Birmingham may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of entertainment, industry, and innovation, but the Magic City lives up to its name. Packed with both historical significance as a key site of the Civil Rights movement and an eye on the future, this city has something for everyone. Birmingham is the state’s most metropolitan and internationally diverse hub of activity, so there’s no limit to multi-cultural experiences, sports and nightlife venues, universities, and so much more.
Several major corporations call Birmingham home, and as a result, opportunities in a variety of fields are wide open. The best part? You can experience all that the South has to offer, as well as everything the world brings to your doorstep, all for a cost of living that is far lower than the rest of the United States. Enjoy the small-town feel of a city that is still a player on the international stage – and let us help you move there!
Living in Birmingham, AL: What to Know Before Moving to Birmingham
Sure, there are some stereotypes about living in Alabama, but Birmingham puts those ideas to rest. From museums and cultural centers to symphonies and sports, this city has it all. The 212,000 residents embody the perfect mix of Southern hospitality and international outlook, all in a city brimming with opportunity.
Pros and Cons of Living in Birmingham
As with any city, there are some great things and some less-than-stellar things about Birmingham. Here’s a snapshot of the good and the bad from people who live there:
- Arts – Birmingham is home to the Alabama Symphony, the Alabama Ballet, the Birmingham Ballet, the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, the Alabama Theater (film), the Lyric Theater (drama), as well as several local theater companies and musical venues.
- Festivals – From the Greek Food Festival to City Stages, there’s something happening every week in this city.
- Cost-of-living – Compared to the US average of 100, the cost of living in Birmingham is 79.1 – more than 20% cheaper than other cities in the country.
- Education – Birmingham is home to several major universities and colleges, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), a major medical and research center. Public K-12 schools are strong.
- Sports – For sports fans moving to the Magic City, Birmingham offers professional, semi-pro, and college sports options, including football, baseball, soccer, hockey – even roller derby.
- History – As a hub of activity during the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham is known nationally and internationally for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s efforts to help end segregation.
- Getting around – For a city that’s growing as rapidly as Birmingham, the traffic is manageable, but public transportation and walkability are limited.
- Interstate Highway Hub – Whether this is a pro or a con depends on how fast you need to get somewhere, but multiple Interstate highways converge and connect in Birmingham, including I-65, I-59, I-459, and I-20.
- Hilly Terrain – Just ask anyone who knows Birmingham, whether for a lifetime or just a day, and they’ll tell you that everything seems to be on top of a hill. For one of the flattest states in the country, Birmingham has more than its share of hills and ridges.
- High Sales Tax – At 10%, the city’s sales tax is significantly higher than the 7.25% US average.
- Property Tax: While Birmingham’s property tax rate is still half that of the rest of the country at only 0.645%, it’s higher than the state average of 0.435%.
- Sales Tax: The city’s sales tax is comparable to the rest of the state at 10% (4% to the state, 5% to the city and county, and 1% special rate), but it’s the fourth-highest sales tax percentage in the country.
- State Income Tax: Fortunately, individual income tax rates in Birmingham are between 2% and 5%. The tax rate is about average compared to the rest of the country, and Alabama has one of the simpler income tax calculations.
The Birmingham housing market is as unique as the city itself. While this city was founded on steel and manufacturing, it’s worked hard to shrug off the grit and grime of the steel mills and build a reputation for some of the state’s most beautiful homes. While the “castles” on the mountain can easily run you upwards of a million dollars or more, the median home value is only $67,000. There’s something for everyone – and every budget – in Birmingham.
The real estate market offers great choices for both home buyers and renters, but a 2016 survey found that, at least in Alabama, buying is cheaper in the long run than renting. Homeowners in Birmingham will spend about 20% of their income on buying a home as opposed to 30% if they rent.
