Property: Hot Spot - Earlsfield, Sweet, comfy and close to the city

EARLSFIELD HAS good reasons for being obscure. This south-west London village is small in area, and what little land there is has been given over to gas and electricity works, light industry, council estates, more cemeteries than you could shake a stick at - and plenty of period houses. Earlsfield is surrounded by neighbours like Wandsworth Common, Balham, Wimbledon and Southfields.

Put it all together and Earlsfield has only one way to go - up. This northerly drift is partly propelled because Earlsfield attracts people priced out of its posh neighbours and others as far afield as Battersea, Clapham and Fulham.

Property prices are already heaven-bound, says Julia Arnold, an independent property marketing consultant who, with husband Andrew, owns a three-bedroom Victorian terrace with moderately-sized garden in Earlsfield.

"Prices started rising about two years ago, and I am starting to see more professional people in the area, more BMWs and convertibles. But Earlsfield is still much more affordable than surrounding areas." Her list of surrounding areas includes Fulham, a welcome reminder that, despite the "south London" label, Earlsfield is barely south of the Thames. Wandsworth High Street is within long walking distance.

Under the right-to-buy scheme, council properties have enabled many middle- class and working-class people to get a foot on the ladder. The large number of ex-council properties in Earlsfield may appeal to the buy-to- let set as well as to first-timers. "The two-bedroom and three-bedroom Victorian and Edwardian homes are excellent investments for buyers wanting to let," says local estate agent Ben Shapland, of Tower Property Services.

He says three-bedroom Thirties' ex-council houses are selling in the region of pounds 150,000, although some sharply lower prices are occasionally seen. The newer council properties, built since 1960, are cheaper still, down to around pounds 100,000.

Period flats start at about pounds 100,000, but ex-council flats can be had for barely more than pounds 50,000. Mr Shapland recommends avoiding the ex-council properties in the large tower blocks: "it is hard to get a mortgage, and hard to resell."

Victorian and Edwardian houses can top pounds 200,000 but they don't go much above pounds 250,000, because the houses themselves usually don't have more than three bedrooms.

Mr Shapland describes Earlsfield as a "sweet area, a chimney-pot kind of place". Crime and personal safety don't seem to be more of an issue than in any other part of London. The Wimbledon side of Garratt Lane is dominated by warehouses and train depots, and no amount of adjacent gentrification will alter this imposing implacable industrial landscape.

The many cemeteries in the area are hardly decorative. "Many of my neighbours are older people who have lived here for between 30 and 60 years," Mrs Arnold observes. "But they are slowly being replaced by young professionals, and the neglected shop fronts are being painted as the shops themselves are transformed into wine bars, delicatessens and speciality shops."

But BMW owners are not all good news, laments Mrs Arnold: "It's becoming harder to find parking."

Robert Liebman

The Low-down

Strength: From Earlsfield Station, the next station up is Clapham Junction, and down is Wimbledon. Waterloo is 10 minutes away. Buses along Garratt Lane link to the Northern Line at Tooting Broadway; the District Line is at Wimbledon.

Weakness: Has no big, even biggish houses. Buyers needing large family homes are restricted to Wandsworth Common and Wimbledon.

Parks: Another Earlsfield plus: sports grounds, sports centres and parks dot the area, making it ideal for tennis, jogging, bicycling, and playground activities for young children. Golf courses are in Wimbledon, as is the All England Tennis Club.

Council tax: Lowest in the country. Band A = pounds 202; Band H = pounds 637

Where are the doggies? Wimbledon Stadium is on the southern edge of Earlsfield in an even more obscure district - Summerstown.

Plough Lane RIP: A quarter of a mile southeast of Wimbledon Stadium is the ground which used to be home to Wimbledon Football Club.

Bangers and smash: Car races - we drive 'em, you watch us smash 'em - are at Wimbledon Stadium, also home to an outdoor market.

Send it to forensics: An advance wave of snoots seems evidenced by Rawle & Son saddlery and riding shop on Garratt Lane. Station Delicatessen is, as its name indicates, a deli, not a grocery, and the local bakery - very suspicious - eschews preservatives. Willie Gunn wine bar serves food reputed to be eclectic and delicious.

Nice place to visit: Think of that when you see Hunter the televisual Gladiator in the local wine bar. He's just visiting a friend, who lives locally.

Is the friend Ulrika Jonsson by any chance? No, she's an ex-friend. Besides, Earlsfield is not the kind of place where even mini-celebs choose to live.

Estate agents: Craigie, 0181 874 7475; Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, 0181 944 6464; Tower Property Services, 0181 870 8870.

Nearest chic shopping: Found at Wimbledon, Wimbledon Village, Wandsworth Common.

Nearest ordinary shopping: The massive Arndale Shopping Centre on Wandsworth High Street.

Cemetery graveyard: Across from Earlsfield Station is Wandsworth Cemetery. To the southeast is Streatham Cemetery, followed by Lambeth Cemetery, and, turning north, Gap Road Cemetery.

Surely there's a prison? Yes, Her Majesty's Slammer Wandsworth is at the far end of the cemetery. Architecturally, it is a plus.

Surely there's a river? The mighty River Wandle wanders parallel to Garratt Lane. It contains the kind of water which even rats try to avoid.

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