Lewisham is a before and after kind of place which, the abundance of scaffolding suggests, is strongly in the during stage. "The south- east of London generally has been notoriously cheap and has been catching up a bit," says Tony Ravenscroft of Acorn estate agents. But Docklands has been stretching its tentacles steadily in Lewisham's direction, and both the Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway extensions are well under way. Lewisham has arrived.

Manj Gill, of Oak estate agents, notes: "We are getting buyers and renters from north London who can get an extra two bedrooms here compared with north London."

The many period houses which constitute Lewisham's forgotten treasures are available in most sizes and styles, ranging from fully refurbished to badly dilapidated. The wrecks tend to be temptingly priced, but Gill warns: "Lenders are not keen to lend on this kind of property, and you will also need cash to do it up. Ordinary buyers will also need enough money to live somewhere else during the rebuilding."

Developers are snapping up these bargains, and in some parts of Lewisham "entire streets have been improved by these developers buying several properties on one road," observes Gill. These roads are now scaffold- free zones.

Like its properties, Lewisham itself is improving. "CCTV and the police have helped clear the area of crime," says Gill. The new library doubles as an art gallery for local talent, the high road has been pedestrianised, and nearby Ladywell Arena has Turkish and Russian baths, a health suite, a swimming pool, an outdoor athletics track and other health and fitness- orientated features.

The choicest residential areas, in Ravenscroft's opinion, are three local conservation areas located away from the town centre: Brockley (SE4), St John's (SE8), and Telegraph Hill (New Cross Gate, SE14). But some streets off Lewisham High Street are attractive, convenient and, with no through traffic, quiet: Bonfield Road, Limes Grove, Clarendon Rise, Mercia Grove.

However, despite the recent countrywide slowing of the property market, Ravenscroft says: "Here the market is still very good. Sales are being maintained. Prices are not going up as fast as they were, but the volume is still there."

When prices do rise, they are likely to take the express track: "Vendors have been talking about the Docklands Light Railway extension, although I haven't seen increased prices yet. But they well may rise after it is operational," says Ravenscroft.

The lack of connections is not hampering sales, as Gill notes: "In Lewisham, properties are sold within hours, even if they are derelict."

The Low-Down

Transport: Rail links to London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross stations. Lewisham to Canary Wharf in 17 minutes and to Bank in 30 minutes when the Docklands Light Railway extension opens in 2000. Until then, bus service is frequent to the foot tunnel at Greenwich.

Prices: Vary according to the condition of the property, and the condition and quality of the road. Two-bedroom flats sell for as little as pounds 60-65,000, and three-bedroom houses for less than pounds 100,000.

A Large Closet? A house currently being refurbished has two loft bedrooms and four ordinary bedrooms, the smallest of which is 12ft by 12ft; the price is about pounds 180,000 (Oak Estates). A wreck of a flat is going for only pounds 39,950, but the bedroom is 12ft by 9ft (Acorn).

Read the Small Print: Fairview has a few new flats at Conington Place and is absorbing a 5 per cent deposit, but the price tag reads "from pounds 69,995*". The asterisk signifies that the price represents the approximate benefit of the special financing deal available.

Council Tax: Band A in Lewisham is pounds 456, and Band H is pounds 1,367.

Panto in Lewisham? Oh no they don't: Lewisham Theatre is actually in Catford.

Shoppers' Delight: Lewisham has a daily (except Sunday) street market, and most Sundays a town-centre car park hosts a car-boot sale, reputedly Europe's largest. There are also plenty of shops, department stores and boutiques.

Milling About: The wooden water wheel and pond in the Citibank complex are all that's left of a Victorian corn mill, one of many that lined the Ravensbourne River.

Estate Agents: Acorn (0181-852 4455); Oak Estates (0181-355 3535); Fairview (0181-694 1183).

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