The median home price in Birmingham varies greatly depending on where you want to live. According to Zillow’s July 2019 calculations, a typical home in Tarrant or Fairfield will run you between $55,000 and $66,000, while homes in Irondale and Gardendale are well over the $150,000 median. Move up the hill to Mountain Brook, and the median home list price jumps to almost $600,000. Fortunately, if you do decide to buy a home in Birmingham, the appreciation value is currently around 12%.
As of August 2019, the median price of a rental property in Birmingham runs $826 a month for a one-bedroom apartment or $956 for a two-bedroom. But where should you look, whether you’re interested in renting or buying?
Sites like Niche.com can come in handy for this kind of info. They provide letter-grade ratings for an overall neighborhood, area schools, cost of living, and more. Brantleyville, for example, is a suburb with A ratings for all three categories, while Midfield comes in with Cs and Ds. Do some research and look around for housing that meets your specific needs and budget.
Cost of Living
Just because you can spend over $6 million for a palatial home in Mountain Brook doesn’t mean you have to, of course. The cost of living in Birmingham is significantly lower than the national average, even if it’s higher compared to other Alabama cities. What you may be giving up in income by moving to Birmingham, you may make up for in the availability of high-end shopping, the abundance of organic and eco-friendly groceries, and other similar considerations.
This sneak peek from epi.org’s Family Budget Calculator can give you a sense of how Birmingham will impact your budget. For a two-adult, two-child household, which you can easily adjust on their site, you can expect a ballpark figure of just under $7,000 a month for housing, food, childcare, and more for the Birmingham/Hoover Metro area. Compared to metro cities like New York or San Francisco, that’s a drop in the bucket. BestPlaces.net is another great site with detailed cost-of-living information on Birmingham, its surrounding suburbs, and the rest of the state.
Best Places’ handy cost of living calculator lets you plug in your current location and compare it to Birmingham. The city, which has a 79.1 rating for cost of living index out of an average 100, may be a big improvement for your finances. For example, if you were relocating from Chicago to Birmingham, your overall savings—based on numerous cost index factors—would be nearly 40%!
The median income of a family of four living in Birmingham is $31,217, according to BestPlaces.net. According to epi.org’s calculator, that same family might not fare as well in the metro area downtown but can save a lot of money in one of Birmingham’s many suburbs or outlying areas.
Weather & Natural Disasters
While most Alabama cities tend to experience four seasons—winter, spring, summer, and football, Birmingham’s climate is no different. From a fairly early spring to a pleasantly long fall, the variations throughout the year come as no surprise.
But what about the heat, and that famous humidity? Thanks to some major waterways and the hills surrounding Birmingham, the climate isn’t that bad. The two hottest months on average are obviously July and August, but their average high is only 91 degrees F; the average low those two months dips down to 71 degrees. On the other side of the calendar, the coldest months, January and February, have a pleasant average high of 56 degrees, dropping to a low of about 35 degrees.
March is the Magic City’s rainiest time of year with an average of about five inches. But with an average high of 67 degrees to go with the rain, it’s a pleasant weather pattern. While the city gets about 53 inches of rain per year, that’s balanced out by the minimal snow. The Magic City sees an average of two inches all year long.
Given its location, its climate, and even its elevation, Birmingham tends to avoid the major natural disasters that can be a problem in the rest of the country. The chance of tornadoes exists, but the chance is lower than the midwestern “tornado alley” states. Birmingham has its own “national treasure” in the famous award-winning meteorologist, James Spann, who has his own highly unique weather alert system: if James Spann’s suit jacket is off and his suspenders are showing, take cover immediately because things have gotten serious! You can make James very happy by reading up on the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency emergency plan to be prepared should a natural disaster threaten.
Economy & Job Market
Birmingham boasts one of the strongest economies in the state, and its job market is growing. The city has about a 4% unemployment rate (2017), but that’s attributable to the types of industry in the city. The largest industry by far is the medical field, followed by architecture/engineering, the legal profession, retail business, and hospitality.
Some of the major employers in the city are the universities and the city’s board of education, the banking sector including AmSouth and Bancorp, BellSouth, and the major hospitals like Baptist Health Centers, and Children’s Hospital of Alabama.
