To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Durham, you need to earn $19.04 per hour working forty hours per week, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In Raleigh, it’s even higher—$19.73 per hour.
True, housing prices in the Triangle are lower than many other midsize cities, but considering that our regionís per-capita income is about $33,358—a shade over sixteen bucks an hour for a full-time, forty-hour-a-week gig—that’s hardly comforting when you’re writing a $1,000 check every month.
So how do you find a home around here without going broke? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as going to a particular website or neighborhood. Finding affordable housing takes patience, flexibility, asking around, and, sometimes, good old-fashioned luck.
A few tips: Consider a roommate—or roommates. Nothing else, short of moving back in with Mom and Dad, will save you nearly as much money.
Also, consider your timing (if you have that flexibility). The Triangle is home to a lot of universities, so it’s generally a bad idea to house hunt as students start the academic year, and a better idea to look after graduation. People tend to move in the summer, so if you’re looking then, you’ll find more options but also more competition. In winter, however, fewer people are looking, and landlords may be willing to negotiate. And if you plan to use a moving company, you may get a better deal in colder months because movers aren’t as in demand.
Don’t wait until three weeks before your lease is up to start looking for a new place. While rental properties turn over quickly in the Triangle, you may find a landlord willing to hold a place open for a couple weeks until you can move in. Sign up for notifications from property sites like Zillow and HotPads. Yes, it’s annoying, but you’ll get an alert whenever something comes on the market in your desired area and can get a jump on other house hunters who aren’t as savvy as you.
Public and private groups on Facebook are good for leads on short-term leases, subleases, spare rooms, and potential roommates. You should also reach out to your social networks (online and IRL) and ask people to let you know if they hear of a vacancy.
See if you qualify for reduced rent at a tax credit-supported development, like Durham’s mixed-income Southside, where affordable units are reserved for people earning 60 percent of the area median income, about $35,000 for a two-person household, or less. Local governments can be a helpful resource in finding those.
Because the Triangle’s real estate market is hot, and once-affordable neighborhoods are gentrifying quickly, rent—and the quality of homes—can vary block to block. You might find an affordable duplex equidistant from a $400,000 home and another that’s falling apart. So being flexible about where you’re willing to live is important. There are a few areas, however, you can probably scratch off your list. Forget downtown Durham, for example, and much of Raleigh inside the beltline (for newbies, thatís I-440, or just ITB). Check RentCafe.com for average rents by neighborhood in both cities.
For apartments, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck in South Durham (around 15-501, University Drive, and Southpoint) than many other parts of the city. You’ll find some cheaper but smaller apartments and houses in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, like East Durham and the area around Northgate Mall. If being near downtown isn’t a priority, look toward Hillsborough.
East Raleigh outside the beltline is home to some of the most affordable neighborhoods in the area—like Trawick, Southall, and Peyton Hall—clustered around Highways 401 and 64 and in between. Inside the beltline, try the Woodcrest area. If you’re willing to go a little farther out, consider Knightdale or Garner.
If all else fails, you may need to broaden your search. Both Pittsboro and Mebane—where the average two-bedroom goes for nearly $200 less than Raleigh and Durham—are smaller towns with character expected to explode in coming years. Get in while you can.