Urban buyers with children who want to stay in London are fuelling the demand for houses in decent roads at affordable prices. For anyone just starting to look, estate agents advise patience. Depressingly, it can take years for houses to come up in the most sought-after streets.
Estate agents report that parents often make a trade-off between living in a more desirable area and educating their children privately. Winkworths has seen a huge migration of families in south London from Clapham to Streatham. Telford Avenue, a conservation area, is one of the most desirable roads with six-bedroom, Victorian, semi-detached houses accompanied by huge gardens.
"People are making a sideways move from a house which is worth close to pounds 1m to a similar- sized house in Streatham for pounds 600,000, leaving them a few hundred thousand pounds to send their kids to school," says Nick Harrington, manager of Winkworths, Streatham. Many parents want to avoid sending their children to Lambeth state schools, hence the move to a cheaper property.
In parts of Islington prices are still relatively reasonable for central London, but the schools are unpopular with middle-class parents. Many buyers opt for a cheaper home in Islington and pay for schooling. A cluster of roads east of Highbury Fields make up a quiet, almost traffic-free haven. And at pounds 350,000 for a five-bedroom family house, it is reasonably priced.
North London parents who want to avoid private education buy in neighbouring Camden, which has more expensive property but some good state schools.
In less fashionable Hackney, the larger Georgian properties are still within reach. Winkworths has buyers registered solely to buy in two roads - Clapton Square, E5 and Suttton Place, E9. "We get the dreamers walking in with a budget of pounds 100,000 thinking they can buy a detached Georgian house in Clapton Square because it's Hackney," says Nathan Field, a Winkworths manager. "But such properties come on to the market very rarely and a house can cost upwards of pounds 315,000."
Every area of London has its own top street, from Knightsbridge to New Cross. Even if residents of the former have no idea where the latter is, New Cross has the Telegraph Hill conservation area, where a four-bedroom Victorian terraced house can easily cost pounds 200,000.
Conservation areas are a useful indicator of an area's desirability, but be careful about the hype. The definition is "an area of architectural or historic interest, the character of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance". Church Lane, SW3 (now called Old Church Street) is the oldest road in Chelsea. Church Lane, E17 is the oldest road in Walthamstow. There is a considerable price difference between them but each is the most desirable in its area.
Church Lane in Walthamstow Village has an old church and one remaining Tudor house. Even though the road is surrounded by infill buildings and local authority flats, the price of a Victorian terraced house is some 20 per cent higher than elsewhere in Walthamstow.
A "village" suffix also attracts any London buyer who is looking for the perfect compromise between urban life and being on first-name terms at the corner shop. This also involves a delicatessen and wine bar. Dulwich, Wimbledon and Barnes are out of reach for many buyers. There are other urban villages, but some need a large dose of imagination. Buried deep in the heart of Streatham are Wellfield and Sunnyhill Roads, full of original two-up, two-down railway worker's cottages. Calling these roads a village pushes the bounds of credulity, but the estate agents like it. As do the buyers. So it is beginning to stick, pushing prices up.
There are even London villages that are desirable precisely because they do not attract lovers of village life. Buyers wait years for the right property in Dartmouth Park, NW5. Family homes start at pounds 600,000 in Boscastle Road and Laurier Road. According to Richard Alterman, at Salter Rex estate agents in Kentish Town: "These buyers can afford to live in Hampstead but don't want to be part of cosy village life."
When you look for a house, do not rule out areas that you may not have considered. There will always be roads that are close in character to the area you aspire to. And if you do not mind what your postcode says, you could save thousands. The drawback is that you may have to pay higher insurance premiums for a "frontier" postcode.
Residents of fast-gentrifying Brixton have to pay hefty contents insurance premiums. On one side of Kings Avenue, which runs from Clapham North to Streatham, the postcode is SW2. On the other side it is SW4, Clapham. SW4 residents may consider themselves a world away from Brixton but does a burglar really stop short of crossing the road?