North Carolina: Where affordability meets natural beauty
Containing the Great Smoky Mountains and plenty of other parks, the draw of North Carolina is both its natural beauty and the relaxed character of the cities that have sprung up within it. From mountains to coastlines, the cheapest places to live in North Carolina offer affordability in a variety of idyllic cities.
The cheapest places in North Carolina to live for renters
It’s nice to see that some of North Carolina’s most popular cities, for everyone from tourists to college students, offer affordable housing that’s even lower than the state’s average. If you long to live in the mountains, then you’re covered. And if you prefer Piedmont or Coastal Plains, you’re also good.
If it’s time to call the Tar Heel State home and you’ve got a tight budget, start your search here. These are the 10 cheapest places to live in North Carolina to check out.
- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,359
- Average rent change in the past year: -4%
Just north of Charlotte, the city of Mooresville is an up-and-coming suburban town with major ties to the racing community. It’s the home of the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame and earned itself the nickname of “Race City U.S.A.”
The dedication to all kinds of racing runs deep in Mooresville, but the town is about so much more. Residents enjoy easy access to picturesque Lake Norman, the largest man-made lake in North Carolina. You can explore over 520 miles of shoreline that stretches into four different counties.
Heading back into the main part of Mooresville, you’ll also find a small-town feel infused throughout each activity, restaurant and shop. The historic downtown district has that quaint feel many look for when moving out of a larger city.
One particularly unique draw is that Mooresville offers up more than one opportunity to get close to some exotic animals at both the Lazy 5 Ranch and Zootastic Park.
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9. Chapel Hill
- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,794
- Average rent change in the past year: -1%
The most well-known attraction in Chapel Hill is the University of North Carolina. Pride in the ‘Heels, the ever-dominant basketball team, is so heavy it’s easy to see why die-hards claim to “bleed blue.”
While you’ll find plenty of college students in the area and activities to occupy them, the city has much more to it. A social place, you’ll find regular road races and festivals celebrating everything from antiques to bluegrass music.
To hit the most happening spot in the city, check out Historic Franklin Street. Here you’ll find dozens of boutiques, nightspots and restaurants.
With miles of trails and a paved Riverwalk right through the center of town, there is a lot to explore by foot in Chapel Hill. Very family-friendly — Chapel Hill offers activities that include visiting the Kidzu Children’s Museum, the Coker Arboretum and the Carolina Basketball Museum.
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Photo source: Town of Apex / Facebook
- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,349
- Average rent change in the past year: -7%
With a relaxing, small-town atmosphere and the convenience of big-city amenities, Apex works to hold onto its character even as more and more residents join the community.
Get to know the city by taking a walking tour of the historic downtown area. Here you’ll see buildings that date back to the late 1800s — including The Union Depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Considered one of the most intact, turn-of-the-century railroad towns in the area, Apex takes its history seriously without ignoring the present day. Among the restored buildings you’ll find excellent antique shops and specialty stores — not to mention some highly-revered restaurants.
It’s not all railroads around here though. There’s a nice cultural center in Apex which includes multiple galleries, studio classrooms and a theater.
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,544
- Average rent change in the past year: +6%
Heading into the mountainous, western part of the state, you’ll find Asheville. This perfect town has eateries and craft brew spots that will wow even the most discerning foodie. The downtown area is walkable enough that you can explore this cool city center on foot.
For a step into elegance and history, visit the Biltmore Estate. Walk the grounds, stay on-site for a night or take a more formal tour. It’s the perfect place to snag a one-of-a-kind piece of art to take home!
Catering to more active folks, the Blue Ridge Mountains offer up ideal locations for apple picking, hiking, biking and even ziplining. For those looking for a home with a vibrant arts scene, the Downtown Arts District of Asheville is full of galleries and museums.
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $915
- Average rent change in the past year: -3%
Not too far from the Atlantic coast lies Greenville, a charming, historic city that manages to keep a foothold squarely in modern life.
An outdoor person’s Mecca with proximity to the ocean, local swamps, the Tar River waterway and the Greenville trail system — Greenville offers everything from boating to fishing to hiking and much more.
When it’s time to refuel, the area is also renowned for its barbecue and beer. The county puts on a “Brew & ‘Cue” tour that allows patrons to get their “PassPork” stamped at various locations.
Lovingly called the “Emerald City,” Greenville residents appreciate that their beautiful home is also a thriving cultural, economic and educational hub. It’s home to East Carolina University and the Uptown district, where live music, food and art reign supreme
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,010
- Average rent change in the past year: +5%
With a city so nice it earned itself a hyphen, Winston-Salem is one of the more well-known spots in North Carolina. Here you’ll find plenty of history, delicious food and of course, craft beer. There are multiple places to stop around town to sample the latest pour from local breweries.
