Property: Our friends in the north

Finsbury Park's still a bit iffy, but `Stokie' is definitely `u & c' and there's always Muswell Hill if you have the dosh, writes William Raynor
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In Some social circles the phrase "north of the park" provoked serious enough nose-wrinkling when the park in question was Hyde. By implication, Mayfair, St James's, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and southern bits of Kensington were acceptable; Bayswater, Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park were better forgotten.

Things have changed since then, of course, and the frontiers of chic and desirability have spread outwards from the centre, encompassing previously unthinkable territory south of the river and making areas such as Notting Hill so fashionable and exclusive that ordinary mortals can no longer think of living in them.

But even now there are those whose lips may still curl dismissively when the words "north of the park" are muttered - the park being Regent's, NW1.

The territory has already been explored and settled - even hailed as "the new West London" in the manner of brown being the new black - but we hope what follows will prove a useful guide.

Primrose Hill

On the northern frontier of Regent's Park, one of the most charming parts of NW1, long since gentrified and media-saturated, with consequent bias towards purveyors of healthy roughage and fermented grape. Wake up in mid-winter in any street near the park and with the wolves howling in London Zoo you could be in the Arctic tundra.

Come morning, if a fashion or film shoot is not in progress, you might then be able to sit on top of the hill itself and enjoy one of the best views south across London, or even use your toboggan.

Late Georgian and Victorian houses are popular with families and yet, compared with other parts of London with rather less to offer, are still surprisingly good value at pounds 600,000 or so. One-bed flats start at pounds 130,000.

Also NW1, but further to the east and north of Regent's Park and up the canal, with the magnet of Camden Lock and market, this is "very much a young area", according to Paul Freshwater of Hotblack Desiato, who says: "Price-wise, it is a bit hit-and-miss. Some roads have a high premium and then just round the corner there's an ex-council block which puts off older people or families." While a prime white-stucco terraced house near Regent's Park can set you back pounds 500,000, you can still get a one- bed flat for pounds 100,000.

Kentish Town

Up the road in "KT", NW5, towards Hampstead Heath and Highgate, you should be able to get a flat of similar size for pounds 90,000 - the difference reflecting fewer trains, because the Northern Line branches at Camden, and a sparser choice of shops, restaurants, pubs and bars.

A bit hit-and-miss as well in terms of price, says Mr Freshwater, and somewhat "misunderstood" because there are parts of it where you can get brick, flat-front terraced family houses in terraces as attractive as any in Camden, and pay pounds 350,000 instead of pounds 400,000.

Hampstead

No bargains here. NW3 used to be thought rather a long way out geographically, with its 800-acre heath and clean air, and intellectually and socially a bit Bohemian and far out too. But now, although it has a lingering reputation for champagne socialism, any sort of property-owning existence would seem to be governed by prices that reflect its claim to be the roof of London - they are surreal.

Two-bedded flats go for pounds 525,000 and four-bedded penthouses for more than pounds 1m in developments such as Mount Vernon, with its 24-hour guards and porterage, CCTV and access by smart card rather than key.

Highgate

The other "village" on the other side of Hampstead Heath shares the same local newspaper, the Ham & High, and other characteristics, from architecture to price.

Prices range from pounds 800,000 to pounds 1.8m in the village itself, pounds 5.5m for a new house nearby with indoor swimming pool and cinema, and north of Kenwood, in the ambassadorial Winnington Road and Bishop's Avenue, between pounds 2m and pounds 11m.

Crouch End

Perhaps because it is less self-consciously period and conservationist, less accessible (bus, no tube, but overground at Crouch Hill) and more late- 19th-early-20th-century suburban, Crouch End could no longer be called inexpensive either. Four-bedroomed family houses sell from about pounds 300,000 to more than pounds 500,000.

Muswell Hill

Family houses with good gardens fetch well over pounds 500,000, and what with its legions of media folk and City bankers and row upon row of handsome Georgian terraced houses in street and square, it is the epitome of north London chic. Not cheap, therefore, in relation to the areas around it but when you can still get one of those Georgian houses for less than pounds 500,000 - and so close to the City - that's a snip compared with Kensington, Notting Hill Gate and even the W10 bit of Ladbroke Grove, where a less attractive five-bedder Victorian can set you back twice as much.

