The fourth-largest city in North Carolina, Durham is best known for its role in the Research Triangle, a geographical “triangle” that also includes Chapel Hill and Raleigh. While this area is home to some of the most prominent research and development centers in the country, Durham itself is so much more. A historical haven that encompasses a strong art and music culture, the city also offers beautiful natural parks and waterways along with a sophisticated but friendly feel.
Durham residents admit to their love and devotion to sports, from the Duke Bluedevils to a whole world of NASCAR. But residents will also share that Durham has the best biscuits in the entire world and that the only tea that counts is sweet tea. Getting around to root on your favorite team or partake of some fresh-baked biscuits is pretty easy as well as convenient on the city-wide public transportation system. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, Durham is a great focal point for making adventuresome day trips.
Moving to Durham comes with numerous perks. These include reputable schools, affordability, a connection to the great outdoors, and grand opportunities in one of the top cities for entrepreneurs. The amazing food scene and vast entertainment options add even more likability to this North Carolina gem.
Living in Durham, NC: What to Know Before Moving to Durham
Durham has a population of 263,016 people, and residents of all ages call the city home. But over 2.03 million people live in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Combined Statistical Area (CSA). Once thought of as a college town, Durham now has big city characteristics while maintaining a small-town feel. It’s full of diverse neighborhoods, fun activities, historical sites, and a prosperous economy.
Pros and Cons of Living in Durham
Making a move to a new city is a serious decision, and you should approach the entire process with careful consideration. Understanding the pros and cons of living in Durham or the Research Triangle can provide great insight when making your decision.
- Culture: There’s truly something for everyone in Durham and the Triangle. Cultural activities range from reliving the past at various historical sites to enjoying live music concerts. The Durham Performing Arts Center is one of the most attended theaters in the United States.
- Affordability: Many of the towns in the Triangle, including Durham, tend to have a lower cost of living compared to other affordable cities in North Carolina, as well as similar cities, which are considered major tech centers.
- Community: The Bull City enjoys a strong sense of community, and it’s easy for newcomers to feel welcome and get quickly settled. The diversity among neighborhoods makes it a great place for everyone to feel at home.
- Education: Duke University and the University of North Carolina are two of the most notable higher learning institutions. The education system, at all levels, maintains extremely high rankings, and almost half of the schools in the public system are magnet schools.
- Food: Durham and many towns in the Triangle are great for food lovers. Southern Living formerly listed Durham as one of its Tastiest Towns of the South.
- High pollen rates: The entire Triangle can be hard on allergy sufferers as an intense high pollen season can last for several weeks. Everything from cars to sidewalks gets dusted in a thick layer of yellow dust.
- Crime: Durham has a higher crime rate compared to other North Carolina cities and is higher rate than the US average. But crime rates are very low in many other Triangle towns.
- Beach access: If you’re looking for regular, convenient trips to the beach, plan on to two hours one way and also plan on heavy traffic while getting there.
- Weather: Individuals relocating from other areas of the US may need time to adjust to The Research Triangle’s hot, humid summers.
- Property Tax: The property tax for Durham County is 1.230%, quite a bit higher than the state’s rate of 0.855% and a fraction higher than the US rate of 1.211%.
- Sales Tax: Durham has a combined sales tax rate of 7.50%. This combined rate is a total of the county rate of 2.25%, the state rate of 4.75%, and a special tax rate of .50%.
- State Income Tax: North Carolina has an income tax rate of 5.25%, which is lower than neighboring Virginia (5.75%) as well as South Carolina (7.0%).
The majority of Durham residents own their homes, while 45.9% rent. As of October 2019, the median home value was $232,600, and the median home list price was $299,000. Home values increased 6.8% in the past year and are forecast to rise another 3.8% in 2020. According to Zillow.com, the housing market is ‘warm.’ When it’s time to consider where you’ll rent or buy, check out the Top Places to Live in the Research Triangle section for more specific information on housing prices.
The median rent price is $1,495, compared to the Durham-Chapel Hill Metro area rent price of $1,550. A few of the cheaper areas to investigate are Knightdale, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro.
