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Raleigh vs Cary – Real Estate Guides

We’re going to talk about some of the unique differences between the two cities and then we’re going to discuss different types of housing that you can get and what types of amenities you can get at different price points throughout each city. It IS different.

The Real Differences

While Cary’s median home price is almost 200 thousand dollars higher, there are actually some types of housing that are less expensive in Cary and in some surprising ways you get more for your money. Also, there are some things you will give up to live in one city over the other.

What makes these neighboring cities so different?

And then there are some things that you equally have access to whether you live in Cary or Raleigh. Like you can live in some parts of Raleigh and be closer to Cary amenities than some parts of Cary are. And Vice versa. So we’re going to talk about all of that stuff.

The first thing you need to know is that while Raleigh and Cary share a border with each other, most people will tell you they are very different places. The vibes are just totally different. And it’s not easy to pick up on that without driving around. When people call me to relocate to the Triangle, the first thing I do is create a custom Google map tour for them because most people, once they have done this, have a very strong affinity for one or the other.

You really have to see it to get the vibe. They’re not better or worse than each other, they’re just different. And what feels right to you might be different than what feels right to someone else.

Is Cary Pleasantville?

Cary has the reputation of being a real-life kind of Pleasantville. It’s very manicured and the people are very nice. Artwork art adorns the public spaces. If you’re from Raleigh you probably think the art is overdone. If you’re from Cary you love the fact that the town pays attention to its appearance. You love that there is a park walking distance from just about anywhere. You love the well designed shopping centers. Except for Crossroads, they made that before Cary got its act together. I think whoever originally designed that mess got out of traffic engineering and became a chef or something.

If you’re from Raleigh, you love the fact that Raleigh isn’t Cary.

You like the fact that it’s a little grittier, a little less manicured, a little older. With that grit and age, comes a depth of culture that Cary doesn’t have and a lot more variety in the types of housing available. Raleigh also has the big amenities that Cary doesn’t…museums, symphony, ballet, and a real downtown.

If you’re comparing Cary to other towns in the Triangle, you might also want to check out our posts and videos on:

Cary vs. Holly Springs

Cary vs. Fuquay

Cary vs. Wake Forest

Raleigh’s Character

Raleigh has the reputation of being. . . well i’m not sure. To be honest, it feels like Raleigh is still finding itself. Some will complain that Raleigh is too plain. That it doesn’t really have a character like, say, Austin does. Austin is weird, New York never sleeps, and Raleigh? Right now, for better or for worse, Raleigh is just really nice.

The different parts of Raleigh certainly have a character all their own. The upscale neighborhoods of ITB give you an old money vibe and West Raleigh is dominated by NC State. But the town as a whole is still looking for that unifying identity.

However, this year Raleigh was airbnb’s number one city for labor day weekend reservations. So maybe Raleigh is onto something. Not to leave Cary out of the accolades, this year Cary was the number one wealthiest city in the country.

The second thing you need to know is that because Raleigh and Cary are right next to each other, the amenities of each really are accessible no matter what city you live in. So, deciding where you want to live isn’t just as simple as saying Raleigh has this and Cary has that.

You can live in Cary and be closer to downtown Raleigh than someone who lives in North Raleigh. You can live in Raleigh and be closer to the Koka Booth amphitheater in Cary and all the events and concerts there than someone who lives in Cary up near RTP. You really have to take each particular house that you look at and do a little research to see what kinds of amenities there are.

Housing Prices in Cary and Raleigh

The third thing you need to know about Raleigh and Cary is that while they can share amenities the cost of getting into the housing market in each city can be different. Keep in mind that these homes and their prices are representative of what is on the market today and this is one of the slower times of the year.

The median home price in Cary is a whopping 635 thousand dollars, up almost 36% from last year.

Raleigh’s median home price is 463 thousand, up almost 31% from last year.

But those numbers don’t really tell you the whole story. Let’s look at a few different price points so you can see what the real differences are. Say you want to get into the Raleigh or Cary market at the lowest possible price point. What does it take to get into that market and what are you going to get for it?

Least expensive homes in Raleigh and Cary

In Raleigh, the least expensive residential property on the market right now is this 2 bedroom 2 bath condo for $142,500. It is inside the beltline east of Capital Boulevard, in a development that is primarily rentals. It is definitely city, but not downtown. It is a six minute walk from the Crabtree creek greenway, and a 12 minute walk to a Food Lion, a Dollar Store, and Lion’s Park. You’re also 5-10 minutes drive from the museum distinct and downtown and about as far to a brand new Publix.

