Where to buy in Zone 3:first-time buyer hotspots from Forest Hill to Leyton with easy commutes to central London

Why first-time buyers in search of more space and commutes of less than 20 minutes should start their property hunt in Zone 3...

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As house prices move inexorably upwards, Zone 3 has become the new Zone 2, beloved of first-time buyers because of its easy commutes to central London and its — moderately — affordable prices.

It will probably mean accepting an 0208 phone number, but that is a small price to pay when compared with the sheer variety this inbetweener zone offers:

Harlesden: hot

£420,000: a spacious two-bedroom, first-floor flat in Minet Avenue, Harlesden. For sale through Daniels (020 8012 3180)

Long-time Londoners know this NW10 outpost as a bit of a no-go zone, with a history of gun crime and deprivation. But this year Harlesden was named London’s top property hotspot, and a magnet for first-time buyers.

According to Hamptons International, prices rose almost 15 per cent during 2016 — compared to growth of just over six per cent London-wide — to an average of £485,000.

Harlesden has achieved all this without any obvious signs of gentrification. Harlesden High Street is still the same tightly packed mass of nail bars, Caribbean takeaways, bookmakers and halal butchers it has always been. 

“Harlesden is still edgy — it is far from gentrified,” agrees David Wilkins, manager of Mathesons estate agents. “There are no pretty little delis; we did have a gastropub, but it closed down almost as soon as it opened.”

However, Harlesden has two key ingredients for an area on the up: good transport links (the Bakerloo line and overground) and period property — streets and streets of Victorian terraces. First-time buyers who would love a two-up, two-down cottage need to budget £475,000. Two-bedroom flats come in at £360,000 to £400,000 and you can buy a one-bedroom period flat for £300,000 to £350,000.

Forest Hill: hotter

£465,000: a three-bedroom split-level flat in Woolstone Road, Forest Hill. For sale through Pedder (020 8012 3400)

Buyers priced out of nearby East Dulwich and Honor Oak Park have started turning to Forest Hill for more affordable homes, helping turn it into one of London’s first-time buyer hotspots.

Transport links are particularly great for City workers — trains to London Bridge take from 15 minutes — and young families like its good primary schools and low crime rates.

A two-bedroom period conversion on one of Forest Hill’s lovely, leafy streets will cost about £400,000 to £450,000. One-bedroom flats are £300,000 to £350,000, and you can pick up a one-bedroom ex-local authority flat for £250,000 to £300,000. 

While prices are competitive, Forest Hill lacks a heart. There are shops and restaurants dotted around the station, but their location on the South Circular mitigates against a peaceful coffee and an amble round the shops. Nightlife is pretty much non-existent, beyond a few pubs. However, the delights of East Dulwich are five minutes down the road in an Uber cab.

​Leyton: hottest

£624,995: a three-bedroom recently refurbished house in Melbourne Road, Leyton. For sale through Rayners (020 8012 0495)

The great boom enjoyed by east London has pushed all the way to Leyton, where Savills recorded 63 per cent house price growth in two years. 

Architecture is Victorian, with a smattering of Thirties, and slightly shabby properties are being done up as quick as you can say Farrow & Ball. “Leyton is good value,” says Alastair Cochrane, of Foxtons. “It is incredibly rare to be able to get a decent-sized house for £600,000 to £650,000 — Acton is almost 50 per cent more and it is the same distance from central London.

“Buying costs are so high that people who would traditionally have bought a smaller flat more centrally are going further out and buying a house which will serve their needs for longer.

If you want wide open spaces, then Leyton is a great choice, with the Lea Valley and Hackney Marshes nearby. There are also some fantastic local schools like Newport Primary. 

Transport links are provided by the Central line and there is an improving roster of shops, bars, and restaurants. The Red Lion is a great pub and The Leyton Technical provides live music.

Despite its go-to status among first-timers, Leyton is still on the money. A three-bedroom terrace is £450,000 to £500,000, £350,000 to £400,000 buys a spacious two-bedroom period flat (less than £300,000 if you go ex-local authority). One-bedroom period flats are £275,000 to £300,000.

Can Leyton’s star continue to rise, or has it seen its growth spurt? Cochrane believes strong growth will last for the next few years. “If you get on the bandwagon now, you are probably still going to benefit from some good years of growth to come,” he says.

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