Mild weather and friendly neighbors combine with a low cost of living to welcome residents to Winston-Salem. Drawing in mostly a younger crowd, thanks to nearby universities, you’ll find many young professionals and growing families. For those families interested in renting a house, the median home price rests at $260,000.
To get a solid dose of local history, visit Old Salem. This area pays homage to settlers from 1766 and is full of historic buildings, costumed interpreters and hands-on experiences.
For those looking for some natural beauty and great shopping, Reynolda Village provides both. Stroll through the gardens before popping into cute boutiques and delicious restaurants.
For exposure to the arts, walk Trade and Liberty streets downtown to see street art, murals and plenty of galleries.
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Photo source: City of Burlington, NC / Facebook
- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,087
- Average rent change in the past year: -3%
Another North Carolina town that owes its existence to the railroad is Burlington. It only sprang up because the North Carolina Railroad needed a place to build, repair and maintain the tracks in the area. Still going strong today, Burlington mixes the old and the new to keep things interesting for residents.
A wealth of history combined with a passion for nature conservancy creates a community in Burlington unlike no other. With plenty of shopping and unique dining options — residents have plenty to enjoy in this city.
Visit the Conservators Center to wander through 45 acres of forested area and see over 70 large and small wild cats who call the area home. There’s also Cedarock Park, a 500-acre nature preserve that’s perfect for hiking, horseback riding and disc golf. This affordable area is rich in golf courses as well, making this town perfect for anyone looking to brush up on golf skills.
For the family, City Park offers a large playground and amusement park rides like a miniature train, carousel and airplane ride.
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,035
- Average rent change in the past year: 0%
Just 65 miles south of Raleigh, the state’s capital, Fayetteville is an ideal commuter hub. Adjacent to Highway 95, you can easily go north to cities like Washington, D.C. and New York or take the southern route to Charleston, Orlando or Miami.
For those who want to keep it local, Fayetteville has a thriving downtown area with retail shops, restaurants and an impressive minor league baseball stadium.
You’ll also find an homage to the city’s rich history at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum and at the North Carolina Veterans Park. For some more natural beauty, make sure to stop into the Cape Fear Botanical Garden. The 80-acre site is only two miles from downtown.
Next door, you’ll also find Fort Bragg, one of the largest military installations in the world. Many military families stationed at Fort Bragg call Fayetteville home, giving it a reputation for being a community of ‘history, heroes and a hometown feeling.’
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,117
- Average rent change in the past year: +14%
Containing the trifecta of attractive qualities, Greensboro is a city with a lot of economic opportunities, affordable housing and an abundance of activity. This eastern North Carolina city has served as an important location in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, so there’s no shortage of history around here.
For everyday living, Greensboro is a friendly and diverse community that’s perfect for foodies of every kind. Sample the many locally owned coffee shops or breweries alongside the variety of restaurants. Local farmers and native vineyards are big contributors to the menus around town.
A bit of a college town, you’ll find students attending a wide range of schools including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC A&T State University, Bennett College, Guilford College, the North Carolina Zoo and Greensboro College.
Greensboro also plays host each year to the NCAA basketball tournament, bringing in even more college kids than those attending local schools.
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- Average 1-BR rent price: $1,227
- Average rent change in the past year: -5%
Known to have a progressive vibe, Carrboro is a small town packed full of flare. As far as affordable cities go, Carrboro is rich in offerings. You’ll find craft galleries, indie music venues, progressive theater and exhibitions and more. There’s no shortage of organic grocery stores, farm-to-table restaurants and artsy coffee shops.
Head to Main Street for most of the action around town, including the Carrboro Farmers’ Market featuring local artisans and crafts.
When all the art and culture of Carrboro pique your appetite, this little town has delicious offerings to fill your belly. From burgers to bistros, fine dining to pizzerias, you can eat a different cuisine each day of the week.
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The most expensive places to live in North Carolina
You’ve seen the cheapest places to live in North Carolina, but what about the other side? Fortunately, it’s not all bad. Even the most expensive cities in North Carolina offer up somewhat affordable housing.
Cities like Wake Forest and Garner, which top the list, still maintain an average rent for a one-bedroom of under $2,000 a month. Check out the chart to see where other North Carolina cities fit in.
Ranked City by 1-BR Average + Average Rent
1) Wake Forest: $1,846
2) Garner: $1,501
3) Indian Trail: $1,473
4) Cary: $1,380
5) Charlotte: $1,362
6) Huntersville: $1,341
7) Wilmington: $1,318
8) Concord: $1,294
9) Raleigh: $1,275
10) Morrisville: $1,270
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.’s multifamily rental property inventory as of November 2023. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
We excluded cities with insufficient inventory from our cheapest places to live in North Carolina report.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.