The spring house hunt gets under way as the very latest show homes open their doors for the homebuying season. This is the time of year when plans turn into firm pledges and buyers of all varieties — first-timers, job-movers, newlyweds, families, divorcees and downsizers — are all searching for the right property at the right price. And Easter, followed by the royal wedding break, is providing a good chunk of time to devote to the biggest purchase most of us will ever make.
London's new-build sector is in its stride. Construction activity surged during the first quarter of this year, with 5,047 private homes at 77 sites, or 18 per cent more "starts" than during the same period of 2007, according to industry analyst Molior.
This means more choice across the price range as southern developers build for the needs of Londoners and commuters — creating inner-city crashpads, riverside penthouses, modern townhouses, characterful cottages and handsome villas in leafy estates on the suburban fringe.
Two outstanding developments at the top end, on opposite sides of London (one in Hampstead, the other in New Cross) share the same-sounding address — Telegraph Hill — because of their elevated positions overlooking the capital. Both were named during the Napoleonic Wars when the Admiralty built a network of semaphore signalling stations linking Whitehall with Great Yarmouth to the north-east, and with the south coast ports (quicker than a messenger on horseback).
Charles Dickens used to visit Telegraph Hill in Hampstead — "the air being of the purest and the view magnificent".
The station at the summit of the hill is gone but the vista can be enjoyed from four new houses, cleverly secluded in gated grounds bordering the Heath. Sitting above a private drive hidden by a tree-lined embankment, the substantial houses (the smallest is 5,134sq ft) have Thirties façades and classic-contemporary interiors, with six bedrooms, a cinema room, swimming pool and terraced gardens. The asking prices (from £7 million, call Aston Chase on 020 7724 4724) highlight the huge price divide between north and south London.
At the other Telegraph Hill, postcode SE14, nine much "cheaper" houses are being built on a former Thames Water reservoir at the top of the slope. Part of a Victorian conservation area with two refurbished parks and a highly rated state secondary school — Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College — the traditional-style houses are expected to slot nicely into the streetscape after developer St James modified modern design elements to please the local conservation society.
With off-street parking and all the pluses of new-build, the houses command a premium over neighbouring semis and terrace houses, many of which have splendid views of the city. The former cost from £1 million (call 020 8469 0077) while the latter range between £700,000 and £900,000. Yet local estate agents' claims that the area is "undervalued" ring true. New Cross has quick (six-minute) rail links to London Bridge and is also on the East London Overground line. Young north London families searching for better value south of the river are scouting the area, as are Canary Wharf workers priced out of Greenwich and Blackheath.
Shaftesbury Estate in Battersea is known for its charming Victorian artisan dwellings, with 1,200 two-storey houses laid out in wide, tree-lined streets. Bordering the estate is a scheme of six bay-fronted, two-bedroom cottages in similar architectural style — stock brick façades and pitched slate roofs. Prices from £595,000. Call Q Developments on 020 7223 1200.
Like a lot of south London, Balham and Tooting spent much of the 20th century asleep in run-down respectability — until the Eighties property boom, when buyers unable to afford fast-gentrifying Clapham started to look further down the Northern line.
Today, homes in sought-after enclaves such as Heaver Estate, bordering Tooting Bec Common (which has a wonderful refurbished lido dating back to 1906) command similar prices to Clapham, but in general properties remain a good 15 per cent cheaper.
Nineteen new townhouses with glazed garden rooms have been squeezed on to a gated site at Harrington Mews, just off Fountain Road, with off-street parking and garaging. Prices from £395,000. Call 020 8672 6171.
'There is more choice as southern developers build for the needs of Londoners and commuters'
Some builders are offering sumptuous, bespoke homes to tempt big-budget buyers — as at former Chelsea College of Art, moments from King's Road. Here, a prestige scheme of 15 apartments and two townhouses, called Henry Moore Court, has prices ranging from £5.5 million to £14 million (call estate agent Aylesford on 020 7351 2383).
Other developers are more in line with the climate of austerity and are selling stylish but affordable homes with lifestyle extras that strike a chord with first-time buyers and City professionals alike.
At Grange Garden, a scheme of loft-style apartments in Bermondsey, residents can make use of a 24-hour concierge, refrigerated delivery docks, a wine cellar and club room. Value-for-money interiors have Poggenpohl kitchens, granite worktops and underfloor heating. Prices start at £295,000. Call 0800 0432523.
At Bromley Common, developer Ward Homes is building Trinity Village and releasing the first of 536 homes. Prices from £199,950. Call 0844 5566144.
The Square, Teddington is a modern makeover of four low-rise commercial buildings. Apartments there have floor-to-ceiling windows and up to three bedrooms, and include duplexes with roof terraces. Prices from £210,000 to £1.15 million. Call estate agent Featherstone Leigh on 020 8977 8118.
Streamlight, a new skyscraper close to Canary Wharf, has 133 apartments with interiors designed by Sadie Frost. Prices from £295,000 to £730,000 (penthouses coming later). Call Hamptons International on 020 7589 9775.
Yale Terrace, Mitford Road, N19, consists of eight townhouses and four apartments in an improving pocket of Islington borough (between Finsbury Park and Crouch End). Houses from £549,995. Call Winkworth on 020 8447 5656.
King's Island, Uxbridge, is bordered on two sides by the Grand Union Canal and the River Colne. This redevelopment of a former flour mill has 151 homes, including conversion flats. Prices from £188,995 to £700,000. Call Weston Homes on 01279 873300.
Best of the deals
With mortgages tight, buyer incentives are on offer, too. At Dene Terrace in Bromley, which has 14 Georgian-style townhouses, buyers who reserve a house this month get a one per cent stamp duty refund and a new Mini Cooper.
A short walk from the train station, the 3,800sq ft houses are set over five storeys, with two below-ground levels connected to basement parking and a fully landscaped garden. They offer terrific family living space and are finished to a standard that raises the bar for the area. Behind elegant brick façades, well-planned interiors have a master bedroom suite at the top, laundry room on the middle floor, a cinema room, hand-made kitchens, bespoke joinery plus stone and marble surfaces. Prices from £1.45 million. Call Knight Frank on 01483 564660.
At Ickenham Park, Hillingdon, developer Cala is offering 100 per cent market value part-exchange to buyers of its classic five-bedroom Monticello family houses — handy if you are stuck in a chain or cannot find a buyer for your home on the open market. Prices from £865,000. Call 01784 225351.
Often, the show home is the first property people want to buy but the last one the developer wants to sell because it is a powerful marketing tool — a way of giving raw space a saleable identity.
Charlotte Blakey, 23, a lawyer specialising in intellectual property rights, was so smitten by the one at a Victorian school conversion in Camberwell, she immediately reserved an apartment of the same size and layout.
With a promising career ahead of her, she was keen to get on the property ladder in an up-and-coming location with a handy commute to her job in the City. "I wanted to live in a building with history and character, which isn't often available to first-time buyers," she said.
"Denmark Hill station is a short walk away, through a gorgeous Georgian conservation area, and the Thameslink train to work takes about 15 minutes. And coming soon is an extension of the East London line through Camberwell, giving connections to Clapham and Docklands."
She paid £425,000 for the two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat, which has high ceilings, large windows and looks out over communal gardens.
Called Camberwell Grove, the scheme has 90 homes, including a new terrace of 12 Georgian-style townhouses with conservatory, underground garage plus 24-hour estate management and private gardens. Residents have access to a private tennis club on the former playground.
New show apartments are open for viewing. Prices from £399,950 to £599,950. Call St George on 020 7708 5829.