Is Cary much different at this lowest price point? The least expensive residential property in Cary right now is this 715 square foot, 1 bedroom condo for 209 thousand. OK, smaller and more expensive than the condo in Raleigh. The Blackcreek greenway runs through the development giving you quick access to North Cary Park, which is just absolutely beautiful, and access to pretty much all of Cary. You can get to the skate park and the tennis courts going the other direction on the greenway. The Cary greenway system is the envy of cities across the country. Unlike the Raleigh condo, the Cary condo puts you right in the middle of everything that people like about Cary. You’re a 12 minute walk from Lidl, Aldi, and Harris Teeter. A 5 minute drive from park west village, downtown cary and 10 minutes from Fenton.

Raleigh and Cary Differences at the Lowest Price Point

When comparing the two what really stands out is how well manicured and developed Cary is. That walk you’re going to take to get to amenities is going to be much nicer. They both have close proximity to the best the cities have to offer. Cary a little more so mostly because Cary is smaller which makes everything closer. But that area of Raleigh is in need of a facelift. It’s old and kind of run down. Now, it will likely get that facelift over time and will be a good investment. But driving through the areas will really let you feel the difference.

Single Family Homes in Raleigh and Cary

Now let’s talk about single family homes. If you want a basic 3 bedroom, 2 bath detached home with at least 1200 square feet. You can get something like this one in Raleigh for $375 thousand. Built in 1975 on a third of an acre lot in North Raleigh, it’s just a 7 minute drive to Shelley Lake Park. The Mine Creek Trail runs right behind the lot so you can walk 45 minutes to Shelley Lake if you prefer and the Sertoma Arts Center there.

For shopping, you’re just a couple miles from Six Forks Station with Whole Foods, Target and a whole bunch of restaurants. You’ve got the popular Sola coffee right around the corner. And you’re about 10 minutes from the Crabtree Valley Mall.

The least expensive 3 bedroom, 2 bath home like that in Cary is this one for $395,000. It has almost 1600 square feet and was built in 1990. So, newer, and larger but also an extra $20,000. Like the condo in Cary, this one is also in North Cary with easy access to North Cary Park and a quick 5 minute drive to the Park West Village Shopping Center.

What you get in Cary

The $20,000 extra you pay for this home in Cary gets you a newer and larger home. But it also gets you something else. They both are close to lots of amenities. What Raleigh lacks in this case is the proximity to something with the vibe of downtown Cary with its downtown park, breweries and quaint small town feel. Most of these amenities in Raleigh are in more of a strip mall layout. So you have the same stuff, it just feels a little more interesting in Cary. You can get this kind of unique vibe in Raleigh, but I think you have to go downtown for it.

Median Priced Homes in Raleigh and Cary

So let’s look at what you get for the median prices in each city. If you wanted a median priced Raleigh home, for 460 thousand you could get into this 4 bedroom, 2 and a half bath, 2200 square foot house in north east raleigh. Its on a quarter acre lot that back up the the WRAL Soccer Park and the Neuse River Greenway. Living here puts you just a few minutes away from all of the shopping centers and car dealerships that line Capital Boulevard as well as Triangle Town center. You’re right next to 540 putting you about 30 minutes from RTP and 20 minutes from downtown Raleigh.

The median priced Cary home? You’ll have to pay $625 thousand for this 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 2600 square foot home. It’s larger than the Raleigh house by 400 square feet, but it’s costing you 165 thousand more. Like the other two Cary homes, this too is in North Cary, just a few minutes away from the other homes. Do you see a pattern developing here? Detached homes in downtown Cary are much more expensive. Homes in South or West Cary tend to be higher priced as well. Often they are in newer planned communities with neighborhood amenities.

Upscale homes in Raleigh and Cary

The upscale market in the two cities are perhaps the most different.
In Raleigh, the top 10% of homes by price starts around $1.9 million. In Cary, it’s around $1.3 million. There are only 3 houses in Cary currently on the market for over $2 million, but there are 53 homes in Raleigh above that $2 million mark. So there is less Cary inventory in those higher price brackets, and it also costs you a lot less to get into Cary at the high end price point.

The differences in Upscale Homes in Raleigh and Cary

But let’s look at two homes with similar pricing so we can really compare apples to apples. This one is in Raleigh and it’s listed at $1.9 million and this one is in Cary listed at $1.8 million. They are both about the same size. I think the biggest difference, and I think this is very illustrative of the major differences between the two towns… The Cary home is almost new… built in 2020. And the Raleigh home was built in 1990.

Now obviously they are both beautiful homes with some really amazing features. The newness of the Cary home means that it feels less unique than the Raleigh home does. Because so many of the features have been ubiquitous throughout the last few years building boom. Also, even though they have the same lot size the older home has a lot more hardscaping and landscaping, that just gives it a more substantial feel. At least in my opinion. Of course, with that hardscaping comes the honey oaks and browns of the 1990’s that some people may feel the need to replace. Or not.

Whichever side you’re on, I think these two homes personify the personalities of Raleigh and Cary very well. New, shiny, modern and really cool. Compared to older, a little dated, but with some really unique character.

So, where would you live? I guess like almost everything else in the world. It all depends.

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