Headed Down South to the Land of the Pines, Tumbin' My Way Into North Caroline..
March 30, 2012 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Durham, NC. Help!

So after much deliberating, soul searching, and fretting, I've decided to attend Grad School in Durham, North Carolina. While I'm relieved to have finally made a choice (hooray for me! I'm not entirely incapacitated by indecision!) and am genuinely looking forward to getting to know Durham (you MeFites made it sound so divine in my previous question), I'm a little stressed about the whole situation. (Of course I am. I wouldn't be me if I weren't continually racked by overwhelming and unnecessary amounts of stress).
My biggest concern is, understandably, about housing. I read these three previous questions, and found them quite useful, but my situation is a little different in that, due to financial limitations, I will most likely not be able to travel to Durham to do any apartment hunting, and will therefore be searching for a place on the web, and ultimately moving in somewhere sight unseen. This is terrifying to me.

To that end, can anyone provide any advice about the best way to go about this? Are there any reputable housing search companies in the area? I don't know anyone in Durham, but have considered enlisting the help of one of the grad students currently in the department to do some investigating of places on my behalf once I've done a preliminary internet search. Is this an unreasonable favour to ask of a relative stranger? (I stayed with her while I was doing campus visit, so I do know her.....just not so well that I would feel comfortable asking her to go out of her way doing favours for me). I am sure the school also has some housing resources that might prove useful, but I am inherently distrusting of Student Housing Services (bad experience, long story), so would appreciate any other ideas to supplement their offerings.

My preliminary searches on Craigslist have been flooded with listings by what appear to be big property management companies flogging "gated communities" and "secluded villages" and the like.....essentially, big generic apartment complexes that are not all that appealing to me. I would MUCH prefer to rent a house (or apartment within a house) that has some character and sense of "home" (and maybe even a backyard!) and would prefer to deal with an individual landlord rather than a Big Company. Is this possible in Durham, or is everything run by a few big rental companies? Where should I be looking outside of Craigslist? (I've found every apartment I've ever lived in off Craigslist, so I'm a little lost without it and shocked to find the Durham edition kind of useless). Any Durham rental companies you've had particularly good (or horrid) experiences with?
Somewhat unrelated: I'm looking into getting a driver's license (yes, I'm 27 years old and don't have one. Stop laughing.), since it has been suggested to me that getting by with only my bike might not be a great idea in Durham. My original plan was to get a learner's permit here in Canada, and then transfer it to an NC permit once I get there. I know this is (obviously) common practice for people with full licenses, but am not so sure about learner's permits....will the 5 months of "learning" I'm going to do before I move be worth anything to the DMV? Or will they make me start from scratch anyway? Should I bother getting a permit here, first? Advice from people who understand the system better than I do would be appreciated, since I couldn't find any info pertaining to my situation on the NC DMV website.

Last question (for now!): What's your favourite Durham neighbourhood? Where should a progressive, single, late 20's, active, non-driving, vegan gal be looking?
posted by Dorinda to Travel & Transportation around Durham, NC (11 answers total)
Response by poster: ....aaaaaaand just noticed the embarrassing typo in the title....
That's what I get for trying to make hip musical references...
posted by Dorinda at 2:04 PM on March 30, 2012

Is there any way you can get a full Driver's License while you're still in Canada?

check the NC DOT webpage:

As a permit holder, while operating a motor vehicle over the highways, you must be accompanied by a person who is licensed to operate the motor vehicle being driven & is seated in the front, passenger seat.

A learner permit authorizes you to drive a specified type or class of motor vehicles while in possession of the permit.

I think I drove for maybe... six hours total over a couple of weeks before I went in and took my road test, it's really not that hard.
posted by Oktober at 2:10 PM on March 30, 2012

Best answer: Look through the listings on Duke Community Housing. It has the nice feature of letting you restrict listings by distance to campus.

Yeah, it does appear that much rental housing in the area is administered through rental companies. People suggested I look at Apple Realty's listings when I was looking in the Old West Durham area. They didn't have anything meeting our needs when we visited looking for housing.

