It’s no secret that NC’s Triangle area - Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill - is welcoming new residents at very high rates - up to 5,000 per month in recent years. Offering great weather, thriving economies, and located nicely between the mountains and the ocean, each of these three cities has its own personality, its own identity.
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Chapel Hill is the smallest of the three, a quintessential cool college town, home to the University of North Carolina, the flagship of the UNC system. Considered a “public Ivy,” the university is home to more than 30,000 students and an overall population of 62,000.
There is a multitude of diverse housing styles, from historic district homes and charming bungalows to modern architecture, represented in single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and estate-size properties with land attached. Residents moving from other parts of the country are often surprised and pleased to see how far their dollar will stretch in Chapel Hill real estate. If you have questions about Chapel Hill and real estate options, please contact us today and we would be happy to work with you as your realtor.
Let’s take a deeper dive into what makes Chapel Hill so special.
Chapel Hill, with its tree-lined streets, unique local businesses, and laid-back lifestyle has the feel of a small town, which in fact it is, with a population just over 60,000. But it’s combined with big city amenities - world-class healthcare, a vibrant food scene, art galleries, museums, music venues, and special events that bring the community together.
Franklin Street, the heart and social center of both the university and the town, is a three-mile stretch of road with more than 300 restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. Named after Benjamin Franklin, a firm believer in educating the youth of the country, Franklin Street has existed since the 1790s.
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While much of life in Chapel Hill is linked to the university, you’re still easily able to take advantage of many cultural, sports, and outdoor opportunities in the greater Triangle area, including Durham and Raleigh.
Downtown Raleigh is only 28 miles away from Chapel Hill, whereas Durham is a shorter 14 miles away. Both cities provide incredible entertainment, dining, and experiences unparalleled anywhere else. And Raleigh Durham International Airport is less than a half hour away from Chapel Hill.
Check out the sidebar to the right to explore popular neighborhoods in Chapel Hill!
Chapel Hill is home to a wide range of cultural experiences, some of which are actually on the UNC campus itself. The Ackland Art Museum, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and the Coker Arboretum are all located on campus.
Fun fact: NASA used the Morehead Planetarium to train members of their Gemini and Apollo programs in celestial navigation, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and John Glenn.
There are walking tours of historic Chapel Hill and nearby Carrboro as well as self-paced driving tours. The Varsity Theater on Franklin Street has been a landmark for over 50 years. Carolina Performing Arts brings in performing artists from all over the world.
Playmakers Repertory Company is the professional theater company in residence at UNC.
It’s hard to know where to begin describing the Chapel Hill food scene. Dubbed America's foodiest small town by Bon Appetit Magazine, many of the area's acclaimed restaurants - such as Elaine's on Franklin, Lantern Restaurant, and Osteria Georgi - have received national attention and been featured in premier television shows and magazines.
And while white table cloth establishments are easily found, there are also quintessential down-home spots such as Breadman’s, Carolina Coffee Shop - opened in 1922, it’s the oldest continuously running restaurant in North Carolina - and Mama Dip’s Kitchen, a family-owned and operated restaurant for three generations, and Sunrise Kitchen Biscuits.
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Sutton’s Drug Store which opened in 1923 was a full-service pharmacy and sundry bar up until just a few years ago. Today, it is a food destination for hometown specialties, including milkshakes, sandwiches, and old-fashioned candy.
Photo credit: RLK Media
Chapel Hill chefs also focus on fresh, local ingredients to turn out spectacular dishes and support local farms and artisan food makers. This is true whether they are producing comfort food or high-end cuisine from around the world.
In fact, the other exciting element in the Chapel Hill food scene is the diversity and worldwide cuisines represented. Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, Mediterranean Deli (locals call it Med Deli), Il Palio, North Carolina’s only AAA Four Diamond Italian restaurant, and Tallula’s, featuring Turkish specialties.
Fun fact: Rumor has it that several years ago, People Magazine went in search of “the perfect sandwich” and ended up choosing Merritt’s Grill, a Chapel Hill haven known for its BLT sandwiches. True or not, the BLT sandwiches are good enough that you can believe it.
As for nightlife, well, let’s just say that the preponderance of undergraduate and graduate students has resulted in a booming nightlife scene in Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill’s moderate weather means that outdoor opportunities for recreation abound. There are 27 golf courses in and around the town, both private and public. Residents enjoy parks, wooded areas, and green spaces for walking, biking, and rollerblading.
Places to check out are Brumley Forest Nature Preserve, Battle Park, Morgan Creek Trail, and the Bolin Creek Trail.
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Nearby is Jordan Lake, which offers swim beaches, boating ramps, camping, and hiking trails for both beginners and advanced. Birdwatching and picnicking are also Jordan Lake options. And if you’re willing to travel a bit, there are 200 hiking and bicycling trails within 60 miles.
