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10 Cheapest Places to Live in North Carolina, 2022

March 18, 2022

North Carolina is known for its sandy beaches, rich marine history, railroad roots, and gorgeous landscapes. Whether you want to take a day trip to the mountains or live along the seashore, you can find what you’re looking for in the Tar Heel State. Perhaps most impressive, living in North Carolina is surprisingly affordable despite the state’s economic growth and rich culture.

Ready to move South? Discover some of the cheapest places to live in North Carolina.

Note: The data provided below comes from our rent estimates. These numbers expand beyond those listed on our platform. For further information, learn about our methodology.

Learn more about what to expect from the average rent prices in North Carolina.

1. Greenville

  • Population: 87,521
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $881.33
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 8.54%
  • Median Household Income: $40,875

Greenville, which is the 11th-most populous city in North Carolina, is considered the health, entertainment, and educational hub of the state. It ranks high for young professionals, business development, and families for its affordable lifestyle and world-class amenities. The humid subtropical climate is also a draw with humid summers and mild winters with an average low of 32 degrees.

College students feel right at home while attending East Carolina University, a significant employer in the city. Locals also work at Pantheon, Vidant Health, Walmart, and other big employers. The unemployment rate in Greenville is lower than the U.S. average, but its predicted ten-year growth is slightly lower than the rest of the country. After class, you can take advantage of the pubs and nightlife Downtown or live right along the waterfront for dazzling views and walkability to urban amenities.

Historic and nature spots are plentiful around Greenville, including The Greenville Museum of Art and River Park North. As a college town, Greenville delivers on lively places to drink, including Uptown Brewing Company and Pitt Street Brewing Company. For dinner and drinks, locals stop at the Blackened Kraken Bar & Grill for cajun food and Starlight Cafe for creole catfish and oysters.

Learn more about the average rent in Greenville.

2. Winston-Salem

  • Population: 249,545
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,115
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 23.43%
  • Median Household Income: $45,750

If you don't know much about Winston-Salem, you may think it sounds like a tobacco haven. But, true to its name, the city flourished during the heyday of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's Camel cigarettes. Today, the city is home to universities, including Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State. You can stay in the know by falling in line with the locals and calling your new home city, Winston.

Winston-Salem attracts college students, young professionals, and retirees looking for a moderate climate and a booming downtown with hotels, restaurants, and luxury apartment complexes. Despite its influx of newcomers, the city's growth has been slow and steady and still retains a small-town feel.

The city may have deep tobacco roots, though you can now find healthy industries around every corner in Winston-Salem. Healthcare, public education, financial services, and higher education are some of the biggest employers in the city. In addition, tobacco manufacturing is still going strong through employer Reynolds American. Winston-Salem is a win between the healthy job market and the low cost of living if you're looking to grow your career.

Winston-Salem has top-notch amenities, with stops like Old Salem Museums & Gardens and Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Bailey Park offers a grassy reprieve, a colorful mural, and a flavor-packed food truck court for some outdoor time. Tennis enthusiasts play at Hanes Park at the 20 tennis courts. Baseball diamonds, open fields, a track, and playgrounds also entertain locals looking for afternoon fun.

Learn more about the average rent in Winston-Salem.

3. Fayetteville

  • Population: 208,501
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,155.67
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 18.37%
  • Median Household Income: $45,024

Fayetteville, North Carolina, flourished as an inland port and hub of the early "Plank Roads" system. The primary industries include government and commerce services and trade due to the city's prominent location. New shops and buildings cropped up in Fayetteville during the twentieth century, including the first skyscraper built in 1916.

Over the decades, the downtown area grew out of the need for more service industries catering to nearby military bases. As a result, Fayetteville is a cultural arts and historical beacon with a Cape Fear Museum of History, Airborne and Special Operations Museum, art museum, and symphony.

Fayetteville attracts young professionals looking for jobs in healthcare and social services, retail trade, and educational services. Families also come to the city for the affordability and kid-friendly vibe. However, Fayetteville is primarily known for its adjacent military presence in Fort Bragg and Pope Army Airfield.

Locals get a taste of the Cape Fear Regional Theatre culture with local performers and actors from the Screen Actors Guild. Popular watering holes include the veteran-owned Bright Light Brewing Company. However, beyond the city of Fayetteville, there are also natural attractions to explore. Cape Fear River Trail offers a paved path through old-growth hardwood trees. The Cape Fear Botanical Garden also showcases over 2,000 varieties of flowers and foliage.

Learn more about the average rent in Fayetteville.

4. Kannapolis

  • Population: 53,114
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,225
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 11.20%
  • Median Household Income: $53,365

Kannapolis sprung up around the home of the Cannon Mills Manufacturing Company in 1907, and locals referred to it as "Cannon-opolis." The name eventually became Kannapolis and became a thriving textile center in the early 20th century. With so many homes built by the mill, Kannapolis is one of the largest and best-preserved mill towns in the U.S.

