The average first-time buyer spends almost £250,000 simply to get on the lowest rung of the London property ladder. And painfully saving for a hefty deposit and negotiating a reasonable mortgage deal are only their first two hurdles.
© Barry Phillips
A quarter of a million pounds is a hefty sum but you need to make it work hard in the capital if you'd like to live in a cool, central location, a smart suburb — or if you need a little more space than the classic first-time flatlet provides.
For buyers determined to live in the thick of things it will mean thinking small. And while £250,000 is unlikely to get you into prime central London you can find studio homes on its Zone 1 fringes.
Think small but central
You don't get better located than Bloomsbury, and a flat in a grand Thirties block is on the market for £247,500. The compromise here is space. You are walking distance from everywhere but you get a minute galley kitchen, bathroom, and living room for your money, totalling 272sq ft.
Alternatively you could opt for another compact studio in St John's Wood: on the market for £240,000, it is small, but close to the open spaces of Regent's Park and St John's Wood Tube, which is on the Jubilee line.
Live above a quiet shop
Another way to turn a £250,000 budget into a great home is to live above a shop where homes are traditionally up to 25 per cent cheaper than "normal" flats.
Not all mortgage lenders are enthusiastic about this sort of property, but if you are able to find the finance you could consider a roomy, three-bedroom split-level flat above a fireplace shop on Kingston Road, Wimbledon, on the market with Finch & Co for £250,000.
Another choice would be a roomy one-bedroom flat above a locksmith in West Hampstead which is on the market for £249,950 with Greene & Co (greene.co.uk).
Katharine Connolly, manager of Finch and Co, warned buyers to go for quiet shops and avoid flats over restaurants. "You may have issues with noise, smell, rats even, re-saleability, and mortgage companies will often not lend," she says. "But if it's a 'normal' shop you will be able to get a much bigger space because they are generally huge."
Affordable period living
If you want architectural splendour, then there are some fantastic pockets of affordable period housing in Camberwell. Wooster and Stock has a one-bedroom flat with garden in a glorious Regency townhouse on the market for £250,000.
Trains from nearby Denmark Hill to Victoria take five minutes and later this year the second section of the East London line extension will swing into action, linking the area to Canary Wharf.
Another Camberwell option is not quite so stunning — but offers more square footage for your money. Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (kfh.co.uk) is selling a two-bedroom flat in a Victorian conversion in Shenley Road for £250,000.
Daniel Beckson, sales manager at KFH, said Camberwell's charm lies in its central location and its pockets of tree-lined streets — those south of the Peckham Road being particularly desirable.
"We are getting new bars, bistros and coffee shops," he added. "The downsides include a level of noise and grime, plus some sprawling and slightly nerve-wracking estates that are best avoided at night time."
Clapton, in east London, is another good low-cost hunting ground. Keatons has a grand two-bedroom flat in a Georgian terrace, with views out over Clapton Common, and it's on the market for £250,000. If this flat was a few miles away in Islington it would comfortably cost three times the price. But it is in Clapton, and the compromise is a lack of local amenities (although Stoke Newington Church Street is walkable) and slightly awkward transport links. The nearest station is in Stamford Hill, from where a train to Liverpool Street takes 17 minutes.
Try a leafy suburb
If you would like more of a leafy, suburban feel then Wanstead could be a good choice, with its high street full of independent shops and cafés, and excellent state schools including the "outstanding" Our Lady of Lourdes RC Primary School. It is only 20 minutes by train to the city (and three stops from Stratford) and you have 140-acre Wanstead Park to explore.
Spicer McColl has a two-bedroom flat in a grand, gothic, Grade II-listed building, Clock Court (originally an orphanage for the offspring of merchant seamen), on the market for £250,000 (Spicer.co.uk).
If you need more space then The Noel Park conservation area (around a mile from the Piccadilly line at Wood Green) is worth considering. It was originally built as a garden suburb to provide affordable houses for workers. This is social housing at its best: streets of brick cottages with front and back gardens.
WJ Meade (wjmeade.co.uk) has a twobedroom house on Moselle Avenue on sale for £230,000 — which means there is money to spare to give the house the facelift it could do with.
The other option is to move out of town, but seek a home with a really handy commute. Trains from Orpington in Kent to Charing Cross take 24 minutes (annual season ticket: £1,728).
JDM Estate Agents has a cute two-bedroom cottage in Orpington, recently refurbished, with a 39ft garden, that is a mile from the station. It is on the market for £250,000.