UNC has some of the best athletic collegiate programs in the country, but it’s Tarheels basketball that revs up the campus and community each year. The Tar Heels have won the NCAA Men’s Division Basketball Tournament six times, were in the finals 11 times, and made the Final Four 20 times. March Madness takes over Chapel Hill nearly every year and brings the whole community together to cheer on the team working through the bracket.
Oh, and when the Tar Heels win? As many as 30,000 fans congregate on Franklin Street to celebrate!
Chapel Hill has a very healthy economy, driven in part by the university but also by the town’s proximity to Research Triangle Park (RTP), where there are plentiful jobs in tech, government, life science, and healthcare. Major employers include Verizon, GE, Smith Glaxo Kline, Cisco, and more.
Chapel Hill is also home to a series of entrepreneurial initiatives, including Launch Chapel Hill, whose mission is to help entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses in the area. Launch Chapel Hill is a startup accelerator as well as a co-working space, offering resources for businesses to help accelerate economic development.
Networking events, workshops, and potential partnerships with others in the entrepreneurial community are available to members of the accelerator or co-working space.
The UNC Medical Center is a health care family that includes the UNC Hospitals as well as a network of primary care and specialty physician practices located throughout the Triangle, serving over 800,000 people each year.
In Chapel Hill, the UNC Medical Center campus offers women’s and children’s services, along with specialized patient care via the Breast Center, Cardiovascular Program, Diabetes Care Center, Lung Center, Rehabilitation Center, Spine Center, Wound Management Program, and Comprehensive Transplant Center.
The UNC Medical Center campus also houses the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of 40 National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the country.
The UNC Adams School of Dentistry offers dental treatment in all areas of dental care to adults and children from across the state. Supervised by faculty, the dental students provide care at generally about one-third of the cost of a private dental practice.
Chapel Hill is home to many live music venues. Cat’s Cradle may be the best well-known; it has hosted Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, John Mayer, Sonic Youth, and artists as diverse as Joan Baez and Public Enemy. In between, it has featured well-known regional musical acts, such as The Connells.
Another notable live music venue is The Cave, although it can be hard to find in an alley off the main drag. It is one of the oldest bars in Chapel Hill, and its interior is best described as, well, a cave. The small, intimate, setting is a great place to see bands up close and personal and its performers represent a wide range of genres.
Other notable music haunts are The Kraken, He’s Not Here, and Local 506.
James Taylor credits Chapel Hill with inspiration for some of his songs. Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ben Fold Five, and bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers all had their start here.
Chapel Hill housing reflects its long history as a community, with diverse architectural styles throughout the city. There are three historic districts in the downtown area near Franklin Street and the UNC campus. At the same time, the area ranks third in the nation for the number of modernist homes!
If you’re looking for a luxury home in Chapel Hill, you’re in luck. Between the neighborhoods that grew up around the University, historic districts, and new construction in recent years, there are choices for luxury homes ranging from around $700k to multi-million dollar properties. You can choose modern, traditional, immense square-footage, or large, sprawling custom country estates.
What I like about Chapel Hill is that the luxury homes can be found all over the town, not just in remote suburbs. One-of-a-kind custom homes are peppered throughout quiet streets just outside Chapel Hill.
Some neighborhoods are built around a specific style - Timberlyne for contemporary homes, for example, while others are built around a lifestyle such as golf communities (Governor's Club and the Oaks).
In new construction, options range from master-planned communities to large and private wooded estate homes where the nearest neighbor is nowhere in sight. Your choice! The good news is that Chapel Hill is not too spread-out so you can always quickly take advantage of all it has to offer no matter which end of town you call home.
Some of the planned urban communities such as Briar Chapel and Winmore are built around a town center with dining and shopping readily available within walkable distance. Some commit to keeping a certain amount of green space always open within the community. Chatham Park, in next-door Pittsboro, is the latest in the “live, work, play” communities.
The planned urban communities as well as homes near downtown Chapel Hill are great for those who work from home, and want to be able to walk to a coffee shop to work on some days. Another great thing about Chapel Hill is it has one of the most extensive networks in the area of Google Fiber already laid. Check out our Google Fiber Maps to see the coverage.
A nice thing about Chapel Hill is there is a Community Home Trust that delivers housing affordability options to diverse populations. If you qualify for the program, these homes are sometimes 30-50% below market value. This is a unique program and worth checking out. I've had a couple of clients go through this program in the past, and the only downside is you have to also sell below market value to another buyer in the home trust.
One last thing to note about the real estate market in Chapel Hill is that many graduate or undergraduate students purchase homes while getting their degree at UNC, and we have a list of townhomes and condos near the university that are a good fit for this. Why pay rent for 4 years when you could be building equity?