If you’re looking to relocate without having employment already in place, you’re in luck. The city ranked 4th in the United States for ‘Best Places for Jobseekers to Find Work’ according to Indeed.com.
Traffic and Transportation
Getting around in Birmingham can be a bit tricky, depending on the time of day. Construction seems to be an ongoing issue – locals joke that the state flower is an orange traffic cone – and self-propelled transport isn’t the best. WalkScore.com gives the city pretty low marks for walking (35), public transportation (25), and biking (24).
If you’re commuting into the city from a suburb or trying to connect to other parts of the southeast, Birmingham is your friend. Four interstate highways serve the city. I-22 connects northwest to Memphis, Tennessee; I-65 runs south to Montgomery or north to Decatur; I-20 runs east to Atlanta; and I-59 runs northeast to Chattanooga.
The MAXTransit, run by Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), provides bus, trolley, and paratransit services plus hourly airport shuttle routes directly to the airport. The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is four miles northeast of downtown, and Amtrak provides daily passenger service on the ‘Crescent.’
What to Do
There’s no limit to the fun you can find in Birmingham. There are countless festivals, sporting events, arts opportunities, parks, museums, and more – all situated within easy driving distance.
Here’s just a sample of the kinds of activities you’ll find:
- Oak Mountain State Park, Oak Mountain Amphitheater
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
- City Stages annual outdoor music festival
- Birmingham Museum of Art, Lyric Theater, Alabama Theater, Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center
- Birmingham Zoo
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens
- Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
- Vulcan Park and Museum, home of the world’s largest cast-iron statue and one of the city’s most important symbols
- McWane Science Center
- Pepper Place Saturday Market, huge farmers’ market open from April to December
- Although there are no major professional sports teams, you can support college sports and several minor league teams: the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team, Birmingham Bulls pro hockey team
No matter what your hobby or area of interest, there’s an excellent chance that there’s already an organization or club in the area that promotes it and offers the chance to join in.
Schools and Universities
The Birmingham City Schools is the fourth largest school system in the state. Its 62 schools serve more than 30,500 students across the region. Nationally, the school district is ranked #407, but #9 in the state of Alabama, according to Niche.com’s most recent findings. Ramsay High School, for example, is the highest-ranked secondary school in the state. However, be aware that some of the more affluent suburbs of the Birmingham-Metro Area have their own school districts, such as Hoover City Schools, Vestavia Hills City Schools, Mountain Brook Schools, and more.
Birmingham is also home to several public and private universities and colleges, as well as branch locations of state universities. Some are religiously affiliated, and there are quite a few junior colleges or tech schools from which to choose. While UAB, Samford, Birmingham-Southern, Miles College, Virginia College, and Strayer are all located within the area, the larger four-year universities at Tuscaloosa, Auburn, and Huntsville area are within reasonable commuting distances.
One of the unfortunate characteristics about Birmingham is it doesn’t have a great record on crime. On a scale of 1 (low) to 100 (high), the US has an overall property crime rating of 35.4 – Birmingham has a rating of 89. For violent crime, the country as a whole has a rating of 22.7 while the city’s rating is 75.2. Of course, as in any major city, there are pockets of the city with higher crime rates than others, mostly in the downtown metro area. Some of the “safer” areas of the city include Cahaba Valley Rd, Brook Highland, and Greyson Valley.
When you’ve selected your new residence, your next step will be to turn on the utilities. Be sure to allow plenty of time to set up your service before you move in.
- Natural Gas: For natural gas, depending on your address, you’ll need to contact Spire, formerly Alagasco.
- Electricity: One of the most widely-used electric companies across the entire southeastern US is Southern Company, and within the state, its branch is Alabama Power.
- Water and Trash: Water service is run through the city government’s Birmingham Water Works division, as is the trash pickup if you live in an area serviced by the Department of Public Works. Otherwise, you’ll privately contract your service with a company like Advanced Disposal.
