If you’ve heard of Durham, you’ve probably heard the term The Research Triangle. We know it sounds a bit scary; a nightmare combination of grad school, an unfortunate Amelia Earhart expedition and your apartment search all wrapped into one unsettling anxiety attack. Not what you had in mind for the weekend? Fear not weary explorer, we’ve got a handle on this and there’s good news on the horizon—Durham, known as the City of Medicine—is an easy pill to swallow in many ways but we’ll start with the landing gear first.
In Durham, it might appear that all roads lead to Duke University—the heart of this town and the city’s largest employer, but Durhamites (they don’t bite) are an eclectic bunch of scholarly brains and creative types that give this city a serious edge.
Both established neighborhoods and up and coming ones have much to offer including a range of pricing as diverse as its inhabitants. Often described as “gritty” in a good way, this is a small city with a big appetite for culture, education, technology and the arts.
The city center has undergone exciting revitalization in the past few decades. Old tobacco warehouses have been converted into high-end living and retail spaces that offer amenities for the modern dweller who likes things shiny and new. Housing consists mostly of condo and loft style rental units. Although pricey, a one bedroom loft apartment ($$$$) puts you in the center of a thriving scene which includes fine dining establishments, unique retail, and young professionals moving on up. Like most residential areas in downtown cities, finding a grocery store is usually a challenge. Durham is working hard to bring a high-quality store into the area. Enter The Durham Central Market, a co-op grocery store owned by community members (that means you) and investors. The project is currently in the development stage, but it’s likely that buying groceries downtown will be a reality in the future.
For those seeking the tree-lined streets of older, established neighborhoods, areas such as Watts-Hillandale, Trinity Park, and Old West Durham offer a mix of houses, duplexes and apartment living. Competitively priced ($$-$$$) for quiet, residential living in historic neighborhoods, you are within walking distance of the ninth street shopping district with its funky, independent shops and restaurants. When you’re in the mood to hug a tree or perhaps kiss a frog, green spaces and dog parks are abundant in the city. The Tobacco Trail, a popular route for hiking and biking, is easily accessed from these neighborhoods, and if the natural splendor steps away from your living space isn’t enough, the Coast and the Smoky Mountains are both just a few hours away. Because this area is so desirable, properties rent fast. Be prepared to move quickly when you find the seemingly perfect place.
In Durham, there will be no shortage of doctors and quality medical care. They don’t call it the City of Medicine for kicks and giggles. Life happens, even moving-related injuries are known to occur. Why exactly are you moving that overstuffed sofa by yourself? Rest easy, the area around Duke University Hospital, particularly near Erwin Rd., offers a large concentration of apartment complexes and rental properties ($$-$$$), with easy access to the city’s bus line, the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA). A popular area for professionals, students and that category known as “other,” there’s something in the way of housing for everyone.
The area near Southpoint shopping mall is best described as suburban ($$-$$$$). Young families, single professionals and grad students make up this area of planned communites, cul-de-sacs and apartment complexes, conveniently located to familiar big box retail stores and family-oriented amenities. Like most of the neighborhoods in Durham, the city center is accessible in a matter of minutes when you’re itching to kick up your heels.
Durham is a city known to have street names that change without warning. For instance, Duke University Road and West Chapel Hill Street are the same. It can get tricky, but not Bermuda Triangle tricky—you may get lost, but it won’t be forever. The city is relatively easy to navigate otherwise, with good public transportation and residents happy to help you find your way. Highway 147 cuts across the city diagonally with all major areas of interest easily accessed and traffic not too hairy within the city limits. Bike enthusiasts will be happy to know that the League of American Bicyclists recently named the city of Durham a Bicycle Friendly Community—although many residents agree that more paths and racks are found on Duke’s campus than elsewhere in town.
Now that you’ve got your wits about you, take note of some other helpful tips when apartment hunting in Durham. Both Duke University and North Carolina Central University bring thousands of students to the area each year, not to mention both experienced professionals and young graduates who have accepted job offers in the city’s prominent firms, hospitals and the all-mighty Research Triangle Park—7,000 acres of more than 170 research facilities in technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medicine, all affiliated with the major universities of Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham. Housing can be competitive, especially in the summer months. If you can, consider renting in the “off season” where you’ll be one of a few candidates and not one of twenty-five. If this isn’t possible, jump on the right place when you see it and consider bringing a letter of reference from your previous landlord to set you apart from the crowd.
Good news when it comes to signing a lease—they come in a range of sizes to fit your needs. You won’t be asking if your butt looks big in your cozy little pad if you take advantage of the agreement that suits you best, so do your research & be flexible. Signing a lease for three, six, and nine months is a common alternative to the traditional year-long commitment. However, a three-month lease will average 200 to 300 dollars more a month in rent, whereas a six-month agreement will average 50 to 100 dollars more. While the cost in monthly expenses may be higher than you’d like, breaking a lease agreement can be the most costly of all.
Some high-end rental properties in Durham require tenants to have renter’s insurance. This may come as a surprise to many so be sure to read over a lease carefully before you sign on the dotted line. Come to think of it, reading your lease and insuring your possessions are two of the cheapest and smartest things you can do when moving to Durham. Even in the City of Medicine, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
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