Autumn is the big search season for new-home buyers as tentative plans turn to firm pledges to move on and into a fresh property by Christmas.
Everyone is looking for the right property in the right place at the right price. In these tough economic times value for money is the battle cry as families trade up to a house in a better area, first-time buyers exit the rented sector and job-movers, newlyweds, the divorced and downsizers all go on the prowl.
Glossy launch brochures offer a wide spectrum of choice, from boutique flats for singles wanting to enjoy the West End to townhouses and handsome villas in leafy estates on the suburban fringe and commuter belt.
Developers are having to pay more attention to buyers' real needs, with bills being at the top of the list. Energy saving is a big theme for homebuyers, followed by essential storage and security solutions, time-saving technology, usable outside space and creature comforts that don't cost the earth.
Housebuilders now know that architectural design makes a difference, and that a healthy home is one with light and space, and they more readily employ imaginative young practices as well as celebrity designers to deliver so-called "signature developments".
This week the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) campaign for bigger, better homes kicks off, urging the public to demand spacious and thoughtful low-maintenance living space with floor plans that suit modern lifestyles, structural warranties and a painless transaction process. Buyers are advised not to be dazzled by the glitz and promotional gloss that can hype an area into a trendy neighbourhood that is in truth beyond reality.
But with all the constraints of urban living there is never one development that gets it right for everyone, nor one that has everything.
Sometimes it is the location, sometimes the price or the design quality, the view, the package of extras, the heritage factor, the regeneration, the investment potential, or the promise of a better future.
What is clear is that London's dynamic development scene continues to provide fresh housing options. There are no "undiscovered" areas of the capital, but the city has a remarkable ability to reinvent itself.
The Square Mile and its eastern fringe will be one of London's best performers during the next five years, according to a "hotspot report" by property consultant Knight Frank. Central Square, close to Barbican in the coveted EC1 postcode, slots nicely into this district - it's handy for City workers who want to walk to work and convenient for all the Clerkenwell and Shoreditch action.
The development has 170 flats in irregular-shaped blocks overlooking private communal gardens with water features, hard landscaping and manicured lawns - a modern take on a traditional garden square. Architecture is crisp and clean-cut, with a cast stone and copper exterior. Apartments have floor-to-ceiling glass, generous-size balconies and minimalist kitchens with Corian work surfaces. Prices from £400,000. Developer Mount Anvil says 1,800 people have pre-registered for the September 29 launch. Call 020 7776 1800.
Redevelopment of a former printworks in Stockwell has brought a notable scheme of urban scale and style - 152 apartments and 18 modern-design townhouses plus commercial space, all built around a new public square. Rather than a closed-off industrial zone, it is a new area hub. For the first time in decades there is public access through the four-acre site to a bordering conservation area of Georgian terraces and Regency villas, and a fast-gentrifying part of south Lambeth.
The space-efficient townhouses (1,660sq ft, with three bedrooms) are laid out over four levels and all have decked terraces plus a courtyard garden at the rear. Called Clapham Road, the address is a well-connected inner-London patch - about a mile from Pimlico and only three stops on the Tube to the West End. Prices from £950,000, including underground parking. Call 020 7582 5517, or visit galliardhomes.com.
Fly into Heathrow and you see why people like to live in the leafy outer reaches of south-west London - the meandering Thames, the commons and the great green tract of Richmond Park. Despite the road congestion, for many this is the ideal London location.
Mortlake, famously the finishing line for the annual boat race, is cheaper than Richmond and its affluent satellites Ham and Petersham. Trinity Mews is a rare new development close to the waterfront: 76 homes, including apartments and mews-style houses with sought-after off-street parking or a garage. Prices from £675,000. Call Shanly Homes on 020 8876 0152.
Kew Bridge, between Mortlake and Richmond, has 164 riverside apartments with views across the Thames to the splendid Royal Botanic Gardens. Prices in the latest release range from £499,950 to £3 million. Call St George on 020 8995 6669.
Hatfield House is an imposing Victorian villa in Twickenham's Cambridge Park conservation quarter. Thirteen apartments have been carved from the building, which sits in mature landscaped grounds. Prices from £325,000. Call Featherstone Leigh on 020 8940 1575.
Officers' Mess is a collection of 11 restored listed houses at former Shoebury Garrison in Essex, a 180-acre coastal site with its own nature reserves and protected wetlands. It is about an hour by train to Fenchurch Street.
Inaccessible to the public for most of the past 150 years, the garrison became a weapons-testing centre in 1850 and later a barracks occupied by hundreds of military personnel and their families. It's a self-contained community with its own hospital, chapel, cricket pitch and parade ground.
Today it is an upmarket housing estate with 50 Victorian buildings alongside new-build cottages and strikingly modern waterside apartments. The estate's architecture and layout remain largely as originally designed. Buildings are well spread out, there are wide, tree-lined roads, open spaces and sea views.
Officers' Mess houses are tastefully refurbished with vaulted ceilings, tall sash windows, oak panelling and decorative plasterwork. The biggest house has 5,554sq ft of space. Prices start at £795,000. Call estate agent Fine on 01702 826037.
Fitzrovia Apartments, a hospital redevelopment in Bolsover Street, has the kudos of being designed by architectural firm MAKE. The scheme raises the bar in terms of design quality, while integrating a number of uses, including a new medical out-patients facility plus studio offices and 42 private apartments around a landscaped courtyard. Prices from £750,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7861 5499.
Development creep along the Battersea and Wandsworth waterfront means that the two places are meeting in the middle. Sesame Apartments, by Thornsett Group, near the popular Battersea Square hub of restaurants, bars and cafés is the latest addition - 73 homes, including live-work units. With a glass-topped atrium and mosaic façade, it is set to make an architectural splash. Prices from £285,000. Completion is due in September 2013. Call Lauristons on 0870 600 3690.
Size is everything
According to the Royal Institute of British Architects, the most useful question you can ask an estate agent about a home you are interested in is: "What's the floor area?" Use the RIBA website, behomewise.co.uk, to help you determine whether the property is big enough for your family's needs and to calculate the "price per square metre", which will tell you if it's good value.
Check the estate agent's estimate against the floor area listed in the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which must be in place before the property is marketed. It also provides a wealth of valuable information, including an estimate of your likely fuel bills. Also at behomewise.co.uk, RIBA has some indicative floor plans designed by an architect to show how a larger total floor area of a property might translate into additional living space and storage.
* For useful advice about property size, storage and layout, visit swingacat.info
* Discover how the design, layout and build of homes can help promote security and deter crime at securedbydesign.com
* Visit direct.gov.uk for pages of official government advice on buying, selling and renting homes.
* For expert independent advice, visit which.co.uk