- Internet and Cable: This category is where you’ll have the most options. Many residents choose to use a larger company like Charter/Spectrum Cable, AT&T DirecTV, or Dish Network.
Best Neighborhoods in Birmingham, AL
With so many great neighborhoods to choose from in this surprisingly affordable but full-featured city, how are you supposed to start looking for a place to live? Niche.com has ranked the top Birmingham suburbs based on home prices, school ranking, crime, and much more. The full details on each neighborhood are in the link, but here are a few key takeaways.
For the perfect mix of eclectic shops and major businesses scattered in among stately residences and tree-covered properties, Homewood has something for every taste. With only a little more than 25,000 residents and a median home price of $320,000, there’s a lot you can expect from this small neighborhood.
Situated just south of downtown, Homewood is ranked the #1 ‘Best Place in Alabama for Young Professionals’ and #2 for both the ‘Best Places to Live in the State’ and the ‘Best Suburb in Alabama.’ While most residents are here to stay, rent prices are quite affordable, with a median rent of $1,025 per month.
Homewood City Schools has an A+ rating from Niche.com, and there are several private schools to choose from as well, many of them church-affiliated. Crime in the area, while ranked a C, is still statistically lower than in many other parts of Birmingham.
Something to try: Go ziplining in Red Mountain Park, or experience the hiking and mountain bike trails before grabbing dinner at one of the area’s many locally-owned restaurants.
The suburb of Hoover is one of the larger areas surrounding the Birmingham region with nearly 85,000 people, making this suburb larger than many Alabama towns. As a mini-city all its own, Hoover has more shopping, industry, entertainment, and activity than you could ever want.
Home prices run about $271,000, and rent is an average $1,048 a month. Hoover is home to sports arenas, retail shopping districts, entertainment venues, and some of the area’s most well-known companies. Imagine enjoying “big city” living while having all of your work, errands, and fun happening within an easy drive of home.
The A+ rated Hoover City School district is one of the best in the state. Sports fans might remember the television show “Two A Days” that profiled the football team from Hoover High School. But sports aren’t the only thing happening in the area.
Situated on the southeastern edge of Birmingham’s boundaries, Hoover is right next to one of the most beautiful spots in the entire state, Oak Mountain State Park. The area also houses Oak Mountain Amphitheater, home to major headliner concerts throughout the year. From camping to mountain biking to just hanging out with friends, this part of Birmingham has something for everyone.
Something to try: Take in a Birmingham Barons baseball game and have more fun than a fan has ever had.
If you’re looking for a quieter, more settled community, Vestavia Hills might be the answer. With all of the amenities big cities can offer while also having a slightly older, slightly more conservative population of around 34,000 people, this Birmingham suburb is known for great schools, quiet streets, and lower crime than most of the city.
The median home value is $370,000, and most of the residents are owners. Renting is an option, of course, and the median monthly rent is $1,047.
Located inside the city’s “interstate ring,” this suburb is one of the closest neighborhoods to Birmingham’s downtown, making it ideal for a family who wants great schools and value-added homes while still making it to work in the metro area without much hassle. McCallum Park’s walking trails are perfect for getting your dose of nature and some exercise.
Something to try: Head over to The Summit outdoor shopping mall or any of the area’s other well-known retail centers for high-end shopping, international cuisine, gastropubs, and entertainment.
For a higher-end, more exclusive experience, Mountain Brook may be the place for you. This small neighborhood of around 20,000 people has a median home price of $578,000, and more than 80% of the residents own their homes. Rental properties are available at about $1200 a month.
While Mountain Brook’s exclusive homes might be what many people associate the neighborhood with, the area is well-populated with arts, entertainment, and high-end retail shopping. From organic food options to ballets and symphonies, this area has it all.
Mountain Brook also boasts one of the top school systems in the state, a lower-than-average crime rating, and an abundance of multi-cultural and diverse people. One of its best features, though, is also its most inconvenient – this suburb is nestled away from the rush and traffic of Birmingham’s downtown center, so plan accordingly for your daily commute if you choose a home here.
