Soho on your doorstep

An address in W1 is more affordable than you might imagine, says Stephen Pritchard
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Indy Lifestyle Online
YOU DON'T need to be a pop star or a business tycoon with a six- figure salary to live in the centre of London. This might come as a surprise but a prestigious address in W1, WC1 or SW1 can be picked up for as little as pounds 70,000. The trick is knowing where to look.

Properties in Kensington, Chelsea, Notting Hill and even across the river in parts of Wandsworth are seriously expensive. Strangely, flats in London's heart are often - if not exactly cheap - cheaper than fashionable but further-flung boroughs. Drawing a line from King's Cross and Euston stations in the north, to Victoria in the south reveals several areas where affordable flats are within walking distance of most of the capital's attractions, and its nightlife.

In Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia, studio flats start at around pounds 60,000, one- bedroom flats at pounds 100,000 and two-bedroom flats atpounds 120,000. The cheapest are to the less attractive north of the area, close to the mainline railway stations. Prices rise heading south, in the streets towards Russell Square.

Bloomsbury is popular with students and doctors working in the area's hospitals, but newcomers are often surprised by how residential the area is. "People walk along with their heads down to the pavement," says Gordon McColl, manager of the Museum Street branch of Barnard Marcus. "They don't look up. There are a lot of apartments on the top floors, and it has always been that way."

Bloomsbury and the West End compare favourably to areas such as Notting Hill. "You can still buy a flat here for pounds 110,000," says Mr McColl. "In Notting Hill, you will pay pounds 150,000 for a one-bed flat. To me, it is fantastic value for money. Here, if you want night life, you can walk to it."

Most flats are in mansion blocks and although there is a fair amount of council property, these come at less of a discount than in more suburban parts of London. "In the suburbs, there is still a stigma attached to council flats," says Robert Burwood, manager of the Shaftesbury Avenue branch of Copping Joyce. "Here, they sell readily."

Covent Garden and Soho proper are more expensive than Bloomsbury, but still not outrageous. One-bedroom flats start at pounds 115,000. Heading west, Mayfair is, if anything, cheaper than Covent Garden, with two-bedroom flats changing hands for under pounds 200,000.

The drawback of central London is the limited range of property. There are plenty of smaller flats but few larger apartments, and not many can afford a family house. Mansion blocks mean high service charges.

Inevitably, parking and driving are headaches. Residents can apply for parking permits but there are few blocks with dedicated parking. But who needs a car when you're so well served by public transport? With night life on your doorstep, you may even be able to dispense with taxis.