Best places to live in North Carolina in 2022

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North Carolina was one of the top states for movers in the last year, behind only Texas, Florida and Arizona for incoming residents. With big-city business centers, laid-back college towns and coastal beauty, the state has a little bit of everything. If you’re thinking about becoming one of the next newcomers to North Carolina, here are the best places to consider this year.

Best places to live in North Carolina in 2022

1. Raleigh

Affordability: 7/10
Job market: 8/10
Safety: 9/10
Wellness: 8/10

Raleigh again tops our list of best places to live in North Carolina — and our list of the best places to live anywhere in the U.S., as well. Apple last year announced plans for a new campus that will mean 3,000 jobs for the city, and the iPhone maker isn’t the only innovative company bringing leading engineering minds to the area. An analysis from LinkedIn also put Raleigh as the third most-resilient tech hub in the fallout from the pandemic.

There’s more to cheer for than work here, though, with the Carolina Hurricanes calling Raleigh home, and the city’s blossoming food scene making every evening a reason to get out and celebrate. The city’s calendar includes music festivals like Hopscotch, the state’s largest craft beer festival and other big events.

2. Durham

Affordability: 7/10
Job market: 8/10
Safety: 6/10
Wellness: 9/10

While Apple chose Raleigh, another tech giant opted for its neighbor. In 2021, Google announced an engineering hub in Durham, a city often in the same conversation as Raleigh due to its proximity. However, the cost of living in Durham is a bit less than it is in Raleigh, which scores major points in today’s inflation-driven economy.

You’ll pay a bit less, but you’ll still have plenty of activities to choose from here. Whether you want to root for the Duke Blue Devils, run or bike the 22-mile American Tobacco Trail (12 miles run through Durham) or head to a gallery crawl that shows off the artists that give Durham a reputation as a creative haven, this city might be second on our list, but it still delivers first-rate ways to enjoy your days and nights.

3. Wilmington

Affordability: 7/10
Job market: 7/10
Safety: 7/10
Wellness: 7/10

If all you need is a Wi-Fi signal to do your job, why not wake up next to the Atlantic sunrise each day? Wilmington is the place to be, particularly for those enjoying the ability to work remotely. In fact, data from United Van Lines shows that Wilmington saw the highest number of inbound moves in 2020.

That growth trajectory looks likely to continue, with the number of residents in the region — which includes neighboring beach towns — poised to grow by nearly 90 percent by 2040, according to population estimates. It’s easy to see why, too. Whether your idea of a good time is relaxing at the beach or running the 15-mile Gary Shell Cross-City Trail, this city can make you feel like you’re on vacation the entire year.

4. Charlotte

Affordability: 7/10
Job market: 7/10
Safety: 5/10
Wellness: 8/10

If you need an in-person office, a massive pool of employers to pick from and big-city energy, Charlotte is your choice. Bank of America, Truist, Lowe’s, Atrium Health and Honeywell are just a few of the large companies that have operations based in The Queen City. Charlotte also has plenty to offer when you’re not at work, including Hornets and Panthers games, or if tailgating isn’t your thing, an extensive inventory of museums to check out.

If Charlotte’s on your radar but your budget might say otherwise, check out Gastonia. The median price of a home here — which is around 20 miles west and boasts plenty of cultural activities of its own — was around $90,000 cheaper as of the end of 2021, according to Redfin.

5. Asheville

Affordability: 5/10
Job market: 7/10
Safety: 5/10
Wellness: 7/10

With the median price of a home standing at $435,000 (as of the end of 2021), Asheville is the most expensive city on our list. However, if you can afford it, living here can give you a new view on life — literally. The city offers access to the Blue Ridge Mountains, so you’re a short drive away from some beautiful spots along the Appalachian Trail. When you take your hiking boots off, you can raise a glass at one of the nearby wineries, including the famous Biltmore estate.

Asheville is also on an impressive growth path, and the city is especially appealing to an older crowd, so if you’re getting closer to retirement — or already retired — the city’s pace might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re still working, though, don’t assume Asheville isn’t a fit. In fact, if you’re working from a cafe, you’ll likely meet some new digital nomad friends. Asheville came in second on LinkedIn’s recent survey of small cities with the highest number of people working remotely.

Methodology

We looked at data from the biggest cities in North Carolina to identify which places offered the kind of professional opportunities and personal enjoyment worthy of packing your bags and relocating your life. What makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, but there are common factors most everyone looks for when searching for a new place to call home. We assessed these areas:

  • What it costs – We compared each city’s cost of living data from the Economic Policy Institute with per capita personal income from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to get a sense of how far a dollar can stretch. Then, we considered year-over-year home price data from real estate brokerage Redfin to learn where the real estate market is especially competitive. The good news: While North Carolina is certainly booming, living here is still relatively affordable when compared with other coastal states.
  • How it feels – We looked at overall wellbeing based on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index; employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, plus the leading companies that have big operations in these places and/or which places feel friendly to remote workers; culture and outdoor opportunities based on information from each city’s convention and visitors bureau; and safety, including crime rates based on FBI data.
  • Who’s moving there –  Over the past decade, all of these cities have experienced positive net migration, which means that more people moved in than moved out. We also looked at estimates of how many people will likely continue moving there in the next decade to get a sense of where property values might continue rising.

Keep in mind: This list is simply a place to start for your search. While these are all bigger cities with at least 90,000 residents, North Carolina also has lots of small towns tucked into the mountains and nestled along the Atlantic Coast where you and your family might be even happier.

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Written by
David McMillin
Contributing writer
David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David's goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Edited by
Mortgage editor