Frequently when I tell someone that I live on the Outer Banks, the comment I hear is “Wow, you sure are lucky!” The truth about living on the Outer Banks is that it’s a choice. Many people are curious what it’s like here in the off season, what it’s like to see vacationers come and go as the seasons change. To answer that question, I have to really think about what it’s like to live elsewhere as I have been an adult resident of the Outer Banks since 1991. My memories of living anywhere else are somewhat distant. It’s an interesting question, but surprisingly, living on the Outer Banks is much like living elsewhere, but there are differences.
Unless you’re wealthy, retired, or virtually commute, you need a job. This is usually the first place where living on the Outer Banks is a bit of a compromise. There are no factories here. There is very little middle management. Most of our jobs revolve around the vacation industry. Retail, restaurants, construction all revolve around the comings and goings of the vacation season. It might not seem that a construction job (or any of the myriad sub contracting jobs, like heating & air, roofing, electricians, plumbers, etc) would be dependent on our visitors. They are. You should see the crazy hours that these industries put into finishing houses in the spring in preparation for the upcoming season. Or the hours they must work to avoid traffic lines on the weekends to make repairs to rental homes.
Further, many shops and restaurants close in the off season. People that work in these industries frequently go on unemployment during the winter months. This means that these folks are living on approximately 40% of their normal wages. Learning how to budget is a necessity.
Another compromise that generally comes as a shock when living on the Outer Banks is the rate of pay. The same jobs elsewhere pay significantly less here. Teachers make less, secretaries and administrative people make less here than in other areas. Year round jobs are scarce and competitive, therefore employers can pay less for these services. Business owners on the other hand, need to be very good at budgeting as their income is seasonal as well, so if they have year round employees, they must account for their seasonal fluctuations in revenue.
Finding a job that you can live on, in the Outer Banks can be easier said than done.
Property on the Outer Banks is fairly expensive relative to income. Locals compete with people from other markets for the same piece of sand where they want to someday retire and we want to live on now, which drives the price up. Many people picture themselves getting up in the morning, walking over to the window and looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. This is not a reality for but a very select group.
Most Outer Bankers live on the west side of the bypass, in neighborhoods just like anywhere else. Most of us attempt to grow grass, mow the lawn, put in flower beds etc, just like anywhere else. We do have a few differences; we fight sand spurs, those little prickly things that seem to love socks, shoe strings and bare feet. Sand is not the best soil to grow grass, so many chose to put in sod in an attempt to create a lawn.
One of the things I love about living on the Outer Banks is that we know our neighbors here. For instance, on the north side of my home is a nice retired woman whose family goes back generations on the Outer Banks. To my south, a school teacher and his wife who works for one of the grocery stores. They have four kids. This is much like living anywhere. I rarely lock my doors, either my home or my car; in fact you will frequently find my car keys in the ignition.
This may sound a little “Mayberry” to you, and in many ways it is, but I like it.
This is a subject that very few will discuss, but you wanted to know, so here is the skinny. There is crime on the Outer Banks. There are drugs in the community. There is drunk driving, there is domestic violence, there are robberies. There are assaults. It happens. Overall however, the frequency of these crimes is very low compared to other communities.
There are very few violent crimes. Robberies are most frequently kids breaking into empty rental houses looking for a place to party, or to steal a TV to hock. I have had change stolen from my vehicle. There are bank robberies here too, which is funny, because they always get caught…. There are only two ways to leave the island after all.
One area of concern is that this is a transient community. People are here for a week and then they are gone. This sometimes leads to out of character behavior.
One of the benefits of living on the Outer Banks and the high price of real estate is that the county and towns are fairly well-to-do. We have one of the highest ratios of police to citizens in the country (so I am told). The police drive nice cars, our firefighters have up to date equipment and our EMS services are very good. We have a med flight for serious health conditions and emergencies. We have very good county services. All of these factors help to keep crime at a low level and make the Outer Banks a wonderful place to live.
