There is one area of Britain where optimism about the property market appears totally justified: north and east Kent. House values near the county's Channel Tunnel rail link stations are forecast to rise by £1.6 billion after high-speed commuter services begin in December 2009.
Homes around Ebbsfleet are poised for the biggest increase — 14 per cent — while other likely hotspots are Gravesend, Chatham, Rochester, Gillingham, Sittingbourne, Faversham and Folkestone.
Property prices will rise because of dramatically reduced journey times. Ashford to London, for example, will take 37 minutes compared with the current 83 minutes. The wider economic benefits to the region will be more than £17 billion, according to a study by transport consultancy Colin Buchanan and economic analyst Volterra.
The new rail line, called High Speed 1, will enable more people to commute to better-paid jobs in London and boost regeneration schemes along the route.
© Kent Tourism Alliance
Historically, prices in this swathe of Kent have been held back by slow train times and the industrial corridor running along Thames Gateway so values remain quite low by Home Counties standards.
For example, take Canterbury, which has always been considered outside the commuter belt. Prices here are up to 20 per cent cheaper than prestige Kent commuter towns such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells.
However, from December train times from Canterbury to London will be slashed from 102 minutes to 61 minutes.
Chatham, a former Royal dockyard, has been singled out as the "best value" commuter location in the South East by estate agency Haart, taking into account average house prices and journey times to London.
A new business and residential community is evolving at Chatham Maritime, where there is a 310-berth marina and retail complex with more than 100 shops and restaurants, plus the popular Dickens World attraction.
The Quays is a Docklands-style apartment scheme — a group of waterfront buildings including 334 flats, from studios to penthouses.
Byrne Estates, the developer, has punched above its weight to deliver good-value homes starting at £119,500 and rising to £650,000. Completions from autumn 2009. Call Hamptons on 01634 890594.
St Mary's Island, formerly a rubbish dump for the naval base, has been transformed into a 150-acre eco-friendly estate.
Traditional Kentish-style designs are mixed with contemporary-style architecture — bold colours, timber cladding, sun decks, steeply pitched roofs and there are splendid water views. Eventually 5,000 people will live there.
Ventura Riverside is the latest phase. Four-bedroom houses are priced from £299,995. Call Countryside Properties on 01634 891444.
Grimly-named Gravesend was once an elegant Victorian resort town that brought visitors from London on the steamboat.
Blighted later by the growth of the docks, it is now the focus of regeneration and has a big future because of its proximity to Ebbsfleet. From here the journey time to London will be almost halved — from 42 to 24 minutes.
Eyesores are being demolished while the town's pier (the world's oldest surviving cast iron one) has been refurbished. Gravesend Heritage Quarter is part of a multi-million-pound revitalisation of the town centre that includes 600 new homes.
At The Marina, on Canal Road, Bellway is selling waterfront apartments priced from £125,000. Call 01474 360280.
17 minutes to the capital
New homes are being built within Canterbury's ancient walls. About 400 are planned at The Tannery, alongside shops, bars and restaurants, piazza and riverside walk. Apartments due to be ready in January 2010 are selling off-plan. Prices from £145,000. Call Bellway on 01227 453853.
Barton Mill, on the banks of the Stour, includes a restored Georgian terrace of five townhouses. Weston Homes is redeveloping the rest of the site into 136 new homes. Prices from £149,950. Call 01227 459994.
Ebbsfleet is nearer to Canary Wharf and the Square Mile than Hounslow is. From December, trains to St Pancras, via Stratford, will take just 17 minutes.
About 10,000 new homes are earmarked for Ebbsfleet Valley, including the UK's first "fibre-optic" residential community with super-fast 100 MB broadband access. A giant business and retail district is also being built by developer Land Securities.
Springhead Park is the first residential scheme. Two-bed houses cost from £185,000. Call Countryside Properties on 01474 335195.
'We were surprised what our budget could buy'
William and Sasha Ludlow moved from Brockley in south-east London to the Thames-side village of Greenhithe, next to Ebbsfleet, in 2005, after the birth of their daughter, Charlotte.
They paid £155,000 for a two-up, two-down Victorian terrace house with a 70ft long garden. The property is now worth about £200,000.
© Barry Phillips
The couple were aware of the improving train links and surprised by what their relatively modest budget could buy.
"We like the house because it has more character than most properties in the area," says William, 27, a London fireman. "The area is still quite industrial, but it has a fascinating history and we like exploring the riverfront.
"I use the train a lot and it usually takes an hour to get to Greenwich, so the new fast trains will be a massive improvement, but I hear they are going to be expensive." The people who will benefit most from the rail link will be those who work at Stratford and King's Cross because there will be a quick and direct service, he adds.
"Fast trains will probably attract people William and such as finance workers who wouldn't previously have looked here and that should improve the quality of new-build housing."