Cost of Living
According to bestplaces.net, the cost of living index for Durham is 101.2 compared to the national average index of 100. Groceries at 93.4, Transportation at 92.9, and Miscellaneous at 95.9 are lower than average costs. Although only slightly higher than average, costs above the 100 average include Health at 103.7, Housing at 112.5, and Utilities at 110.1. The Family Budget Calculator estimates that a family of four would need an income of $7,396 a month or $88,757 annually to have a moderate lifestyle in Durham.
Weather and Natural Disasters
If you love living among four seasons throughout the year, you’ll enjoy Durham’s climate, but the seasons are a bit milder than other locations. Spring and fall are pleasant with mild, comfortable temperatures. The two warmest months are July and August, with humid highs around 88 and lows between 68 and 70. The two coolest months are January and February when the highs reach around 50 degrees, and the lows sink to 28 or 29. Rarely will temperatures fall below zero.
Rainfall averages 48 inches annually, with the majority falling between March and May. The area experiences light snow with yearly averages of four inches, much less than the US average of 28 inches. Durham has an increased threat for certain natural disasters, which include tornadoes, severe storms, floods, and hurricanes. The Durham County Emergency Management Department keeps residents up to date with information, alerts, and directions before and during extreme weather conditions.
Economy and Job Market
The economy is strong in Durham with the job market seeing a 2.0% increase over last year. Unemployment is stable at a rate of 3.5%, slightly lower than the US average of 3.9%. Over the next ten years, Durham will see a strong predicted job growth rate of 43.3% compared to the US prediction of 33.5%.
The top industrial sectors are health care, education, and technology, and these are also the best sectors for job seekers. The city has its fair share of major employers, including Duke University, IBM, and BCBS of North Carolina.
Traffic and Transportation
Several public transportation options make navigating the city and triangle very efficient. GoDurham is the public bus transit system serving downtown, while GoTriangle is the convenient regional service. Amtrak runs a service through the city, and the Raleigh-Durham International Airport is southeast between Durham and Raleigh.
The major interstates include NC 147, which connects downtown southeast to Research Triangle Park and northwest to Duke University; I-40 connects southeastern Durham to the northwest along the western side of the city; and Hwy 501 connects west to Chapel Hill. You’ll find normal rush hour congestion between Durham and Chapel Hill and Durham to Raleigh.
Walkscore.com gives the city a walking score of 29, a bike score of 36, and a transit score of 29. Overall, Durham is car-dependent city. However, a few of the most walkable neighborhoods are Walltown, Old West Durham, and the Duke University campus.
What to Do
The Bull City offers residents an eclectic mix of things to do, whether it be outdoor events or indoor activities. Culture, history, nature, and education offer opportunities for residents of all ages and interests.
The North Carolina environment is naturally beautiful, and the city offers several parks to enjoy. Durham Central Park has a seemingly endless selection of activities, from a butterfly garden to a skate park. It also has a venue for cultural and social activities, outdoor movies, walking trails, and even food trucks. Other enjoyable outdoor greenspaces include Piney Wood Park and West Point on the Eno. The beautiful American Tobacco Trail is 22.6 miles long, and 12 of those miles run through Durham. Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a 55-acre public garden that has over five miles of walking trails.
The Carolina Theatre, a top downtown destination that features comedy, film, and live music, highlights the cultural character of the community. The Museum of Durham History and The Museum of Life and Science offer fascinating interactive and educational experiences. Explore historic Stagville, one of the largest southern plantations, well preserved and steeped in history.
Brightleaf Square is a retail hot spot with various shops and special events. Foodies will love the numerous choices of restaurants like Metro 8 Steakhouse, Guglhupf Bakery, Restaurant, and Café, and The Piedmont Restaurant, to name just a few.
Most residents harbor a love for sports, as the area abounds with highly talented teams. North Carolina teams include the NFL Carolina Panthers, the NBA Charlotte Hornets, and the NHL Carolina Hurricanes. And Durham is home of more than 80% of the Nascar racing teams. Charlotte Motor Speedway is a famous track that holds NASCAR races every year.
Schools and Universities
The Durham Public School System serves over 33,000 students through 54 schools. There are several charter and private schools in various neighborhoods, as well. Some standouts that rank above average include J D Clement Early College High School, Pearsontown Elementary, and Voyager Academy.
