Shopping for a home is a seasonal sport that slots into the great jigsaw of events sparked by spring. Plans that have been brewing through the winter turn into action: first-time buyers, families, job-movers, newlyweds, divorcees and downsizers all get out there to search for the right property in the right place at the right price.
New-build schemes big and small are throwing off their covers as launches take place up and down the country. There is a wide choice for holiday shoppers as developers learn to offer even the fussiest buyers more in the way of design, catering more appropriately for what people want at both ends of the scale — from affordable boutique flats in central London to family homes on the suburban fringes.
FOR FANS OF MILITARY AND GRAND BARONIAL STYLE
More like a new village than a housing scheme, few single developments offer as much choice as The Academy, a prestige presence set in 21 acres on the leafy slopes of Shooters Hill, near prosperous Blackheath in south-east London. Dating from 1741, the listed site was once a royal training school for commissioned officers but closed after the Second World War when facilities transferred to Sandhurst. Designed in a grand baronial style, the prized heritage buildings include a central tower with domed turrets, chapel and lodges.
It is being redeveloped into an estate of 328 homes, ranging from studios to five-bedroom houses and including loft-style apartments, unique gatehouses and charming town houses overlooking their own cricket green. About 30 per cent of dwellings are family homes. Prices in the first phase range from £165,000 to £500,000.
With its courtyards and quadrangles, a parade ground and village square, the estate is a conservation area in its own right. Homes are being carved from the former officers' mess and cadets' quarters, while new buildings are named after distinguished alumni: Churchill, Kitchener and Faraday. A church at the centre of the site will be converted into artists' studios, and the Great Hall is to become a community space combining library, screening room and a residents' club area with wi-fi.
The grounds will also have a military-style fitness trail and a children's play park. Interior design is neither cutting-edge nor luxurious, but decent enough (leaving scope for personal development). Yet the homes are larger than average with lots of character. Show homes are open for viewing. Call developer Durkan on 020 8856 0034.
This part of the capital has strong military connections and an impressive architectural legacy. The Academy looks out over Woolwich Common, where the shooting and archery events in the 2012 Olympics will be held.
Michael and Sarah Freeman and their three school-age sons — Sam, Hugo and Ben — moved from Blackheath to a five-bedroom house at The Academy.
"We'd been looking to move for five years but couldn't find anywhere that ticked all the boxes. The Academy did: a good price, fantastic setting, close to good schools and open spaces, and within a quick commute to central London," says Sarah Freeman, 46, a university administrator. "It's a joy to live here — you feel part of something special."
Nearby Royal Arsenal, a former armaments factory with wonderful Georgian and Victorian buildings, is being transformed into a riverside housing complex. A new phase called The Warehouse has been launched — prices from £245,000 — while eight redesigned three-bedroom terrace houses, part of the original Armouries, cost from £395,000. Call 020 8331 7130. The new DLR station at Royal Arsenal is a 15-minute walk from The Academy.
Woolwich remains relatively cheap despite its up-and-coming status because it started from a low base. Richard Pine-Coffin of estate agent Hamptons International says The Academy is creating a new category of buyers who are attracted by the development's "unique qualities", its illustrious history, architecture, value for money and good transport links to the City and Docklands.
FOR BOHEMIANS AND EDGY URBANITES
The Henson in Camden Town is a block of canalside warehouse apartments in the heart of the busy market area. The fabric of the old Victorian warehouse has been kept and there is a sleek entrance lobby with 24-hour concierge plus private courtyard gardens.
These flats come with bike pool and car club. Prices from £500,000. Call estate agent Pilcher Hershman on 020 7399 8600.
DOWNSIZING TO THE CLASSIC SUBURB
The Dutch Gable, in west Ealing, has preserved its historic shop front and incorporated it into the development of nine new flats ideal for downsizing into a classic suburban setting. The scheme dovetails nicely with the surrounding Victorian houses, making for a charming streetscape. Prices from £265,000. Call Q Developments on 020 7223 1200.
COMMUTE FROM WINDSOR AND LIVE LIKE ROYALTY
The Claremonts, within walking distance of Windsor town centre and 40 minutes' commute from London, is great for young families looking for town and country life and good schools.
There are 40 homes: villas, town houses and duplex apartments. Classic-design apartments are from £650,000 and houses start at £750,000. Call 01753 830451.
FOR FIRST-TIMERS UP FOR LUXURY FLATS FOR RICH GROWN-UPS
Queen's Gate Place, Kensington. Here we have style with all the period detail restored, in five luxury apartments in this tree-lined garden terrace near the museums. These homes have manicured finishes set against restored architectural details, but all the mod cons, too: air-conditioning, audio-visual system and programmable mood lighting.
Prices range from £1.95 million to £4.95 million. Call Farleys on 020 7589 1234.
FOR CITY COMMUTERS AND FAMILIES WITH AN EYE FOR DESIGN
Dene Terrace, Chislehurst, has been built by a pair of young developers from Belgravia. They now bring their style ideas to Kent, and their very spacious family homes are a treat.
This row of new, Georgian-style, five-storey town houses incorporates great entertaining space and splendid masterbedroom suites leading to a roof terrace. There are four more double bedrooms and a laundry room conveniently located on the upper floors, plus underground parking. Prices from £1.6 million. Call Knight Frank on 01732 744470.
THE OLYMPICS PARTY
Lett Road in Stratford, E15, is good for first-time buyers who want to be part of the 2012 Olympics party. This 64-apartment development by Thornsett Group, with its eyecatching glass cantilevered frontage, offers great sweeping views of the Olympic Park and stadium from the communal roof terrace. Prices from £185,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5220.
FOR LOVERS OF THE BARD — AND MODERN ART FANS
Culture vultures will love The Bear Pit, 25 boutique apartments at Bankside, overlooking the river. This is all about position, being right next to Shakespeare's Globe theatre and Tate Modern. A show apartment has opened. Prices from £415,000; two-bedroom flats rise to £850,000. Call Frank Harris on 020 7600 7000.
You know an area is hot when the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate decides to build there. NEO Bankside is 197 flats in four Richard Rogers-designed blocks, or pavilions, with bird's-eye views of St Paul's Cathedral and Tate Modern. Native Land, co-developer with Grosvenor, has released the first phase of flats, priced from £640,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7998 1888.
FLASH PADS FOR SINGLES AND FASHIONISTAS
Galleria in Laycock Street, N1, a jazzy block with an exterior of daring colour-coded panels, has 22 loft-style duplex apartments in a scheme known as Islington Central. The location does not quite live up to the name — the address is on Islington's border with Holloway, close to the Emirates Stadium — but the homes are stylish and will appeal to north London singles and childless couples with a fashionista streak. Prices from £500,000. Call Chesterton Humberts on 020 7288 0330.
Brides Mews, N7, is tucked away behind Barnsbury village. Three new houses with traditional brick façades spring a surprise on the inside with their modern open-plan space and terraces. Prices range from £649,950 to £749,950. Contact Chesterton Humberts, as above.