As for asking a current grad student to go check out places for you, that would be quite an imposition. I mean, you can always get their opinion on places you have found, and they might offer to check out some place for you, but I don't think you should ask otherwise. What you should do instead of just going through Craigslist is ask this person how they found housing and their suggestions. They might know other people who are looking for a roommate, say.

In our case, we didn't find a place to rent during our housing search visit, but it was good in that we got to check various neighborhoods and the housing stock with our own eyes. Once we got back, it turned out that a realtor at one of the property management companies we'd talked offered to go look at places for us. So after we'd narrowed down to two possibilities, she went and took a look and sent us pictures and her impressions of the places. Once we signed the lease for one of these places, she was paid a fee by the property management company. So yeah, this is why I would feel uncomfortable about asking another grad student to go look at places for you, when people are paid to do this.

Regarding the driver's license, you might want to contact the International Student office at Duke. They could answer your questions or put you in touch with another grad student who did the Canada to U.S. international move.
posted by research monkey at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2012

Here's Duke Community Housing's listing. For what it's worth, I've heard bad things about Bob Schmidtz properties.

For Durham, your safest bet may be to live your first year in a big faceless apartment complex, to give yourself time to get a feel for the area. Because it's hard to tell which areas are 'bad areas' just by address, you probably want to visit any place before you rent it.

If you don't have a car, I know that a lot of international students live at Poplar West, which includes some older townhouses within walking distance of West Campus. It's not too expensive, either.

Craigslist doesn't seem to be as big in the RTP area as it is in, say, the SFBay area.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:40 PM on March 30, 2012

Best answer: Oh! Also, Duke sends out a housing survey every year for grad students to rate where they live. The results are here: Community Housing Survey. I haven't lived a lot of places, but if you narrow it down, feel free to send me a message and I'll let you know if I've heard anything bad about the place.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:43 PM on March 30, 2012

Best answer: Woo, welcome to Durham!

I would recommend looking for a house to share in the neighborhoods around East Campus: Trinity Park, Duke Park, and Northgate Park. You can walk or bike to East, or even park in the street next to it, and hop on the bus over to West (where most departments are).

I recommend against the sole-sucking apartment complex. The neighborhoods around East are filled with gorgeous old houses, and some of them are cheaper to rent than an apartment. I pay $375 a month to live in a house with a front porch, a screened-in back porch, and a working fireplace, and it's across the street from an awesome historic graveyard. (I share the house with one housemate.)

Oh yeah, and I'm actually looking to sublet my room in the fall. So...memail me if you're interested! :)
posted by duvatney at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2012

Most places that will let you rent a place sight unseen in Durham are corporate realtors. Most corporate realtors lease apartments in bland complexes. If you want to do it completely remotely, you'll pretty much need to get a complex apartment. OR you could get a place on airbnb.com for a week while you look for something closer to what you want.

Not sure how the permit thing works. Just call the NC DMV and ask.
posted by greta simone at 3:48 PM on March 30, 2012

Best answer: Duke Community Housing is really all you need (and so much better than the local Craigslist offerings). I found both my apartments here through that site.
posted by gerryblog at 6:36 PM on March 30, 2012

Sent you a memail with another place to look.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:46 PM on March 30, 2012

If you want to give craigslist another try, you could looks under the "rooms and shares" sub-category. It's full of ads by people looking for roommates, or people who have houses and want to rent out a room. Don't know how you feel about moving in with another person sight unseen, but it's a way to find a place that isn't

Or you could explore sublets. If you're coming to town during the summer, you'll be able to find tons of people trying to sublet their place for the summer; sometimes you can find situations where you'll have a chance to stay and renew the lease under your name after the sublet is over.

Agreed that the neighborhoods near downtown and around Duke are good for the kind of lifestyle you're looking for. Please feel free to Memail me if you have more questions. And welcome to Durham and to NC! It's a great place!
posted by aka burlap at 7:26 PM on March 30, 2012

Have you considered coming down a little early and staying at an inexpensive option, such as AirBnB? Many of the hosts are very helpful which could be useful in advise about checking out neighborhoods. As mentioned before, Durham neighborhoods vary greatly.
posted by cat_link at 11:40 AM on March 31, 2012

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