Several highly-ranked four-year universities are located in or very near Durham. These are Duke, North Carolina Central University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State. The reputable Durham Tech Community College is popular for those who are interested in pursuing a technical degree.
The property crime rate in Durham is 58.1, which is substantially higher than the US average of 35.4. The violent crime rating is 40.6, again much higher than the national average of 22.7. The city does have higher crime rates than neighboring Raleigh and Chapel Hill. But surrounding towns such as Wake Forest, Cary, Morrisville, and others offer high-quality lifestyles and low crime rates. Consult the crime map and our Top Places to Live in the Research Triangle for more detailed information.
Setting up the utilities at a new location can be time-consuming, but be sure to set up your accounts well before your move. The following is a list of providers servicing the Durham area:
- Gas: For over 75 years, Dominion Energy has provided a large portion of central and western North Carolina with natural gas service. You can visit their website to become a new customer.
- Electric: Duke Energy is the electricity provider for several regions, including Durham. Use their link to begin a new service.
- Water: The City of Durham provides water, sewer, and stormwater service for residents. Their website gives you information and directions for becoming a new customer.
- Trash Pickup/Recycling Service: Waste Industries of Durham provides residential and commercial waste pick up and recycling services. They also offer roll-off services.
- Internet/Cable Services: Various companies offer internet and cable services in the area. Residents can choose based upon cost, location, and speed. Some options are AT&T, Spectrum, and Hughes Net.
Top Places to Live in the Research Triangle
When relocating, consider school ratings, housing costs, neighborhood activities, and the overall vibe. Looking into these factors ahead of time can help you find the community that will be the best fit for you and your family. We’ve compiled information on the eight best places to live in the Durham-Chapel Hill-Raleigh metro area to help aid in your search.
Apex, a small town located about 12 miles southwest of Raleigh and 11 miles south of Research Triangle Park, is known as one of the best areas in the Research Triangle to raise a family. According to areavibes.com, Apex is among the top 10 best North Carolina cities, mainly because of its highly rated schools, low crime rate, terrific amenities, and affordable housing.
Although the Durham area has a high crime rate, Apex is a much safer town with a crime index 51% lower than the US average. Apex is a rather affluent community where the median household income is $95,283 – 72% higher than the national average. And 71% of residents own their homes so you’ll notice a strong sense of community where residents enjoy great restaurants, fun shopping, an April to October Saturday Farmers Market, and beautiful outdoor spaces such as Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, Apex Community Park, and Apex Nature Park which features wooded trails and disc golf.
With major highways surrounding the town, you’ll find it easy to get to other cities in the Triangle. Hwy 64 runs east to Raleigh, and Hwy 540/147 goes north to Durham and Chapel Hill.
- Population: 45,899
- Average Home Price: $289,300
- Average Rental Price: $1,194
- Schools: Apex High School (6/10), Green Hope High School (9/10) and Salem Middle School (7/10)
After Raleigh and Durham, Cary is the third-largest town by population in the Triangle. Raleigh creates the north and east borders of Cary, and the Research Triangle creates the north and western boundaries. Although Cary is full of high tech and ultra-modern industry, the town retains a sense of history from when it was developed in 1750 and eventually became a major route on the North Carolina Railroad.
New residents are attracted to Cary for fantastic employment opportunities, especially in the IT field; crime rates 59% lower than the US average; and high-quality schools. The median household income, at $94,617, is 71% higher than the national average. Wooded lots among rolling hills make a lovely backdrop for established, well-maintained homes, many of which are attractive traditional brick two-story four and five-bedrooms.
Cary has entertainment options and amenities for everyone, from the local arts center, which is a staple of the community, to clean gorgeous parks. Small businesses and a variety of eateries give residents plenty of options for shopping and dining.
- Population: 162,025
- Average Home Price: $323,000
- Average Rental Price: $1,133
- Schools: Panther Creek High School (10/10), Morrisville Elementary School (9/10) and Salem Middle School (7/10)
Morrisville, considered part of the Research Triangle metropolitan area, is located directly south of the Research Triangle Park, making it an extremely convenient town for those commuting to work there. Like Cary, Morrisville started as a depot stop on the North Carolina Railroad. Today, given its proximity to the Research Triangle Park, Morrisville is a popular site of offices, hotels, and light industry. Oracle, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM, and Lenovo’s USA all have headquarters here.