Today, Kannapolis is home to eight universities associated with the North Carolina Research Campus. Higher education and research innovation have fielded the local biotech industry. The city is also known for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, a Chicago White Sox affiliate baseball team. It’s also the hometown of the Earnhardt race car family.

Kannapolis is desirable for its strong economy, higher education, research innovation, and convenient location. You're not far from the mountains, coastline, or booming metropolises. For a day outdoors, the Baker Creek Greenway connects with other parks and green spaces for biking and strolls.

As a college town, you can find plenty of places to eat and drink around Kannapolis. 44 Mills Kitchen & Tap serves southern cuisine, rotating craft beer, and craft cocktails in a laid-back setting. Locals dine on burgers, seafood, and bourbon at 73 & Main, housed inside the historic Mt. Pleasant Hosiery Mill. The popular Ace No. 3 attracts locals looking for BYO cheeseburger, fried bologna, milkshakes, and beer.

Learn more about the average rent in Kannapolis.

5. Greensboro

  • Population: 299,035
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,239.67
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 20.05%
  • Median Household Income: $48,964

Greensboro grew to prominence when the state government designated it as a stop along the new railroad line. Goods were soon transported to and from cotton textile mills, and workers' housing started springing up in mill villages. As a result, Greensboro was nicknamed "The Gate City" in the late 1800s as one of the biggest railway hubs and transportation centers in the South. As textile companies went under in nearby cities, they continued to thrive in Greensboro and grow new industries in its wake.

Greensboro is home to many economic opportunities, affordable housing, and urban amenities. The diverse population is home to young professionals, students, and newcomers looking for Southern charm and urban amenities. Newcomers have their choice of nightclubs, restaurants, shopping, and local attractions. The city also attracts students attending higher education institutions, including the University of North Carolina Greensboro, Greensboro College, and North Carolina A&T University.

Major industries in Greensboro include manufacturing, wholesale trade, real estate, and service sector. So whether you want to work in textiles or electronics, you can find the right career for you. Like many cities that faced setbacks during the pandemic, Greensboro has seen a decline in unemployment and a more promising economic outlook.

Beyond affordability, Greensboro offers opportunities for dining and attractions. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the Greensboro Science Center, and the Greensboro History Museum showcase exhibits from Native American heritage to local history. Outdoor stops include the Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden and the Greensboro Arboretum.

Learn more about the average rent in Greensboro.

6. Concord

  • Population: 105,240
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,248.33
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 20.19%
  • Median Household Income: $67,984

Concord sits in the Charlotte metropolitan area, settled in the 1750s. Its name, which means "harmony," was chosen after a dispute between German Liteherns and Scottish Irish Presbyterians. After becoming the county seat, Concord solidified its prominence as a cotton train and producing region. Concord became a mill town and made history when the Coleman Manufacturing Company became among the first cotton mills owned by African=Americans.

Concord is excellent for families looking to settle down near quality public schools and greenspace. College students attend nearby universities like United North Carolina - Charlotte, a significant employer for the metro area. Young professionals also grow their careers around Concord while taking advantage of city amenities and dining.

Job opportunities around Concord range from finance to healthcare to tech. The unemployment rate in Concord is lower than the rest of the United States and boasts a more robust future job growth than the rest of the country. Combining high median income and an affordable cost of living, Concord is an attractive option for career climbers.

Concord is a champion of barbecue and brisket with iconic restaurants like the Smoke Pit. Beyond savory barbecue dishes, locals have their choice of trattorias, cafes, and bistros. After dinner, locals sip on cold drinks from hometown breweries like the Cabarrus Brewing Company. Beyond the food scene, locals are close to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, and SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium.

Learn more about the average rent in Concord.

7. Wilmington

  • Population: 115,451
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,303
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 16.41%
  • Median Household Income: $47,580

Wilmington is a port city on the southeastern coastal edge of North Carolina. The city didn't see much action until they built the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad in 1840, which traveled from the backwoods to the Wilmington marketplace. By the end of the 19th century, most of Wilmington's population was African-American.

In the early 2000s, the city was designated as a Coast Guard City and drew students to the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In 2020, it was declared the first World War II heritage City in the country and gave the nod to the battleship USS North Carolina moored across from Downtown.

The average Wilmington resident is in their mid-30s, and the city is known for its historic river district and sandy beaches. Its stunning landscape attracts newcomers and location scouts from the television and film industry. Its tight-knit community is home to hip breweries, fresh seafood, and annual events like the three-day Riverfest. Alfresco dining along the oceanfront is the norm, including a floating bar and grill called Anne Bonny's Bar and Grille.

Wilmington's major industries range from healthcare to banking to trade to manufacturing. Hospitality is also a growing market serving tourists and nearby beachcombers. As a result, unemployment in Wilmington is currently lower than in the rest of the US and boasts a more robust job growth than the rest of the country.

