Live The Dream: What is Year Round Living Like in the Outer Banks?

year round living in OBX

I have often heard from vacationers to the Outer Banks how they would love to be able to live here and not just visit on vacation.  Their vision includes a leisurely cup of coffee on the deck while the ocean waves makes music soothing to their ears.   

I also am aware of a few who moved here without understanding what it was like year round and didn’t stay. 

The Outer Banks is unlike any other place in the world.  I will venture to say it is really two places:  the summer place where 250k visitors arrive (and leave) every week and the winter place where 35k residents enjoy the change of seasons.  But, like any location; there are advantages and disadvantages. 

You have come to the right place to get the real scoop.

The Seasons

The summer and winters on the Outer Banks are very different.  Summers can be challenging due to the traffic and number of visitors.  Winters are milder than other nearby locations due to the proximity of the ocean and sound but tend to be very windy. 

Winters do tend to be sunny with a Carolina blue sky that can’t help but to make you smile.  This is contrasted with gray winter skies common in northerner locations.

Average temperatures in the Outer Banks are in the low to mid 50’s during the winter and go up to the high 80’s in the summer.  Ocean breezes in the summer are refreshing.  While northeast wind in the winter can be bone chilling. 

Some folks find winter long and boring.  It really doesn’t get cold until December.  January through March can be difficult for many folks once the holidays are over. 

However, the off-season is when residents get to spend time with each other.  Restaurants are uncrowded and sponsor events, activities, festivals and fundraisers.  The area has some of the best restaurants in the world and it is great to be able to enjoy them without a wait or being rushed.  Entertaining friends at home is fun and helps to pass the winter with lots of laughs.

We do occasionally get snow.  Usually, only a dusting or a few inches.  It is magical and transforms the island beautifully.  From viewing the ocean with snow covering the sand to seeing skiers on Jockeys Ridge or the forested areas covered in snow is just magical.  The snow doesn’t usually last long as the sun or salt makes it disappear within hours or a day. 

Although, I do remember one year when we got more than a foot of snow.  Most towns do not have snow removal budgets or equipment so school was closed for almost a week.  Even the kids were tired of the snow that time.  Generally, Outer Bankers are not good drivers in the snow (but don’t tell anyone I said so).

There are always a few teaser days in the winter where temperatures get into the 70’s and it feels like winter may be over.  They have to be seized when they occur as it is fleeting.  I can also recall a December day where temperatures reached the 80’s and I actually went swimming in the ocean.  These days are gifts to be cherished.

Many people that work and live in the Outer Banks year round do not get to the beach that often in the summer.  It is the busy season and most are busy working.  Even if you are not working, it is likely that your friends are working.  Living here and working here year round means you don’t get to enjoy the summer as much as you expected.

While you may not get to enjoy summer as much as you thought, you do get to enjoy and appreciate the other seasons.  A winter walk on a deserted beach is very peaceful in a zen sort of way.   Winter sunsets and stargazing is absolutely spectacular.  Being able to view and appreciate all the wildlife and beautiful scenery that is the Outer Banks is a gift that never fails to delight.

 It is the slower pace off-season where one can take the time to live in the moment, recharge and appreciate the beauty that is this barrier island.  There is a different rhythm to living year round on the Outer Banks.

Fall is a favorite time of year for many locals.  The weather tends to be warm without the high humidity with nights cooler.  I frequently turn off the A/C for the fall months and enjoy the moderate temperatures and gentle breeze.  The ocean temperatures are still warm enough for swimming.  Summer visitors have thinned and locals can take a breather from long summer working hours.  There are lots festivals, events and activities. 

Spring is a close second for a favorite season for most locals. There are a few days where the pollen becomes thick and will cover furniture with a layer of the yellow stuff if you keep your windows open.  I learned this the hard way after spring cleaning and throwing open the windows. 

Check out this post with 25 reasons to love living on the Outer Banks.

Working or Retired

Employment opportunities are limited in the Outer Banks.  If you are self-employed or can tele-commute than you are truly blessed. 

Many positions are seasonal.  As you can imagine, many jobs revolve around the tourism industry and related services.  Having a year round job is a privilege. 

If you are lucky enough to have a year round job, consider the location of where you live carefully to account for summer traffic and commute time. 

Most jobs here are not highly paid.  Many people will hold down 2 jobs to make enough to survive.  It is a tradeoff for quality of life.

Most year round residents live on the west side of the island.  Vacationers tend to prefer oceanfront so most of these are in a weekly rental program.  Many oceanfront or Oceanside homes are empty in the winter and full in the summer.  If you are living there year round, your “neighbors” will change each week and some may play music loud or have a party. 

Many residents prefer to live where other year round residents live for a community vibe and to get to know their neighbors.  Real estate and rents tend to be lower on the west side of the island with the exception of sound front locations.

If you are retired, you will have lots of opportunities to volunteer or be involved in the community.  No matter what your interest or skill, there are lots of volunteer opportunities in OBX.   Retirees also enjoy many tax benefits in NC; you can read more about that here.