Something to try: Head over to the Birmingham Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, and be sure not to miss the zoo’s annual Halloween trick-or-treat event, Boo at the Zoo.
Indian Springs Village
This tiny hidden gem of the Birmingham suburbs is truly the place to get away after facing the daily grind. With a population of fewer than 3,000 people, many who are retirees, Indian Springs Village has some great real estate options with a lower price tag than some of the metro area’s other neighborhoods. The median home price is $335,000, and rental properties are somewhat scarce, with only about 5% of residents choosing to rent.
As one of the area’s highest-ranked neighborhoods, with highly rated schools and properties that are tucked right up against the beauty of Oak Mountain State Park, this is certainly a nature lover’s paradise. If you don’t mind a little bit of a daily commute into the heart of downtown or outlying parts of the city, this might be the place for your family to thrive.
Something to try: Grab your robes, wand, and pointy hat to participate in the Wizard Crawl before grabbing some authentic Italian pizza at Sanpeggio’s.
Located outside of the “interstate ring” to the southeast of Birmingham, a good distance from downtown, Meadowbrook is another one of those less flashy, more bang for your buck neighborhoods. The median home value is $283,400, and the median rental price per month is $1100. 85% of residents own their homes.
Filled with young professionals and families whose kids attend the highly-rated schools, this area maintains a small-town feel with less than 10,000 residents but is conveniently close enough to some of Birmingham’s best shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Crime in Meadowbrook is fairly low, in fact, low enough to not even have a ranking on Niche.com, and the schools are well-ranked compared to both Birmingham as a whole and the rest of the state. That may be a large part of the draw for young families and why Meadowbrook is ranked #6 in the city as the ‘Best Neighborhood to Raise a Family.’ With the proximity to all that Oak Mountain State Park has to offer, plus all its other advantages, Meadowbrook is one of the shinier “hidden gems” of Birmingham.
Something to try: Spend a day at the McWane Science Center’s interactive exhibits, and be sure to sign your kids up for summer day camp while you’re there.
Adjacent to the Hoover suburb, Helena is a solid A choice for newcomers. Pushing a little further out from Birmingham than some of the other neighborhoods, it’s still close enough for an easy commute while providing your after-hours with a much-needed getaway from the city.
Helena’s location makes it easy to forget that Birmingham is so close. As one of the mid-sized neighborhoods, it has just over 17,000 residents and provides everything its residents need in terms of retailers, entertainment, schools, churches, and even jobs.
The median home value in Helena is only $186,900, and rent is over $1200 a month. With 96% of the residents owning their homes, the disparity between the home price and rent cost could be due to scarcity of rental properties from which to choose.
Helena schools have a B+ rating, and some neighborhood locations will feed into the well-known and highly-regarded Hoover High School. The area has a B- for crime, still well below the state and national averages.
Something to try: Take your family to an authentic drive-in movie in nearby Leeds, and get there early to enjoy the mini-golf.
Wedged between Hoover and Helena, this back-to-nature community is ranked the #8 Birmingham suburb. Its schools are rated A- from Niche.com and crime is rated B-. Pelham encompasses the entirety of Oak Mountain State Park and all the amenities the park offers. As a stand-alone community, Pelham is bursting with activity. The Oak Mountain area naturally offers tons of events, festivals, and concerts, while the proximity to I-65 means you’re only a few hours east to Atlanta, or south to the state capital of Montgomery.
The 23,000 residents of this suburb love their tree-lined streets, sprawling acreage, flower gardens, vegetable plots, and well-kept homes. The median home value is some of the most affordable of these top eight neighborhoods at $175,300, and rent is about $1,031 a month. While Pelham is still on the outskirts of the city, the proximity to I-65 means getting into downtown is no trouble.
Something to try: Grab your boots and flashlights and join the park ranger for a nighttime hike at Oak Mountain State Park. Guided interpretive tours run throughout the year, so check their website and plan your dates.
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