London has a north-south divide with a growing property value gap re-emerging between homes north and south of the Thames - and for many buyers it is proving good news.
Using London's improving transport infrastructure, or simply by walking across a bridge, buyers are discovering that it doesn't require much effort to head south and find a new apartment at a good-value price.
Where once the gap between north and south was closing, now north London is reasserting its "ascendancy" over south London and is almost 21 per cent more expensive than it was a decade ago, when the price differential was 10.3 per cent.
The gap has been getting steadily bigger since March 2008 (then 13.8 per cent) and today the average north London home costs £62,345 more than its south London counterpart - £367,594 compared with £305,249, according to a report by the Centre of Economics and Business Research.
Despite the residential rise of the south-side strip between Battersea and Bermondsey, spurred by landmark regeneration projects such as Tate Modern, London's most prestigious addresses remain north of the river. It is remarkable how few buyers are willing to cross the bridges out of choice. Many members of the chattering classes still long for their Islington heartland, while inner north London suburbs such as St John's Wood, Hampstead and Highgate have increasing allure for middle-class professionals with money in their pockets.
The trend is expected to continue for the next few years at least, boosted by the swelling number of wealthy international buyers who favour north London locations, says Tony Gambrill, director of estate agent Chesterton Humberts, which has 27 offices across the capital.
"These die-hard 'northers' say they prefer the range of architecture and gentrified neighbourhoods, where the houses are bigger and grander, with an extra pillar and twirl of stucco to prove it," he said. "Though the infrastructure in south London is being upgraded, there are more practical reasons for living north, such as the lack, south of the river, of a comprehensive Tube network, and less public transport in general. People working in the City and West End want to live in more commuter-friendly north London."
Of the 275 Tube stations in London, only 30 are south of the river. North London has more housing choice, too: trendy City-fringe districts, leafy Georgian squares, canal-side lofts, smart Victorian terraces, commanding highground suburbs, huge regeneration zones (notably King's Cross), award-winning key worker homes, modest mews developments and blingy mega-mansions (The Bishops Avenue, for example).
The main patch - spreading from Highbury to Hampstead and from Canonbury to Camden - has for several decades attracted bankers, lawyers and middle-class radicals who find it not only more convenient than south London but buzzier and more sophisticated, with better amenities and facilities. In recent times, they have been joined by a young, creative crowd, most choosing to settle in Islington (the place, not the borough).
The empire of the north
Several new housing schemes in Islington heartland either side of Upper Street have been unveiled. These include Highbury Gardens, a "21st-century version of the Victorian mansion block" - 119 apartments priced from £320,000. Call 020 7613 1888.
A Victorian children's home overlooking Highbury Fields is being redeveloped into 143 homes, including 18 modern town houses. Called Highbury Park, prices start at £310,000, with houses from £1.1 million. Call Thomson Currie on 020 7354 5224. Providence Place is a scheme of 13 smart apartments at Islington Green. Prices start at £395,000. Call Fyfe McDade on 020 7613 4044.
Worth checking out is the area between Angel and King's Cross. With regeneration of blighted railway lands advancing, niche schemes are planned in formerly scruffy backstreets off busy Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road. This patch butts against Barnsbury, a pretty early 19th-century enclave of garden squares, cottages and ivy-clad pubs - almost a secret. Though affluent, there are several infill developments around the edges where cheaper homes are on offer.
The south bites back
The Jubilee and East London line extensions have opened up areas once considered difficult to reach and the main action is on the waterfront, where designer-led housing developments have made a big impact on the Thames-scape.
The SE1 postcode is buzzing with a new station - Blackfriars South - opening later this year, the first on the south side of the river for 120 years. At Neo Bankside, swish apartments designed by architect Richard Rogers are reportedly selling for £1,500 a square foot (which is more expensive than Clerkenwell) though most southside waterfront homes range between £800 and £1,000 a square foot, still about half the price of the best north bank addresses.
Bold, glamorous architecture has brought fabulous penthouses with wraparound terraces, and the views from the south side of the Thames looking north are better. The Shard of Glass, under construction alongside London Bridge station, is expected to shatter current south-side values, with talk of apartments costing in excess of £4,000 a square foot.
Schemes such as Montevetro and Albion Riverside in Battersea, which offer a package of extras including underground parking, gym, concierge and security, are enticing posh people from Chelsea and Kensington.
True, the cluster of apartment schemes either side of London Heliport is of varying quality - in design, bulk and relationship to the river. As yet, the infrastructure - shops and places to eat and drink - lags behind the homes.
However, a development shift inland is under way, which is improving the nondescript areas of south London (around Lewisham, for example). For many buyers it is a case of "needs must" and only the more affordable south London districts are within their radar.
There are some matching (or at least roughly similar) north-south areas, so it pays to look closely at the map. Taking a five-mile radius from Trafalgar Square, it is evident that New Cross, Streatham and Balham (all south) are as "close in" as equivalent but pricier Finsbury Park, Crouch End and Stoke Newington (all north). Kennington and Vauxhall (south) are nearer to the Palace of Westminster than Kensington is.
Those looking for area matches might consider:
* Hampstead and Highgate versus Greenwich and Blackheath
* Primrose Hill versus Dulwich
* Holloway versus Lewisham Camden versus Clapham
* Fulham versus Battersea/Wandsworth
* Angel/Clerkenwell versus Borough and Bermondsey
* Hammersmith, Barnes and Maida Vale versus Putney
* Kilburn versus Brixton and Peckham
* Kentish Town versus Camberwell
* Dalston versus Elephant & Castle