The saying goes like this: “If God is not a Tarheel, then why is the sky Carolina blue?” Those iconic powder blue colors can be found just about everywhere in Chapel Hill. The university itself was founded in 1789, making it one of the oldest public universities in the country.
Considered a “public Ivy,” the Chapel Hill campus is a beautiful walkable campus with red brick walls, shady trees, plants and flowers that line the walkways. UNC has some of the best programs in the country, including the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the School of Medicine.
Although competition for admission to UNC is very competitive, the tuition is very affordable for in-state students.
The Old Well, where legend has it that a sip of water brings good luck for students.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/JillLang
Town-gown relations are fairly good in Chapel Hill. The university employs approximately 13,000 people so almost everyone has a friend or relative who works there! Chapel Hill regularly ranks as one of the best college towns in the United States and part of that reputation reflects the opportunities - social, cultural, professional - that flow easily between the university and the community.
Chapel Hill sits in a hub of academic success. In addition to UNC, NC State and Duke University are just a few miles away. The result is a trickle-down effect that can be felt on the local school scene. The local public and private middle, elementary, and high schools are all influenced by the phenomenal nearby universities, which produce great teachers, museums, and exhibits, while also having a profound influence on Chapel Hill children.
Most Chapel Hill residents are zoned into the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School System, although there are some areas of Chapel Hill that are zoned into Chatham County or Durham County systems, so you need to double-check addresses of a prospective home.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro is considered to be one of the best school systems in the whole country, ranking consistently in the top for student testing while also featuring the lowest dropout rates in NC.
Chapel Hill has more than its share of craft breweries, including Carolina Brewery, which is the oldest operating craft brewery in the Triangle. Not surprisingly, most of the breweries are in and around Franklin Street; some also offer food and live music.
But it’s not just craft beer! Top of the Hill is already a Chapel Hill icon, a hotspot for the “eat, drink, and be merry” crowd; its outdoor deck provides the best sunset viewing spot in town. Top of the Hill is a microbrewery, serving up a wide variety of craft beers, and a distiller, producing 100% organic vodka, whiskey, and gin in bottle sales.
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There are events throughout the year in Chapel Hill where residents meet and greet each other, and they range from art festivals to sporting events, from live music to meeting goats! There are always shows at the Morehead Planetarium, Movies Under the Stars at the outdoor Forest Theater, community theater events, and gala fireworks displays for summer holidays.
Festifall Arts Market and More is one of North Carolina’s longest-running festivals, 40+ years old. It’s a cross between an arts-based block party and street fair, and in 2022, it will be held over three weekends in October. Artists, craftspeople, theater and street performers, and musicians are featured and local restaurants along Franklin Street open their doors to the crowds.
There’s lots to recommend in Chapel Hill for retirees. Stellar medical care is available from both UNC Hospital and Duke University’s Medical Center. Chapel Hill has great walkability and easy-to-access outdoor recreation. There are museums and art galleries, and live music is nearly always available.
Retirees also enjoy a great food scene, and a wide range of shopping options, specialty markets, and outdoor markets.
With 10% of Chapel Hill’s population aged 65 or older, Chapel Hill is not a “secret” any longer as a good place to stay young and enjoy retirement. If you’re interested in communities for active adults, Chapel Hill has several master-planned communities to choose from.
Among the most popular options are Governors Club, Fearrington Village, and Encore at Briar Chapel. Single-family homes are available among a wide range of amenities - parks, gardens, trails, pools, sports complexes, and even a lifestyle director who plans events and activities.
Chapel Hill’s Parks & Recreation Department has programs and events for the 55+ crowd and the Seymore Senior Center offers a hot lunch program, wellness classes, computer training, and trips abroad.
Those retiring from colder climes will appreciate Chapel Hill’s moderate weather, with mild winters and warm (even hot) summers.
I think a college town has its own charm and Chapel Hill brings that in spades. It consistently ranks as one of the coolest college towns in the country. There’s the nightlife, a world-class food scene, diverse cultural activities, and a thriving economy. It has a robust healthcare system and events tailored to both families as well as individual pursuits.
It has been home to musicians James Taylor, Ben Folders, and Loudon Wainwright III; author John Grisham, and one of basketball’s greats, Michael Jordan.
Housing options cover a wide range of homes and styles, from modest to multi-million dollars. Tree-lined streets, welcoming front porches, and neighbors as near or far as you want them, all contribute to the Chapel Hill lifestyle that is there for the choosing.
Chapel Hill and the Triangle Housing Market Reports are available here and we update them monthly: Chapel Hill and the Triangle Real Estate Market Data
Contact us to schedule a buyer consultation at our office and starting touring homes! Whether you are looking for a fixer-upper or something move-in ready, we are happy to help you with your home search.
Listings provided courtesy of Triangle MLS, Inc. of NC, Internet Data Exchange Database. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. © 2023 Triangle MLS, Inc. of North Carolina. Data last updated .