Islington

For less than that, "top six figures", according to Michael Kitterhing, manager of the Islington branch of Winkworth's, you can get a house in one of the better streets of salubrious Canonbury or one with a garden going down to the New River, which is in fact an 18th century canal.

"Because they can get so much more for their money", says Mr Kitterhing, "a lot of people who might otherwise have bought in west London are now buying here." If they want antiques, they can go to Camden Passage instead of Portobello Road; if they are looking for eateries and bars they can get them in Upper Street, as in Notting Hill.

Islington remains very different from anywhere in west London. It has more theatres and its stock of dilapidated warehouse and factory premises lend it more residential variety and industrial chic.

"It may be N1," he says, "but being so close to the City, Islington was often regarded until 15 to 20 years ago as East End and still has a gritty London feel." But one of the reasons so many young upwardly-mobile, eating- out professionals tend to move elsewhere when their children reach the age of five or six is that it still has some fairly "gritty" schools. Ask Tony and Cherie.

Highbury

In Highbury itself, towards Arsenal football ground you can still get a Victorian or Edwardian roof over your head for rather less - for instance, a two-bed garden flat for pounds 140,000, up from pounds 100,000 two years ago.

Stoke Newington

Prices in "Stokie" have increased significantly over the last 18 months because of spillover from Islington and Highbury, particularly in the green environs of Clissold Park and around Church Street, traditionally thespian and Bohemian, which sports several bistros and fashionable bars. Four-bedder Victorian houses cost pounds 220,000 to pounds 300,000 and a substantial three-bedder with bay window and 30ft garden can still be yours for pounds 160,000, although you may then have to spend more upgrading 1950s or 1960s decor and fittings. If you are a first-time buyer you can still get a one-bed flat for pounds 60,000 - pounds 25,000 less than in Islington.

Holloway

Even the women's prison on the hill seems to be no bar to Holloway's progress in the up-and-coming stakes.But as institutions like this tend to lack cachet, what may have helped rather more is the conversion of a former BT building, Beaux Arts, into 50 flats where two-bedders have fetched pounds 200,000, it seems.

Three-bedroomed Victorian houses in roads parallel to Seven Sisters fetch pounds 170,000, against pounds l30,000 two years ago.

Similarly, at the Archway end, a two-bed flat that sold for pounds 66,000 in 1995 has just gone for pounds 96,000, and the cheapest one-bedders have risen from pounds 37,000 to well over pounds 50,000.

As for shops Holloway has most of the multiples, a rich ethnic mix with strong Cypriot bias, and a plan to upgrade the area of Archway Tower.

Tufnell Park

Pointing south towards Camden Town and north to Tiverton Road, this diamond- shaped area backs on to Holloway Prison, is bisected by Tufnell Park Road, and has a choice of buses and tubes - Archway and Tufnell Park, Finsbury Park, Holloway and Caledonian Road - putting it within 30 minutes of the West End.

Some good local schools are also a powerful attraction. Victorian houses with three bedrooms and 30ft to 40ft gardens have risen from pounds 175,000 to pounds 230,000, and five-bedders from pounds 250,000 to pounds 350,000. In Dartmouth Park, near Tufnell Park tube, two-bed garden flats have rocketed from pounds 110,000 to pounds 165,000.

Finsbury Park

As to whether this is the next candidate for dramatic improvement, or already "U & C", opinion is divided.It has good public transport (buses, BR, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines) and some nice roads but when Arsenal are playing at home, you cannot park within half a mile. Nor does it have a good reputation for personal safety, says Nick Smith of Bairstow Eves: "You wouldn't want your wife or girlfriend to walk around alone late at night. As 50 to 60 per cent of our applicants are women, first-time buyers registering and often wanting first-floor flats because of better security, this is very much in people's minds."

Two-bed flats have gone up in price since 1996 from pounds 95,000 to pounds 125,000, three-bed houses from pounds 140,000 in 1996 to pounds 175,000, and four-bedders from pounds 180,000 to pounds 250,000.

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