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    An Outer Banks Moving Primer

    March 1, 2022

    Outer Banks beach aerial

    Maybe it’s the weather; maybe it’s that commute to work and realizing that almost everything can be done online. Maybe it’s just time to move… Whatever the reason, there are a lot of people moving to the Outer Banks. For anyone planning on making that move, we’ll call this our Carolina Designs Outer Banks Moving Primer.

    It’s probably a good guess that just about everyone who has decided to move to the Outer Banks is making that decision because of a memorable past visit — or many past visits. That is a great reason to relocate, but living here is quite different than visiting. Make no mistake, we love it here, but life on the Outer Banks year-round is quite different from a one or two-week vacation.

    A Quick Orientation

    Beach Sign

    First—a quick orientation: Three counties make up the Outer Banks. From north to south, they are Currituck, Dare, and Hyde Counties. Ocracoke is in Hyde County, but we’re not going to go into too much detail about the village; in an area that prides itself in being a bit isolated from the rest of the world, Ocracoke takes things to the next level. The island and village are beautiful, but anyone thinking of relocating there does their research. For some people, it will be perfect, but do a bit of extra work to be sure.

    Currituck County is the area north of Duck and includes Corolla and the 4WD area typically called Carova. Dare County is everything from Duck south to Hatteras Village. It’s a long and skinny county divided by Oregon Inlet. North of Oregon Inlet is considered the northern Outer Banks; Hatteras Island is everything south. The county seat is Manteo, located on Roanoke Island just west of the northern Outer Banks. Both counties have mainland areas, although Dare County mainland is sparsely populated. Southern Currituck County does serve as somewhat of a bedroom community for the Outer Banks.

    Like the rest of the country, the Outer Banks real estate market is booming, and housing costs reflect that. Year-round rentals are almost impossible to find, and the inventory of homes on the market is at an all-time low, according to the Outer Banks Association of Realtors MLS report. We would love for you to move and be a part of our community, but be aware it will take some planning.

    Location is undoubtedly going to affect price and availability. Having a beachfront house for two weeks in the summer is lovely, and for some people, it’s the ideal full-time home. But most full-time residents live on the sound side or at least a block or two away from the beach.

    One point that’s very important to make—that go-go-go everything is open and often late at night? That’s strictly seasonal. Summer is the busiest time of the year by far, but hours are often cut in late fall and early spring. December through March is vacation time for business owners. Most businesses are locally owned, and restaurants close one or two days a week. Things really slow down. It’s kind of nice, but it takes some adjustment.

    The Currituck Banks—Corolla/Carova

    Corolla's Wild Horses

    In the summer it’s like a city. It is more like a hamlet in the winter—it doesn’t ever quite get to village status. Even combining Corolla and Carova, the year-round population of the area is less than 800. There are good and bad that come with that. Corolla and Carova tend to be close-knit communities that actively advocate for themselves. However, restaurants and services are few and far between during the off-season, and even when open, hours are restricted. Parents with school-age children need to be aware that the only school is the Waters Edge Village School (WEVS), a charter school that works very closely with the Currituck County public schools. The school is very hands-on, offering kids an excellent educational foundation.

    WEVS is a K-8 school with limited enrollment. Currently, there are 42 students enrolled, and it is not clear how many more students the school can accept because of the size of their building. Currituck County public schools are on the mainland, and it is typically an hour to an hour and a half ride to the schools.

    For anyone considering Carova—the beach is the road north of the end of NC12. When the Atlantic Ocean is really churned up, there are times when travel on the beach is not possible. There are no paved roads in Carova. Nor are there gas stations, convenience stores, or any other services. It is a strictly residential area. There are, however, the Corolla Wild Horses that are a regular part of Carova life. That makes up for a lot of inconveniences. Medical services on the Currituck Banks are also quite limited. The nearest pharmacy is in Duck, and the nearest doctors’ offices are in Southern Shores or Kitty Hawk.

    We’re including the Corolla area caveats for full disclosure, but the Currituck Banks has a lot going for it—a wonderful sense of community and a feeling of peacefulness and solitude in the offseason that is difficult to find elsewhere.

    Dare County

    Dare County schools aerial

    Dare County is truly the heart of the Outer Banks, and for our visitors who are thinking of becoming full-time residents, there is a lot to know about the area. Perhaps the best way to describe the Dare County Outer Banks is to divide things into the northern Outer Banks (everything north of Oregon Inlet) and Hatteras Island (everything south of Oregon Inlet). There is some general information that is helpful to have before we go into detail about the areas.

    Dare County schools are very good. There are three high schools—First Flight High School in Kill Devil Hills, Manteo High School in Manteo, and Cape Hatteras Secondary School in Buxton. There are ten schools in the system, including the high schools. The College of the Albemarle is a two-year community college with a campus in Manteo. The Manteo campus is just finishing a substantial upgrade. Much of the funds for the new building came from Dare County. Dare County also offers county students tuition-free classes after high school.