Schools

If you are locating to the Outer Banks with a family that has school aged children, then the school system is very important to you.  The Dare county schools system is highly rated.  Students from Duck to Nags Head and Manteo attend Dare County Schools.  Families with school age children tend to reside in Dare County.

Corolla and Corova are located in Currituck County.  The County schools are located on the mainland and requires a very long bus ride.  There is a Charter School located in Corolla.  Water’s Edge Village School serves students in Kindergarten to 8th grade.  The school has just completed its 5th year and may expand to higher grades in the future.

Location

Location is an important consideration; not just for schools.  Some areas on the Outer Banks are more isolated in the winter than others.  Generally, Duck to Nags Head has more stores, restaurants and activity year round than does Corolla or Hatteras Island.  Manteo is the County seat and has a robust community and year round population.  

Consider these items before selecting the Best Outer Banks Neighborhood for Investment, Retirement or for You and Your Family to Enjoy.

Cost of Living

Housing is the most expensive factor for the cost of living.  Oceanfront real estate tends to be most expensive.  Communities on the west side of the island are an affordable alternative and still places residents only minutes to the beach and the plentiful beach accesses. 

Year round rentals are sometimes difficult to find.  Some vacation home owners will rent their homes as a winter rental but this requires the occupant to move prior to the summer season.

Insurance is more costly than inland areas. Check out these tips for shopping for Outer Banks insurance.  Learn about the types of insurance policies needed for coastal eastern NC.

Property taxes tend to be lower than other areas.  Groceries, gas and other essentials may be marginally more expensive.

Shopping

The Outer Banks has some nationally known shopping available like Wal-Mart, K-mart, Home-Depot, Lowes and Belks.  There are numerous boutique stores for almost any niche.  Nags Head also has an outlet mall featuring top name brands. 

Of course, today in the age of the internet, shopping online and having an item delivered to your home is much more common. 

Some residents prefer to visit Norfolk/Virginia Beach area for shopping or a Costco run.  This is about 1.5 hours away but has a selection of stores and shopping that includes most anything you would need or want.

Healthcare

The Outer Banks Hospital is located in Nags Head and is part of Vidant Health and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.  It provides urgent care services as well as practicing specialists.  It is also affiliated with the Outer Banks Medical Group which has facilities located from Southern Shores to Manteo and even Avon for convenient access to care.  For even more choices, Virginia is only 1.5 hours away. A list of healthcare service providers can be found here.  This list of healthcare providers includes telephone and addresses and veterinarians.

Crime

The Outer Banks has a low crime rate.  While many areas have a place where it is known not to visit after dark, there is no place on the Outer Banks that I would be afraid to visit at night and alone. 

Pollution

Most people who come to live in the Outer Banks have a love of the ocean and the natural environment.  We wish to protect this environment for future generations. 

Talk of drilling for natural gas, repealing the plastic bag ban or anything that will negatively affect the environment are a sure way to rally public opposition. 

There is not any heavy industry as a source of pollution.  Run off from farms inland has been a concern for the purity of the sound and measures have been put in place to reduce the run off and any negative effects.

Community

The community of residents of the Outer Banks is one of the most supportive I have ever been privileged to know.  Young and old alike are friendly, with a smile or a wave.  Once the crowds thin out after summer, most of the locals are familiar faces around town.  While not all year round residents know each other, I would venture to say we are probably only 2 degrees of separation between any locals with reference to the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

It is common to see a post on social media or from a local restaurant sponsoring a benefit for a resident with a disease or who has suffered in an accident.  The community rallies and everyone does what they can.

The community is resilient.  Neighbors help neighbors without being asked.  After the recent power outage, folks in the northern beaches looked for ways to help the residents of Ocracoke and Hatteras recover their losses.  After a storm or other event, it is likely people will just show up to help.  They may provide labor in the cleanup, food for the workers or supplies. 

The Outer Banks is a small town with small town values.  If you are looking for cultural sophistication, the Outer Banks is probably not for you.  With that being said, there are plenty of artists and musicians that call the OBX home and their contribution to the community is immense. 

The Outer Banks still retains an innocence from another time; it still resembles Mayberry (especially Manteo) where the late Andy Griffith resided.  From the annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade to fundraisers like the Festival of Lights, there is an active and vibrant community that cares about each other.  I think this is becoming rare in most places. 

The Outer Banks of NC has a different rhythm and pace over the course of a year.  It is not right for everyone but it is perfect to us that call it home.  I am happy to have raised my kids here and I know the spirit of the ocean will always be with them. 

I know that no matter where they choose to live the sweet carefree days at the OBX beaches will always be pleasant memories.  I hope to stay here, retire and be able to provide the same kind of memories for my grandchildren. 

 If you are considering purchasing a retirement home, an investment property or a permanent move check out how OBX compares to other resort areasSchedule an appointment today to visit available homes or get familiar with each neighborhoods unique vibe to find the best place to locate for the good life!

Eillu relocation guide to Outer Banks

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