In addition to major players in the IT world, Morrisville has a great variety of beautiful public greenspaces. Morrisville Community Park, Shiloh Community Park, Crabtree Creek Nature Park, Ruritan Park, and Indian Creek Greenway and Trailhead, are just a few of the lush parks that offer picnic shelters, athletic fields, playgrounds, and trails.
According to areavibes.com, Morrisville is the ‘#1 Best City in North Carolina’ for its amenities, employment opportunities, housing, schools, weather, and low crime. Housing of all types is available to rent or buy – from condos, apartments, townhomes, small single-family homes, and large five and six-bedroom houses.
Conveniently, Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is just north of Morrisville, and Hwy 54 runs through town, providing access to Raleigh, Cary, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
- Population: 23,873
- Average Home Price: $304,500
- Average Rental Price: $1,262
- Schools: Sterling Montessori Academy (7/10), Green Hope Elementary School (9/10), and Davis Drive Middle School (10/10).
Wake Forest is the ‘10th Best City in North Carolina’, according to areavibes.com. About 17 miles north of Raleigh on US-401, and 22 miles east of Durham via NC 98, the town is attractive for its amenities, housing prices, schools, and low crime rates.
The small historical town packs a lot of punch with all it offers its residents: lovely parks such as Blue Jay Point County Park and E Carroll Joyner Park; Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for cultural events including plays, concerts, recitals, and exhibits; an exciting historical downtown with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops; Farmers Market which is not only a great place to buy fresh produce but to enjoy fun community events; and Triangle Town Center for dining, shopping, and entertainment.
The median household income is $81,200, and 70% of residents own their homes. With a 94% graduation rate that’s 13% higher than the national average, Wake Forest is a popular town for families with school-age children. 40% of residents have children under the age of 18.
- Population: 38,473
- Average Home Price: $278,600
- Average Rental Price: $1,037
- Schools: Heritage High School (6/10), Franklin Academy (9/10) and Jones Dairy Elementary School (7/10)
Chapel Hill is a beautiful and historic town that’s about a 30-minute drive southeast of Durham. The residents, who live among natural scenic beauty and rich culture, are welcoming, diverse and open-minded. New residents are attracted to Chapel Hill for its employment opportunities, low crime rate, education, and varied amenities.
As home to the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has a young, exciting, vibrant vibe. Festivals, community events, a rich arts and culture scene, and a vital historical society combine to make a rich web of things to do. Established in the late 1700s, Chapel Hill has several buildings, a cemetery, and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Considered the best-educated town in North Carolina, 73% of adults over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
With Morehead Planetarium, ongoing performing arts, museum exhibits, and sports, The University of North Carolina provides a huge array of cultural activities for the town but is also the hub of Chapel Hill’s economy. Other sectors that keep the local economy strong are health care and social assistance, professional, scientific, and tech services; finance and insurance; and manufacturing. Top corporations headquartered in the city are Blue Cross and Blue Shield, USAT Corp, Realtime Ops, and Alpha Install.
Typical of a university town that seems to favor environmental and progressive issues, Chapel Hill has recently built new urbanist villages that focus on developing environmentally friendly habits with dedicated green space for community schools, pools, concerts and movies, and walkable spaces so residents can complete errands on foot.
- Population: 92,736
- Average Home Price: $390,300
- Average Rental Price: $1,072
- Schools: Woods Charter School (8/10), East Chapel Hill High School (9/10), and Glenwood Elementary School (8/10).
Directly west of Chapel Hill, Carrboro is a town that oozes a cool, progressive vibe. Indie music, craft galleries, dive bars, cool coffee houses, and hip farm to fork cafes appeal to residents. Lots of amenities are available, but mainly in the form of organic grocery stores and independent shops and boutiques. For years, Carrboro has been known as one of the most leftie communities in the Southeastern US.