OK, I have discussed all the negatives, now I will share with you the things that make the Outer Banks a wonderful place to live and why I have decided to make the Outer Banks my lifetime community.
The ocean is a wonderful moderator of our Southern climate, acting as a cooling factor in the summer and a warming one in the winter months. (Meaning if the water temperature of the ocean is 70 degrees in the summer, it acts to cool the atmosphere close to the water that then mixes with the wind and works to drop the overall air temperature. The opposite effect works to our benefit in the winter.) We still have four distinct seasons here, but we rarely have winter snows.
We all know the Wright Brothers visited the Outer Banks to fly their airplane because of the natural winds. Those same winds are still here, acting to mitigate the warmth of our Southern summers. However, they are not always so nice in the winter, adding a bit of a wind chill in the colder months.
The Outer Banks typically is 3-6 degrees cooler in the summer than our inland neighbors and we are a little warmer in the winter. I moved here from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and it took me a summer to adjust to the humidity of Coastal North Carolina, but eventually I acclimated.
Actually, it’s the people of the Outer Banks that make it special. Perhaps it’s the sense of community that grows from the shared experience of serving the vacation industry. Perhaps it’s the sense of community from having experienced the onslaught of hurricanes and Nor’easters. Perhaps it’s just the sense of community that is fostered by living in a small town. I don’t know why it is, but it is.
Truly, the Outer Banks is like a small town in all but the summer months, or more accurately a series of small towns, that are located close to one another. The geography of the Outer Banks, being so narrow and long, leads to each little enclave of residents to bond to each other in really fascinating ways. There is nothing quite like the aftermath of a hurricane to illustrate how we seem to work together.
I will never forget Hurricane Isabel in September of 2003. This storm caused some severe damage along Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, but for Kill Devil Hills the biggest effect was 24 hours without electricity. This drove all of the neighbors out in the street to chat which turned into a block party. People shared food, those with generators shared electricity, and we all shared stories. It was an amazing example of how Outer Bankers pull together with a true sense of community.
There is a native population on the Outer Banks; those lucky enough to have grown up here that have a deep sense of the island. Most of the population moved here from somewhere else. I grew up in Virginia, but have met Outer Bankers that are from all over the world. Australia, Canada, Brits, Germans, even a few folks from up North in the good ole USA. We are a diverse bunch on the Outer Banks.
All of this diversity in origin leads to a wide range of perspectives, and because most of us are not from here, we don’t feel compelled to force our perspectives and opinions on others. Tolerance is part of the Outer Banks way. Few care about an in individuals race or sexual orientation. The question is do they mean what they say and do they do what they promise. It’s very egalitarian
As previously discussed, Dare County has money. This leads to a really good school system. Actually, Dare County is typically ranked in the top 10 counties in the state. The PTA’s within the various schools are very active and constantly raise money to contribute to the County coffers in order to facilitate even better equipment in the schools. All middle and high school students are supplied a Google Chrome “laptop” by the schools. Further, because of the diversity in the origin of the population in Dare County, there is an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance which fosters a good learning environment for students.
Additionally, our College of the Albemarle is a very good community college, drawing teaching professionals with outstanding real world credentials from our diverse citizenry. Nearby Elizabeth City State University provides the opportunity for a 4 year learning experience as well.
I love the Outer Banks. I love living here. I love raising my children here. Honestly, I love the off season. Here is the funny part, I don’t fish, or surf, or play golf, or any of the activities many move here to have the opportunity to do. But this area is still an incredible place to live for me.
Year round living on the Outer Banks may not be for everyone. If you need to shop at big malls regularly, this is not for you. If you need easy access to major transportation routes, this is not for you. If you need to wear the latest fashions and look just so, everywhere you go, this is probably not your place.
However, if you are looking for the chance to find a wonderful community of people that care about the ocean, their families, and each other, it may be a place for you to consider.
Modified and updated but originally published on Village Realty blog. www.villagerealtyobx.com