Second-hand properties have loads of character, but are often accompanied by loads of dilapidations and deteriorations. Gentrification can lift older property prices dramatically but many old houses are still trapped in areas that have seen better days.
New rules of engagement now apply, thanks mostly to new technology and to developers actually catering for home-buyers. New houses now offer value for money. Balconies, roof-gardens, atria, and architecture designed to take advantage of great views or otherwise attractive locations are commonplace. Many new properties are packed with an array of attractive features, and while some home-buyers adamantly shun anything built this century, new properties are more tempting than ever before.
To be sure, cramped, dull and shabbily built new homes are still being mass-produced. But the better new homes and flats are wonderfully light, spacious, comfortable and convenient.
Parking has become critical in many areas, especially in London, while throughout Britain people are increasingly concerned about personal safety. Like many new urban blocks of flats and town houses, Thirlstone's new development in Kew, west London, includes parking and electronic gates.
Kew Place is on a brownfield site in Kew Village proper, next to the station, which serves both the Tube and the North London Line. Many units were snapped up off-plan by investors convinced that the location will be easy to let.
One section of the development will house elderly tenants. Social housing is usually regarded as a drawback, but at Kew the other occupants should welcome tenants who will not be rowdy and will probably be home most of the day. Otherwise, housing developments for single working professionals can easily be deserted by day.
Despite being directly adjacent to Kew station - many properties back onto the station platform - the location is not particularly noisy. As trains enter and leave stations, they travel slowly. Nevertheless, the fence separating the tracks from the property has special sound-absorbing properties.
Many new homes today have central computers which automatically turn bathtubs on and off and regulate water temperature. Such bells and whistles are not entirely gimmicky or frivolous. For example, the audio-visual CCTV entry system links to the occupier's telephone and television system. If the front doorbell rings, the occupier can speak to the visitor by telephone. If you have a mobile phone and use call- forwarding, you can still reply even if you have nipped out to the butcher, or to Brussels.
If it is late at night or early in the morning and you are in bed, you can see the visitor on your TV screen.
Other technical achievements involve simple construction methods which could have been implemented decades ago had anybody bothered. Copthorn have installed hip-end glazed windows in Coppice Rise, Essex. Cut out a piece of bedroom ceiling, fill the hole with a Velux window and, voila, stars at night and sunlight in the morning.
Nowadays, many luxury suburban homes have triple garages and also contain accommodation for nanny or granny, house-help or ordinary guest. The more you are prepared to spend, the more space you get, but even ordinary suburban homes are spacious as never before. Instead of constructing lofts to be damp repositories of water tanks and wasps' nests, many developers are building them as bedrooms/home offices. Basements are large enough to comfortably accommodate a snooker table and much else. Such purpose- built rooms will be of equal quality to the rest of the house, whereas loft and other conversions in second-hand properties can be dodgy propositions.
Developers have always professed that they allow buyers to make alterations while construction is ongoing, but their attitude is usually begrudging, and the builders generally surly. Cala Homes, however, will now consider combining two flats into one if it is structurally feasible and the owner exchanges contracts at an early stage.
Purpose-built properties, in addition to modern wiring and fixtures, have another advantage over conversions, according to Regalian group managing director Lee Goldstone: "A lot of conversions undertaken 20 years ago do not comply with current building and fire regulations. This might not be a problem unless you intend to do major works, in which case the fire officer can insist that you do certain remedial work."
Energy is another consideration, says Mr Goldstone: "Running costs may not be immediately obvious. Modern buildings have to have an energy rating and comply with various energy-efficiency requirements. Older properties don't have that requirement."
Developers today don't simply build and vanish after the last brick is laid. They provide designers and craftspeople to help furnish and fit out properties, and many luxury apartment blocks have concierges who can order flowers and theatre tickets or make an appointment with a doctor or a dentist. On-premises fitness clubs and business suites may also be part of the package.
Investors and foreign buyers in particular might be tempted by a Regalian policy which offers "a resale service for our buyers so that we would take instructions from someone who wished to sell their property and treat it as if it were Regalian stock being resold," says Mr Goldstone.
If foreign buyers are scarce, local buyers may reap further benefits. FPD Savills recently noted that fewer Asian buyers "means that developers will have to adapt their marketing strategies. Domestic buyers are less likely to buy units "off-plan" so far in advance as their South-East Asian counterparts and this will have cash-flow implications for some schemes." This should mean better terms for buyers.
True, a few home-buyers have purchased shabbily built new properties, and their NHBC guarantee, far from riding to the rescue, has merely deepened their trauma. Some builders build better, and have more integrity, than others. In new homes today, high quality means more than ever before.
Cala: 0121-629 1300; Regalian: 0171- 493 9613; Thirlstone: 01932 350900