Wilmington draws residents with its nearby beaches, including Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach. History buffs flock to the Battleship North Carolina or Bellamy Mansion Museum to soak up a piece of regional history. Airlie Gardens is home to terrariums, an aquarium, and a Butterfly House for a more picture-perfect stop. Wilmington is also home to cultural attractions, including the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science and Cameron Art Museum.

Learn more about the average rent in Wilmington.

8. Wake Forest

  • Population: 47,601
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,336.33
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 25.83%
  • Median Household Income: $92,210

Wake Forest began in 1832 when the North Carolina Baptist Convention purchased a 615-acre plantation to create an institute to train future ministers. As a result, the town was called Wake Forest, and the namesake institution eventually moved to its present location near Winston-Salem in 1956.

Wake Forest's idyllic small-town living attracts newcomers looking for an affordable lifestyle and high quality of life. But, when you need a big city fix, you're not far from Raleigh, Durham, and North Carolina’s coastlines. College students attend Wake Forest University, and families settle in for quality schools. In addition, wake Forest’s strong economy attracts young professionals looking for opportunities in Wake Forest University, Lenovo, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo, and other major employers.

Despite its small-town feel, Downtown Wake Forest still has plenty to do, from art galleries to boutiques. For an escape to nature, the Falls Lake State Recreation Area boasts a 12,000-acre lake and 26,000-acres of woodlands.

Food is an event in Wake Forest with options like Farm Table for sticky glazed ribs to seared scallops. There's also plenty of places to enjoy a cold brew, including the White Street Brewing Company, Norse Brewing Company, and Lonerider Brewing Company. Seafood lovers dine at Bakcins Crabfish or Shuckers Grill & Oyster Bar.

Learn more about the average rent in Wake Forest.

9. Chapel Hill

  • Population: 61,960
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,380.67
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 15.80%
  • Median Household Income: $73,614

Chapel Hill is synonymous with higher education and was founded to serve the University of North Carolina in 1819. The town sprung up to serve university students and staff looking to pursue their higher education pursuits. The city was named after the New Hope Chapel that stood on a hill.

Chapel Hill is steeped in Southern charm and history as the country's first public university. The city is called the "Southern Part of Heaven," which still boasts a quaint small-town feel with a cosmopolitan twist. Locals range from well-heeled families to college students.

Considering its historical roots, it's no surprise that Chapel Hill's primary industry stems from higher education. Healthcare and social assistance and scientific and technical services are also significant employers around the city.

Chapel Hill draws in tourists with tours of the iconic Univesity of North Carolina campus. As a college town, Chapel Hill is home to pubs, restaurants, and cultural hotspots. Beyond campus, Chapel Hill is also home to the Carolina Basketball Museum, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Moreland Planetarium and Science Center.

Learn more about the average rent in Chapel Hill.

10. Durham

  • Population: 283,506
  • Median 2-Bedroom Apartment Rent: $1,394.67
  • Rent Change in the Past Year: 21.98%
  • Median Household Income: $58,905

Like much of North Carolina, Durham was established in 1849 as a railway depot. The city also founded the American Tobacco Company, followed by a growing textile and electric power. Like Chapel Hill, Durham is also known for its foundation in higher education and is home to Duke University and North Carolina University.

Beyond the college scene, Durham is known for its healthcare industry and the Duke University Health System. As a result, it earned the moniker as the City of Medicine with over 300 medical and health-related companies and related clinics. Beyond medicine, Durham is a sports town where locals pledge allegiance to Duke, UNC, or North Carolina State.

Significant industries around Durham include higher education and medicine. Locals build their careers in the Research Triangle Park, sitting between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The park has three major research institutions: North Carolina State University, Duke University, and North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tech and healthcare, and the city of Durham also employ locals.

Higher education draws visitors to tour Duke University, where they can take in a collegiate basketball game or explore the Chapel. Outdoor attractions include Sarah P. Duke Gardens and Eno River State Park. For a culture stop, Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens with 55 acres of rolling lawns and flowers.

Learn more about the average rent in Durham Hill.

Cheapest Cities in North Carolina Data

Before packing up and moving to North Carolina, look over the average rents and year-over-growth in its cheapest cities.

CityAverage 2-Bedroom RentYoY Growth
Greenville, NC$881.339%
Winston-Salem, NC$111523%
Fayetteville, NC$1155.6718%
Kannapolis, NC$122511%
Greensboro, NC$1239.6720%
Concord, NC$1248.3320%
Wilmington, NC$130316%
Wake Forest, NC$1336.3326%
Chapel Hill, NC$1380.6716%
Durham, NC$1394.6722%

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Move to In North Carolina

From coastal gems to modern cities, these are the cheapest places to live in North Carolina. The best places to live in the state are steeped in history, Southern charm, and promising job markets. Ready to make a move to the Tar Heel State? Sign up for Apartment List to find affordable apartments in North Carolina.

If you're concerned about the cost of living in North Carolina, learn about the true cost of renting. You can also consider subletting, living in a short-term rental, or finding a move-in special!

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Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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