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If you are looking to start over, Raleigh is a pretty good place to start.

This week, Danielle Bingham, 52, moved into a lovely 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house on a half-acre just outside Raleigh, N.C. — a step she couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. She paid $175,000 for the 2,000-square-foot home, and will have mortgage payments of around $1,100 a month

Recently, Credit.com shared a list of America’s least expensive cities, based on the percentage of residents considered “housing poor” (consumers who spend more than 30% of their income on housing). Bingham’s story is the second in series looking into what the cost of living is actually like for residents of these “second tier” cities.

Life in Raleigh, N.C. By the Numbers

  • Affordable Cities Ranking: 6th
  • Housing Poor Residents: 29.8%
  • Median Home Sales Price: $208,000
  • Median household income: $62,313

Bingham first became a homeowner in the late 1990s, when she bought a bargain home outside Seattle with her husband for less than $100,000. The couple did well on the purchase — the value soared to more than $250,000 by 2004. But the marriage didn’t work out, and after splitting the proceeds from a sale, Bingham found she was entirely priced out of homes anywhere reasonably close to her office.

“I could not find a house to buy in Seattle or (nearby) Redmond for less than $300K. I was essentially locked out,” she said. “I ended up renting for several years.”

Within a few years, Bingham left the Seattle area and eventually settled on the up-and-coming Research Triangle area. She’s hardly alone — the region’s population exploded from 1.2 million to 1.7 million from 2000 to 2010, nearly a 50% increase. It’s now about 2.1 million.

“It’s been quite a journey. I am now in a nice house in a well-established neighborhood in Raleigh with a comfortable price tag of $175K,” she said. “It’s actually quite a bit nicer than the house I owned (outside Seattle). I could afford more house, but I am very happy with what I just purchased.”

Boasting several well-known universities, a burgeoning tech industry and a more temperate climate, central North Carolina has long been attractive to northeast residents from the New York and Boston areas looking for cheaper housing that’s not too far away from the kids. But transplants like Bingham show the rest of the country has noticed the area’s low unemployment and inexpensive housing.

And while it’s not New York or Seattle, it’s also not a sleepy second-tier city.

“Raleigh is not the little Podunk place most might think it is,” Bingham said. “It’s full of convenience, culture, arts, dining, lot of things to do. It has a robust IT industry.”

Though her home is outside city limits, she can commute to Research Triangle Park in under 30 minutes.

Most important, she has peace of mind about her financial future.

“I feel like the price of the mortgage is something I can be comfortable with,” Bingham said. “I can enjoy my house without feeling like I would lose it if something went wrong.”

Home affordability can depend on a number of factors in addition to where you live: your income, debts, savings and your credit scores all play a role. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

Image: Courtesy of Danielle Bingham

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