When your salary won't buy you a piece of London in one of its trendy "villages", it's time to take a look at cheaper and, let's face it, less appealing parts of town. Forget the Tube, noodle bars and stand- up comedy, start thinking BR, Star Burger and Sky TV at the local pub. It's hard to imagine Plumstead and Peckham doing what Brixton and Clapham have done over the past few years, but there's a hungry bunch of house- hunters out there. Find a quiet backwater with a row of period cottages ripe for renovation, and you have a conservation area in the making.
Take Peckham, the poor relation in currently booming south London. After suffering for years under its Del Boy image, it is now in the throes of a massive regeneration programme. But it is the property prices and transport links to the City and West End that are bringing new buyers into the area.
Trains from Peckham (zone two) take nine minutes to London Bridge, where the Jubilee Line Tube extension is scheduled to open a station next spring. By changing on to the Tube at London Bridge, it should be possible to be in Canary Wharf or Green Park from Peckham in under 20 minutes.
Lisa Shead, from the estate agents Charterhouse, believes pockets of Peckham will have their day in the not-so-distant future. "People have done their homework and know which roads they want to buy in." Buyers as well as sellers have been pleasantly surprised by its rise in popularity. Prices start at pounds 80,000 for an unmodernised three-bedroom Victorian house. Demand is, not surprisingly, outstripping supply, pushing up prices further, especially in the leafy lanes of Nunhead.
Richard Lee, from Acorn estate agents, is seeing a lot of young professionals coming south of the river from north London, where they have been priced out of the market. "We're also getting the overspill from Clapham, Camberwell and Dulwich." Well-established conservation areas such as Holly Grove and Highshore Road are only minutes from down-town Peckham Rye station. Here, two-up, two-down cottages sell for around pounds 110,000. Girdlers Cottage, a one-bedroom Grade II listed property in Choumert Road, was recently sold through the Halifax for just under pounds 100,000.
"Cheerfully grimy in parts," is how The New London Property Guide 98/99 describes Deptford, a mere 10cm to the right of Peckham in an A to Z. While Peckham may be world famous for the Trotter family, a tavern in Deptford was the scene of Christopher Marlowe's murder in 1593. More importantly for house-hunters, the area is set to end the 1990s on a high as communications to central London and the Docklands take a leap forward: the East London Line at nearby New Cross has reopened; the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Deptford Creek opens next year; and the new Jubilee Line station at London Bridge will be a seven-minute journey from Deptford.
As always in these inner-city enclaves, the most pleasant roads border a piece of green, in this case Deptford Park. Here, three-bedroom Victorian terraces start at around pounds 90,000, but scarcity is increasing their values. You're more likely to find a former local authority property if you're not tempted by one of the new developments down by the river.
Jasper Bark, a writer and performer, lives with his wife Veronica, a PR account director, in an Eighties three-bedroom, ex-council townhouse in the heart of Deptford. They bought it in March for around pounds 80,000. "We wanted to buy an old ramshackle place, but we realised we didn't have the time, resources or inclination to do it up."
Their love affair with this former naval town started a few years ago, when they were renting nearby. "Its architecture, community feel and great heritage are the reasons why we stayed." Deptford High Street, on the Greenwich and Deptford history trail, has been face-lifted by regeneration schemes. It's a true mix of cultures, with halal butchers, a pawnbroker and a Chinese acupuncturist sitting alongside a typical London street market twice a week. "It's a cross between a scene from Dickens and an Arabian bazaar," adds Mr Bark.
Trundle a few stops further south to Sydenham, and you will have left behind the inner city. While not exactly known for its nightlife, it does have a growing reputation for salvage and second-hand furniture yards. The zone three train service into Waterloo East (19 minutes) and London Bridge (15 minutes) will also link into the new Jubilee Line. George Proctor, an estate agent, is selling a two-bedroom Victorian cottage in Adamstrill Road, a short walk to the station, for pounds 95,000. A double-fronted Victorian cottage in the conservation area of Halifax Street, with two bedrooms and a study, is for sale at pounds 110,000.
Leytonstone in east London has seen a huge demand for property in recent months, but it's not just the Central Line Tube that's making it popular. "That's always been a bonus," says Mike Moore of agents Spicer McColl, "but it's access to the M1, M25, M11 and Stansted and City airports that people want." Prices are between pounds 75,000 and pounds 120,000 for a three-bedroom Victorian house within walking distance of the Tube.
But for seriously cheap property, turn to Plumstead. Tracy Lockett, a graphic designer, was born in Deptford but went east of her roots, a few miles along the Thames to Plumstead Common, where she decided to buy a house earlier this year. The two-bedroom Victorian terrace "with fireplaces and sash windows but needing redecoration" cost pounds 70,000. "I paid pounds 10,000 more for the view over a park," says Ms Lockett.
Kathy Davies, from the agents Mann and Co, believes the Millennium project at Greenwich has put Plumstead on the map. "People who can't afford Greenwich are coming down the river to us." Three-bedroom period houses on the borders of Plumstead Common, a 15-minute walk from the station, will cost a maximum of pounds 100,000 and start at around pounds 75,000. Going by these figures, Ms Lockett has made a good investment. If convenience rather than a view is a priority, a two-bedroom double-fronted Victorian house minutes from Plumstead station (zone four) is on the market with Mann and Co for just pounds 57,995.
Carpetbaggers of the property world need to study their A to Zs and go walkabout, preferably on a sunny day - dingy backwaters need to be seen in the best light. If you can get there before the estate agents start moving in, you'll have all the time in the world to watch your investment grow.
'The New London Property Guide 98/99' is published by Mitchell Beazley (0171-581 9393). Agents: Charterhouse, 0171-252 9444; Acorn, 0171-771 6777; Halifax, 0181-299 3711; George Proctor 0181-778 9699; Spicer McColl, 0181-558 4021; Mann & Co, 0181-854 1181.Reuse content