Motives for buying property in Stratford ahead of next summer's Olympics vary. Some see the area as a failsafe investment. Others want to put down roots in a fast-improving district with a bright future. More than a few hope to make a quick buck out of short-term letting, and many more want to be part of a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime event.
Few people can fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of regeneration in and around Stratford, or doubt that property opportunities exist.
More than £9 billion of public money has been pumped into the area. The 500-acre Olympic Park is the largest recreational space to open in Europe for 150 years. Stratford City, which includes the newly opened Westfield shopping centre, is the biggest retail-led, mixed-use regeneration project ever undertaken in the UK.
The Olympic Village, built to accommodate the athletes, will be converted into 2,818 flats and houses (half of which will be for private sale), while a further 8,000 new homes are earmarked for five new neighbourhoods around the park over the next decade.
The so-called "legacy benefits" of better infrastructure, facilities and amenities are expected to boost employment and prosperity — and demand for homes. Stratford's transport links are excellent — two Tube lines, Overland rail and the DLR, plus Eurostar trains and City Airport nearby. The agencies involved hope to attract a ready-made community of locals and outsiders — affluent middle-class homebuyers as well as low-budget first-timers, singles, couples and families, living side by side in this new "Eden".
What impact will this transformation have on the local property market? And is there perhaps less Olympics lustre than the marketeers suggest? Stratford, after all, is one of London's gritty areas. Previously associated with bad architecture and a high crime rate, it has a hard urban edge with no trace of metropolitan-village charm.
Since it was chosen for the 2012 Games, Stratford has been through several mini property cycles (bullish and flat periods), a pattern that could continue. Prices soared during the euphoric months following London's successful Olympic bid.
A gold-rush mentality triggered a buying frenzy between the winter of 2006 and early 2008. Speculators flipped homes and made handsome profits. Values dropped back when the credit crunch hit, but with the countdown to 2012 under way, prices are nudging up again and buy-to-let activity is increasing.
According to a study by Lloyds TSB, one of the sponsors of the Games, prices in postal districts close to the Olympic Park have risen by an average of 28 per cent during the six years since the announcement. Stratford has recorded a comparative low 13 per cent rise, while Homerton, the best performer, has notched up 56 per cent gains. But some other areas of London have seen bigger rises. Victoria, in the City of Westminster, jumped 153 per cent.
How buyers can get on the inside track
With the key Olympic structures — stadium, aquatic centre, velodrome and athletes' village — highly visible and industrial dereliction disappearing, the next tranche of homes is likely to draw in more owner-occupiers.
Certainly the Olympics is proving a powerful catalyst for growth in east London, but property consultant Hamptons International says Canary Wharf remains the real economic engine. This company has spotted a "concentrated focus of regeneration" in the E3, E14 and E16 postcodes, which cover Limehouse, West India Docks and Canning Town.
If built-up Stratford centre is not to your liking and Canary Wharf is too expensive or sterile, Victoria Park is an established bordering neighbourhood likely to become more sought-after. With good primary schools, independent shops and some of Hackney's finest houses, it's a good environment for property and family living — and well-placed to enjoy the legacy benefits.
Lea Valley may suit, too. Here, the River Lea and a rejuvenated canal system snake past Victoria Park and Hackney Marshes before reaching the nature reserves and giant reservoirs at Tottenham Hale.
Factories, mills and warehouses are being redeveloped and the waterfront opened up for recreational use. Already, the upgraded towpath of the Lea Navigation has become a busy cycle and pedestrian route into Stratford and Docklands.
Though a few industrial eyesores remain, this is a remarkably green swathe of the capital, with parks and conservation areas.
Timing is a key issue
Timing is an issue when buying in Stratford because there will be a lot of housing coming on stream at roughly the same time and it may take a number of years for these units to be absorbed into the market. The risk is that developers will flood the market, which would reduce prices. Buyers who cherry-pick the right property will have an edge at the time of resale.
Ironically, there is not a mass of new homes available to buy right now. Those in the athletes' village will not be available until at least nine months after the Games. Prices in the area start at about £200,000 for a new one-bedroom flat. Little on the market costs more than £750,000.
The outlook is perhaps most promising for landlords who have bought or who buy at a good price in the run-up to next year's event. Many tenants will be attracted by the transport connections, jobs and all the new facilities Proximity to Canary Wharf is still cited by developers as a compelling reason to buy in the wider Stratford area.
Bow and Canning Town
Bow is competitively priced for inner London. Down-at-heel Canning Town, where housebuilders have feared to tread (until now), is worth watching because it is sandwiched between Stratford and Canary Wharf. About 50 per cent of London's population now lives east of London Bridge, and the Olympic dividend is certain to boost all these old East End neighbourhoods.
What's for sale now?
Lett Road, by Thornsett Group, is the only all-private scheme in Stratford — 64 flats, including glamorous duplex penthouses with views over the Olympic Park. And there is a communal roof terrace. Prices from £235,000. Call Currell on 020 8555 0282.
Caspian Wharf is a new scheme of 82 flats on the banks of the Limehouse Cut. This industrial waterway still has far to go in terms of regeneration, but the location is well-placed between the Olympic village and Canary Wharf. Prices start at £240,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 0844 800 1152.
St Andrews is a 964-home redevelopment of a former Victorian hospital in Bromley-by-Bow. Bordering a busy approach road to the Blackwall Tunnel, this is not the prettiest part of town but it is a short walk to the Olympic Park. Prices from £208,000. Call Barratt on 0845 871 0005.
* For more area regeneration information, visit stratfordlondon.info