    The Outer Banks Hospital is located in Nags Head and partners with Vidant Health in North Carolina and Chesapeake Regional Hospital in Virginia. It is a 21-bed hospital that includes maternity beds. Almost all medical services are located in northern Dare County.

    Northern Dare County

    Duck, NC aerial

    The towns of northern Dare County are Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head. Because it is so close to the beach, Manteo is usually grouped with the northern Outer Banks towns. The towns of the northern Outer Banks are all incorporated towns. That probably doesn’t matter too much unless the plan is to build a dream home, but even then, local contractors have a lot of experience working with the local government.

    Generally speaking, the Outer Banks towns do not have well-defined town centers; Duck and Manteo are exceptions to that rule.
    Duck has put considerable thought and investment into creating a pedestrian-friendly shopping area, with its main business district centered around the Village Green and Town Park. It is quite pleasant, with walking paths leading to small shopping plazas and individual stores and restaurants. There is also a mile-long boardwalk that parallels the shoreline. Numerous businesses have entrances on the boardwalk, and a couple of restaurants offer al fresco service. The Manteo waterfront is a true downtown. Charming, easily explored, it’s centered around the old Dare County Courthouse that is now the home of the Dare County Arts Council.

    Although the other towns of northern Dare do not have classic downtown areas, all of them have large shopping centers and plazas with shops, restaurants, and services. Most of the business districts line the Bypass, also known as US158 or Croatan Highway. The Beach Road, as it is known locally, is NC12 or Virginia Dare Trail. It also has numerous businesses. The towns have individual characteristics, even though they often seem to run together to people who are visiting. Southern Shores is the most residential of the towns.

    Kitty Hawk is the largest by area—not population—and has extensive residential neighborhoods west of the Bypass. It is also the location of Kitty Hawk Woods, a 1,900-acre protected maritime forest.

    Kill Devil Hills is the most populous of the towns. As is usually the case, most permanent residents live on the west side of the Bypass, although there is not the extensive land area that Kitty Hawk boasts.

    Nags Head seems almost to be divided in two. There is Nags Head with numerous shopping areas and residential areas, and South Nags Head with a narrow strip of homes, motels, and a fishing pier south of Jennette’s Pier. The western side of South Nags Head is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

    The best way to get to know the towns is to simply explore them. Drive around and see what they’re like, and don’t forget to check out Roanoke Island, where Manteo is located.

    Hatteras Island

    Hatteras, NC aerial

    Hatteras Island really is an island with Oregon Inlet to the north, Hatteras Inlet to the South, Pamlico Sound on the west, and the Atlantic Ocean with its soft, sandy beaches to the east.

    After crossing the Marc C. Basnight Bridge, the first 13 miles are Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Except for the Visitors Center just north of New Inlet, there are no buildings, just a beautiful and verdant marsh often teeming with migratory waterfowl and seabirds.
    Until recently, Hatteras Island would periodically be inaccessible during storm events. The road just to the north of Rodanthe, known as the S Curves area, would regularly flood with ocean overwash. The Jug Handle Bridge opening in March swings out into Pamlico Sound and bypasses the area. It may be a game-changer in how people think about Hatteras Island.

    The population of Hatteras Island lives in a series of villages and small towns. Rodanthe is the northernmost, and it is the first of what is called the Tri-Villages—Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo. The population is very small, but typical of small villages, there is rich community life.

    Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the largest landowner (by far) on Hatteras Island, and unless the National Park Service built it, there are no buildings between the towns and villages. Just exquisite open space.

    Avon, the next town south, was once known as Little Kinakeet. You could say Hatteras Island’s commercial center is in Avon, with a Food Lion and shopping center.

    The most populated town on Hatteras Island is Buxton, the location of Cape Hatteras and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This is the widest part of Hatteras Island. Unlike many areas of the Outer Banks, where the residential areas are on the western side, most of the population in Buxton lives in an area bordered by the Lighthouse, Buxton Woods, and NC12.

    Finally, Hatteras Village is at the southern end of Hatteras Island. The Ocracoke Ferry and Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet are located here. The Hatteras Village docks are some of the most active on the Outer Banks. Commercial fishing boats and sport craft are put to sea from the harbor.

    The same advice applies to Hatteras Island as any place on the Outer Banks. Drive around and get to know the area. Explore, ask questions. If this will be your permanent home, it will be time well-spent.

    One quick piece of information we should add. For anyone thinking of building a home, Outer Banks contractors are as good as any anywhere, and they are very busy right now. It will probably take any of them a minimum of six months before they can begin a new project. Keep that in mind when planning a move to the Outer Banks.

    View homes and lots for sale at OBXSales.com. You can view the entire Outer Banks MLS!