte offers plenty of recreational opportunities for residents. For sports enthusiasts, the city is home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Nature lovers, on the other hand, can enjoy a day at the 1,000-acre Freedom Park, while thrill-seekers can get their fix at the top-rated Carowinds amusement park.

According to a report from SmartAsset, Charlotte’s real estate market is projected to continue growing, with average home prices increasing between 5.6% and 7.5% in 2024. Currently, some of the best neighborhoods in Charlotte include Ballantyne West, Highland Creek, and Prosperity Church Road. If you’re looking to buy or rent, consider these popular neighborhoods.

What can you expect to pay? As of December 2023, the median listing home price in Charlotte was $419.9K, up 5% from the previous year. While affordable housing is a challenge in Charlotte, the city’s growth and development show no signs of slowing down.

3. Asheville

Asheville, located in the heart of Western North Carolina, is where the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, arts and culture, and a vibrant downtown converge to create a unique and captivating destination. Let’s take a closer look at what makes Asheville one of the top cities in North Carolina.

Scenic Beauty, Arts and Culture, Vibrant Downtown

The Blue Ridge Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop for Asheville, making it an ideal place for outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic drives to explore.

Asheville is also a hub for arts and culture, home to museums, galleries, music venues, and the iconic Biltmore Estate. The River Arts District, for example, is a must-see for anyone interested in local art. Downtown Asheville is a bustling hub of activity, with an abundance of shops, restaurants, breweries, and entertainment options.

Cost of Living and Real Estate Market

While Asheville is known for its beauty and culture, it also comes with a higher cost of living. According to BestPlaces, the cost of living in Asheville is 5.8% higher than the U.S. average and 16.3% higher than the average for North Carolina. To live comfortably in Asheville, a minimum annual income of $82,080 for a family and $61,600 for a single person is recommended.

Despite the higher cost of living, the real estate market in Asheville presents a sweet spot for buyers right now. According to experts, interest rates are low(er), and there’s not a ton of demand, making it the perfect time to purchase property in the area.

4. Wilmington

Located along the coast of North Carolina, Wilmington is a popular spot for those seeking a beachy lifestyle with a touch of historical significance. This city boasts a rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, with many museums and historical sites to explore.

Coastal Living

From sandy beaches to scenic cruises, the city is a haven for water enthusiasts. But Wilmington is more than just a beach town. The city is steeped in history, with a rich cultural heritage reflected in its architecture, museums, and landmarks.

The historic district of Wilmington is home to over 230 blocks of beautifully preserved buildings, including mansions, churches, and storefronts, which earned the city a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tourism Industry

With numerous attractions, such as the USS North Carolina Battleship, Riverwalk, and Cape Fear Museum, visitors flock from all over to discover what makes Wilmington so special. But while tourists come and go, Wilmington’s residents enjoy the year-round benefits of living in a tourist destination.

Housing Market

Wilmington’s housing market is picking up speed, with professionals noting that it remains optimistic heading into the new year. The median listing home price was $449.9K in December 2023, trending down -3.7% year-over-year. But with a median listing home price per square foot of $253, it’s still an attractive option for those looking for that coastal lifestyle.

Best of all, Wilmington’s real estate market offers various options, from restored historic homes to new construction, and its lifestyle amenities include excellent schools, vibrant nightlife, and a thriving arts and culture scene. If you want to buy property in Wilmington, check out homes in the Masonboro Sound, Landfall, and River Lights neighborhoods.

5. Durham

Durham, North Carolina, might be known as the home of the Blue Devils. However, the city, located in the Research Triangle, has much more to offer residents than just proximity to Duke University.

Education, Healthcare, and Culture

As mentioned, Durham is home to Duke University, meaning it’s also home to the world-renowned Duke University Hospital. This hospital is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation and is a major contributor to the city’s economy. Durham is also home to a diverse population, with a strong African American community and growing Latino/Hispanic and Asian populations.

Real Estate Market

As of December 2023, the median listing price for a home in Durham was $425K, with a median price per square foot at $234. However, despite the high demand, listings and sales have declined recently. While this may be intimidating for potential buyers, it also means there’s no better time to invest in Durham’s real estate market.

Community Life

In addition to the great real estate opportunities in Durham, the city is also home to a strong sense of community. Numerous festivals and events are held throughout the year, such as the Bull Durham Blues Festival and the American Dance Festival, attracting visitors from all over.

The city’s art scene is thriving, too, with galleries, theaters, and live music venues popping up all over town. There are also plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, with miles of hiking and biking trails, community parks, and nearby lakes.

6. Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem is one of the best places to live in North Carolina, as it’s a city with a rich history, innovative spirit, and a cultural scene that’s hard to match. Not only is it more affordable than many other places, but the quality of life is also exceptional.

Historical Charm and Culture

Winston-Salem is often called the “City of Arts and Innovation,” as the city’s arts scene is thriving and diverse, with numerous galleries, theaters, and music venues. The RiverRun International Film Festival is a must-see for cinephiles, while the city’s rich industrial heritage is preserved at the Historic Bethabara Park, which is also home to Salem College and the Moravian Museum.

