Fly to 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.
Property can be expensive, especially the best addresses in Richmond and its affluent satellites, Ham and Petersham. But you do not have to pay a premium to share the space; there is much housing variety across this swathe of the capital, making buying opportunities for those seeking a more affordable home with all the pluses (open space, good schools, a safe neighbourhood) these postcodes bring.
Barnes, just across the river from noisy Hammersmith, is a family favourite, boasting good schools, pretty houses (from cottage to mansion), interesting shops, delightful pubs and even a village duck pond. But it is a good 25 per cent dearer than the neighbouring areas of Mortlake, Sheen and Roehampton.
Mortlake, famously, is the finishing line for the annual boat race. Big houses are rare there, but there are plenty of decent, well-priced terrace houses. The creep of development started about 10 years ago.
Tideway Wharf, a former depot and power station, is now a complex of courtyard offices, wine bar and 18 apartments. Dukes Reach, on the high street, is a gated scheme of 26 riverview flats, while Vineyard Heights has 42 apartments, including spectacular penthouses, in a remodelled Seventies office tower. Prices range from £320,000 to more than £1.5 million, according to Marsh & Parsons.
All eyes are on the redundant Stag Brewery that dominates the riverbank towards Chiswick Bridge. This key development site has been home to beer-making since the 15th century, when it was part of a monastery. It is due to close at the end of the year. Local MP Zac Goldsmith is leading a campaign for its sensitive redevelopment. "It's a chance-of-a-lifetime site, a major opportunity to build something beautiful that will be of genuine benefit to the community, so we have to get it right. It will affect not only Mortlake but the surrounding areas."
Council consultation with residents is continuing. A new primary school at the site is being considered along with leisure uses, but an element of housing seems inevitable. Last year, 282 parents in Richmond borough were refused their first-choice primary school because of demand for places.
A four-bedroom Edwardian house in Second Avenue, one of Mortlake's best streets, is on the market for £825,000. In Barnes, the same house would cost about £1.3 million. Much the same price differential exists between Roehampton and its higher-value neighbours, Putney and Richmond.
A 14-acre hospital redevelopment in Roehampton has brought one of the biggest collections of new houses to the capital. Called Queen Mary's Place, this new estate of 450 homes - 135 of them houses - is set in listed walled gardens with a prized 18th-century mansion.
Homes are arranged in handsome formal squares, avenues, courtyards and crescents. Developer St James has based designs on focus group research with customers and says it cannot build quickly enough to match demand.
Sitting back from busy Roehampton Lane, with access via a pair of gatehouses, there is a satisfying sense of arrival. Traditional-looking on the outside, the houses have modern, open, space-efficient interiors with value-added touches such as loft ladders, bathroom cabinets with mirrored doors inside and out, and light switches with covers that can be changed for a colour contrast, as with a mobile phone. Some houses have integral garages and balconies on the higher floors, as well as a garden reached through glass doors that fold right back. Three-storey, four-bedroom houses cost from £660,000. Call 020 8246 6748.
A listed Palladian mansion in the grounds is being converted into 24 grand apartments. A courtesy shuttle bus from the site to East Putney station is popular with parents who use it for the school run as well as a commuter hop.
"Similar-size properties in Putney would cost up to £900,000," says Kevin McOwan of estate agent Hamptons International. Another bonus is the low (Wandsworth borough) council tax. A new wave of family buyers is straying over Hammersmith Bridge from Fulham to the SW13, 14 and 15 postcodes, he adds.
Roehampton is cheaper because it is an area of contrasts, with an old village, modest Victorian and Georgian cottages, family homes, mansion blocks, Twenties semis and the vast Alton Estate built by the old London County Council, which Wandsworth council is considering redeveloping.
Georgian grandees built country mansions in this part of the world, along the rural stretches of the Thames upstream and upwind from the city. St Margaret's Estate, a private enclave of villas nestling in woodland, was laid out in 1854 by Viscount Ralegh.
Next door is Richmond Lock, a former Brunel University campus turned into an upmarket estate of 100 villas and houses by the Thames. A five-bedroom detached villa is on the market for £3.25 million through Featherstone Leigh (020 8940 1575), while restored Gordon House, a Victorian mansion with 80 metres of Thames frontage, is being sold through Knight Frank (020 8939 2800). It has five reception rooms and seven bedrooms, plus staff accommodation. Price on application.
"Once people move to Richmond and its environs they rarely leave. They just size up or down, dictated by family and lifestyle needs," says Robert Leigh of Featherstone Leigh. "If a large family house in Richmond is beyond them, there is Kew, Sheen and Twickenham, where prices are significantly cheaper but which have many of the benefits of prime Richmond."
Niche developer Richstone has launched The Helix in East Sheen: four town houses priced from £1.29 million and five apartments from £285,000 in a quiet cul-de-sac behind the high street. Call 020 8876 4567.