You never forget your first time

Whether you buy a studio in the centre of town or a house in the sticks, it's a start. Gwenda Joyce Brophy assesses the options for first- time buyers

BUYING YOUR first property is stressful enough without the added worry that you are making a decision that will affect your future prosperity.

But that is exactly what happens. Even if property prices drop, a canny first buy should make you enough profit to move on to a larger home next time.

"Many first-time buyers are understandably excited about getting their own place, but casting an objective eye over the property in terms of how it shapes up for future rental potential will pay dividends," says John Lucas, estate agent with Mann and Company in London.

"The average stay in a first-time buy is five years, and given that many first-timers opt for flats, it is vital to look at issues such as the length of the lease. A 65-year lease can start to look much less appealing to buyers five or six years on."

Location is vital, but even if you are on a budget you can make sensible choices. Lucas says: "You may not be able to afford the best or 'hottest' area at this stage, but you can make sure the property you buy has the advantages of being close to transport, for your own safety and as a selling point for future buyers, and that it has one or two shops close by."

That is not to say that the "hotspots" are out of the question, even in central London. Halifax property services in Pimlico has an ex-local authority studio in a small block with a communal roof terrace for pounds 69,000. A larger, galleried flat in the same block is on the market at pounds 91,000.

You get a lot more for your cash in the suburbs. If you are willing to trade a longer commute for more space, agents in north London, for example, have plenty of flats well below the pounds 60,000 mark.

Andrew Ward has a one-bedroom flat in Potters Bar, with fast train services to King's Cross, at pounds 57,500, and a similar property in Barnet, on the end of the Northern Line, at pounds 59,550.

Down in southeast London, Charlton is close to Blackheath, but at a fraction of the price. Agents in the area promise one-bedroom flats with period features for around pounds 70,000.

But the problem with one-bedroom flats is they can be harder to sell in a property slump. If you can stretch to two bedrooms, you always have the option of renting a room out.

Some people are determined to make their first buy a house. Marion Stone from Stratford, east London, did just that.

"I had listened to endless stories about lease problems or noisy neighbours. But the restored terraces I looked at were way out of my reach financially. The only way I could do it was to purchase a property that, to understate somewhat, was 'in need of repair'.

"The disruption lasted months, partly as I kept running out of money.

"I did everything that didn't need a professional but would come home from work, exhausted, knowing that I'd have to complete one job or another."

Would she make the same decision again? "Absolutely, but no one should under-estimate what it can involve in time, cost and social life."

Properties with tonnes of character usually have hefty price tags but it is not impossible for the first- time buyer to nab a one-off (although it helps, of course, to be outside of London).

Renton and Parr estate agents are selling a gothic-style Victorian property near York for pounds 69,000. Set within a country park, it has its own sunken patio. The downside is that it has about the same space, organised on the same principle, as many studios, although unlike most studios it is detached and freehold.

MDR Properties in Newcastle is selling a flat spread over the top floor of an Edwardian house, with stunning sea views over Whitley Bay, for pounds 30,000.

The good news is that the first-time buyer does have the advantage of time and of flexibility.

You have the leverage to move a whole property chain, so use your muscle wisely and carefully. You might even find an unusual bargain.

Andrew Ward, 0181-441 6000; MDR Properties, 0191-297 0770; Renton & Parr, 01937 582731

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