Housing ranges from condos, apartments, townhomes, and small ranch styles to large five-bedroom five-bathroom two-story estates. Many single-family homes are on lovely wooded lots. The median household income is $53,513 per year, and 41% of residents own their homes.
Niche.com ranks Carrboro #1 ‘Best Public Schools in North Carolina.’ Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) serves 11,000 students. CHCCS regularly ranks as the number one district in the state. But newcomers are also attracted to affordable rent, community friendliness, and low crime rates. Local events happen almost every week, so it’s easy for neighbors to become friends quickly.
Rather than finding a football, basketball, or hockey team to root on, some Carrboro residents watch or participate in hooping – hula hooping! You’ll discover there are several hooping festivals, classes, and retreats throughout the year.
Natural scenic beauty is everywhere. Among Carrboro’s ten parks are the Eno River State Park, which offers hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing; Henry Anderson Community Park; 27-acre Adams Tract, an urban forest close to the town’s center; and Sarah P Duke Gardens which offers 55 acres of lovely landscaped grounds. A welcoming atmosphere, progressive culture, and safe environment make Carrboro an easy place to call home.
- Population: 21,099
- Average Home Price: $334,500
- Average Rental Price: $983
- Schools: Carrboro Elementary School (6/10), McDougle Elementary School, Morris Grove Elementary School, Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, Seawell Elementary School, Culbreth Middle School, Smith Middle School, McDougle Middle School (6/10), and Carrboro High School (8/10)
Located directly east of Raleigh, Knightdale is a small town established in the mid-1700s. Today, Knightdale is within the Research Triangle. A diverse town, it consists of 50% White, 38% African American, 11% Latino, 1.7% Asian, 0.6% Native American, 0.01 Pacific Islander, and 3.5% of two or more races.
In addition to handy amenities, a low crime rate, and affordable housing prices, residents enjoy community greenspaces. Knightdale Station Park offers a dog park, a destination playground, playing fields, paved trails, picnic shelters, tennis courts, and an outdoor amphitheater; and Mingo Creek Greenway is a 3.5-mile trail that connects the park in the eastern part of town to Raleigh’s 33-mile Neuse River Trail in the west.
Conveniently located to the Triangle, I-540 connects Knightdale to North Raleigh and the Research Triangle Park. I-87 bypasses Knightdale to ease traffic in town. The median household income is $67,167, and 66% of residents own their homes.
The community is expanding with new businesses and the construction of new homes. Knightdale maintains a suburban vibe mixed in with a bit of country. The local government and police department are commonly mentioned for their involvement in Knightdale activities and events, giving the area a great cohesive community feel.
- Population: 14,363
- Average Home Price: $176,600
- Average Rental Price: $1,006
- Schools: Lake Myra, Knightdale, Hodge Road, Forestville, Beaverdam and Lockhart Elementary Schools, Carnage, East Wake, and Wendell Middle Schools, and Knightdale High School
Holly Springs, 19 miles southeast of Raleigh, is a community that repeatedly ranks as one of the best places to live in North Carolina. Ranked the #5 ‘Best Place to Live in North Carolina’ by areavibes.com, Holly Springs has been commonly referred to as a secret gem due to its safety rating, high median household income, great schools, and terrific amenities.
The crime rate in Holly Springs is 65% lower than the national average. With a median household income of $98,041, Holly Springs residents’ incomes are 77% higher than the US average. Families appreciate the highly ranked schools, where 94% of students graduate from high school and place 30% higher on test scores than the national average. Restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, shops of all kinds, and many parks provide convenience to residents.
Commuting to the Triangle is easy via Hwy 540 and 147 directly to the Research Triangle Park. Raleigh is accessible from northern Holly Springs on Hwy 1, which turns into Hwy 64, or if you live in the southern part of Holly Springs, you can take I-401 directly into Raleigh.
You’ll have a great choice of housing as it varies between condos, apartments, townhomes, small two-bedroom vintage homes up to large four and five-bedroom newly built traditional homes.
- Population: 31,827
- Average Home Price: $264,500
- Average Rental Price $1,227
- Schools: Holly Grove, Holly Ridge, Holly Springs, and Oakview Elementary Schools; Holly Ridge and Holly Grove Middle Schools; and Holly Springs High School.
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