Innovation is also a hallmark of Winston-Salem. Innovation Quarter is a massive research park home to several technology companies, startups, and universities. Winston-Salem has some of the best hospitals in the state, including the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

Housing Affordability and Quality of Life

The cost of living in Winston-Salem is about 15% lower than the national average, making it an affordable place to live in North Carolina. A typical home in Winston-Salem costs just $ 229,400, over 30% less expensive than the national average. Even renting an apartment here is a bargain, with two-bedroom units costing just $1,010 monthly.

But don’t let the low cost of living fool you into thinking you’ll sacrifice quality of life. Winston-Salem is a fantastic place to raise a family, with highly-rated schools and plenty of parks and outdoor spaces to explore.

7. Greensboro

Greensboro should definitely be on your radar if you’re looking for a vibrant (yet smaller) city in North Carolina with a bustling economy. This city, located in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, boasts numerous professional and educational opportunities, making it an ideal place to live and work.

Economic Opportunities

One of Greensboro’s main attractions is its selection of fantastic employment opportunities. Greensboro has plenty of industries, from finance and healthcare to manufacturing and government. Moreover, the city’s unemployment rate is (usually consistently) lower than the national average, which is great news for job seekers.

Sports-Centric Culture

Sports enthusiasts will find lots to love in Greensboro, as the city is home to numerous sports organizations, including the Greensboro Grasshoppers minor league baseball team, The Greensboro Swarm NBA G League team, and the Carolina Cobras indoor football team.

Educational Institutions

Greensboro’s excellent educational institutions are a great asset for families and individuals looking to further their knowledge and skills. The city is home to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Guilford College, and North Carolina A&T State University, among other schools.

Real Estate Market

The real estate market in Greensboro has undergone significant changes, and 2024 is set to bring welcome relief for buyers. With the forecasted lowering of mortgage rates, home buyers will enjoy increased purchasing power, and the affordability of homes in the city is expected to improve.

Emerging Destinations in North Carolina

When people think of North Carolina, places like Charlotte and Raleigh often come to mind, but other destinations worth exploring are rapidly growing in popularity.

Cary is one such example. It’s one of the most vibrant North Carolina towns, located about 15 minutes outside Raleigh, offering a high quality of life, great schools, and plenty of green space. Plus, its proximity to Raleigh and Durham means you’re never too far from the action.

Then there’s Hickory, a charming city nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a great alternative to Asheville for those interested in mountain living without that big city vibe.

And let’s not forget about Greenville, a lively college town with a rich history and a bright future. Thanks to innovative businesses and a growing population, Greenville is quickly becoming a go-to destination for young professionals and families alike.

Living in Small Towns and Suburbs

North Carolina may be known for its bustling urban areas, but there’s something special about the small towns and suburbs that make up the Tar Heel State. Places like Hendersonville, Pinehurst, and Brevard offer a unique quality of life that can be hard to find in larger cities. In smaller towns, there is a sense of community, where neighbors know each other’s names and look out for one another.

Take Brevard, for example, where residents can explore over 250 waterfalls, or Pinehurst, where there are nearly 20 world-class golf courses. Ultimately, living in a small town or suburb means having the best of both worlds: a slower pace of life with access to all the amenities you need.

Retirement-Friendly Locations

North Carolina is lucky enough to have a handful of fantastic retirement-friendly locations.

Hendersonville, for example, offers a thriving downtown area, easy access to healthcare, and a low cost of living. Or consider Marion, which boasts affordable housing options, a mild climate, and plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities. Black Mountain is also a top pick for retirees thanks to its walkable downtown area, abundant hiking trails, and proximity to Asheville.

Cost of Living Analysis

According to SoFi, the average cost of living in North Carolina is currently $43,959 per year. Within that average, they’ve estimated that the average monthly cost of utilities in the Tar Heel State is $371, and the average cost of groceries and food is about $300.

However, do consider that North Carolina does charge residents state income tax, which might differ from where you’re currently living (it’s currently 4.75%, though, which is much lower than some other states’ income tax).

If you’re interested in exploring your home-buying options in North Carolina, you can expect a hot market in most cities. Charlotte is predicted to be among the top ten housing markets in 2024 by Zillow (ranking No. 7) based on factors that include home value growth, labor market changes, and home construction activity.

Meanwhile, in November 2023, Redfin reported a 3.7% increase in home prices statewide compared to the previous year but also a decrease in the number of homes sold and available for sale. It’s a competitive market, but definitely worth keeping an eye on!

Ready to Move to North Carolina?

North Carolina offers plenty of diverse cities and towns to call home. When choosing from the best places to live in North Carolina, consider individual needs and preferences, such as school districts, job opportunities, and outdoor activities.

Ready to start your journey to your new North Carolina home? Use our home valuation tool for a quick cash sale of your current home. Then, browse our home-buying tips to ensure you find the best home in the Tar Heel State!

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