Property: That's pounds 125,000 a bedroom ...

Just how much - or how little - does half a million buy you these days?

HALF A million pounds might seem a huge amount of money for a family house, and it is true that only a very small percentage of properties sold in England are at or above this sum. But in London and the Home Counties in particular, pounds 500,000 will not, nowadays, buy you very much.

"You would be hard pushed to find a detached family house with nice gardens or a bit of land for pounds 500,000 in the Home Counties," says Tim Stephens of Humberts' Country House department. "You would have to look at least an hour and a half from London before finding anything decent for that price."

In central London, pounds 500,000 might only buy you a flat - and not a very large one at that. John D Wood is selling a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Kensington Green, W8 with 24-hour security and porterage, for pounds 500,000, and Chestertons Residential currently has a two-bedroom apartment in Vicarage Gate, W8 for pounds 495,000.

John D Wood's Farnham office is selling a much larger property, albeit a bungalow, with a large garden in Lower Bourne, Farnham, Surrey. Coombe Glen has five bedrooms, and is on the market for pounds 500,000. For the same price, you could buy Snayleslynch Farm, which is also close to Farnham. This half-timbered, Grade II-listed cottage overlooking the River Wey has four bedrooms, outbuildings and 2.75 acres (details from Hamptons International).

Hamptons is also selling Foxes, a four-bedroom cottage with two acres, near Dunsfold village, Godalming, Surrey, for offers in the region of pounds 500,000. The rooms are not large, but it is in a very pretty position and has a tennis court and paddock.

The trick of finding something of better value in the Home Counties is to look for a property which is either semi-detached (which brings the price down) or in a less-than-prime position. Humberts, for example, is selling October Cottage, a six-bedroom house with a large garden in Nettleden, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire for pounds 495,000.

"West of the A34 you would expect to achieve a `top address' within a provincial town, usually a 20th-century house with four/five bedrooms, and maybe half an acre," says Gavin West, regional director for Hamptons International.

The further you are from London, the more you will get for your money. Even in the South Hams area of Devon, which is terrifically popular, you should be able to find a farmhouse with a couple of letting cottages, or a lovely house at Dartmouth overlooking the river, for half a million.

However, "once you start going north," says Madeline Marchand of the agent, Marchand & Petit, "your half million will buy you very much more. For that money, you should be able to find a five- or six-bedroom farmhouse with quite a few acres in north Devon."

In Northampton and Lincolnshire, it is possible to buy a nice village house with five to six bedrooms, with a garden up to an acre, for half a million pounds. "Or that sum could get you a four- to five-bedroom house with about four acres of paddocks in a more rural situation," says Quentin Jackson-Stops of Jackson-Stops & Staff.

In the prime areas of North Yorkshire around Leeds and Harrogate, you would find it very difficult to buy a large house with land for under pounds 750,000. "You could buy a five-bedroom house with no more than five or 10 acres for pounds 500,000," says Charles Yeoman of Strutt & Parker.

"North of Ripon, you start seeing more for your money, and once you reach Durham and Northumberland, then you could get quite a lot of property and land for that sum."

Half a million pounds would also buy you a good quality new home within commuting distance of London. Berkeley Homes, for example, have a selection of detached family homes with large, but not huge, gardens for that price in Amersham, Hertfordshire and Mannings Heath, West Sussex.

At the Oaklands development in Amersham, a five-bedroom, four-bathroom and four-reception room house costs pounds 499,000, and at The Fairways in West Sussex, a five-bedroom, four-reception room detached house backing onto Manning Heath golf course is for sale for pounds 495,000.

In Hertfordshire, Mullucks Wells & Associates is selling a smart five- bedroom, four-reception room house, built in period style in the village of Standon, for pounds 499,000.

John D Wood, 0171-493 4106; Chestertons Residential, 0171- 937 7244; Humberts, 0171-629 0909; Hamptons, 01635 582111; Strutt & Parker, 01423 561274; Berkeley Homes, 01494 787200; Berkeley Homes Southern, 01403 211230; Mullucks Wells & Associates, 01279 755400

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