Overseas: Manhattan transfer

The dollar's worth 50p, and US mortgage lenders are in trouble – is this the perfect time to snap up prime real estate? Laura Latham goes shopping in America's most wanted cities
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The dollar is at its lowest level against the pound for more than a decade, and rising interest rates in the US, combined with lax lending, has led to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, leaving the property market in crisis. There's never been a better time to buy there.

According to John Hickman of currency specialist Caxton FX, there has been unprecedented interest from Europeans in the US market. "America is very much a good investment now. The dollar is at a low and though property prices have fallen, there's scope for them to drop a little more."

Camilla Mabbott, of estate agent Aylesford, agrees that anyone considering buying in the US would "be mad not to right now". The company has several swanky properties on its books in Miami and Manhattan, both of which are perennially popular.

The Setai is one example of the kind of place anyone who ever dreamt of living in NYC would love. Sleek, chic and right on Broad Street, in the financial district, the building offers apartments designed to the highest spec. With a starting price of £320,000 for a studio, the Setai is less than a similarly stylish, well-located apartment would now cost in central London or Paris. "The Setai is the ideal pied-à-terre," says Mabbott, "it's very contemporary, very cool."

If you want to go cheaper, local agencies such as Manhattan Apartments have attractive studios or one-beds in the midtown starting from £200,000, or an apartment with views of the Chrysler Building for under £300,000. Alternatively, the Jade building, by the developer YOO, has apartments designed by Jade Jagger from £225,000.

According to Brigitte Hunt of Bridgemon International, Miami entices a chic, cosmopolitan crowd and is a very good market for overseas investors: "A lot of people are in trouble and there are bargains to be found." Hunt says that it isn't necessarily about buying cheap; rather it's about buying well – something in a high-end location in a good building that would normally be out of reach.

Top-end buyers will need to stump up at least £600,000 for an apartment in the Trump building, for sale via Bridgemon. And Ritz-Carlton's redeveloped Rat Pack hangout, The Seville on South Beach, is for sale through Aylesford from £550,000. But cheaper options can be found. "There's a lot of property coming on to the market," says Hunt, "prices have dropped by 25 per cent in the past few months."

Dropping prices aren't as much of an issue in San Francisco, which has always been a hot spot. But if you want to buy here the exchange rate will secure you a better price than usual, according to agent Heidi Mueller. "San Francisco is an area that people love to live in," she says, "it's not somewhere pure investors buy, so the market is very different to Miami or Las Vegas, and the exposure isn't as bad."

Good locations include North Beach, around Fisherman's Wharf. "It's very traditional with great restaurants and older-style properties costing from around £350,000," she says. South Beach, meanwhile, is a new urban centre with contemporary high-rises. "It's currently the most trendy area. There are fabulous apartment blocks with quality one or two-bedroom units starting from £350,000."

The quaint, Victorian-style houses on San Francisco's steep streets go for around £500,000. If you have your heart set on the sought-after Pacific Heights, be prepared to pay from around £600,000. This seems pricey, but there's now a brief window of opportunity to buy well in one of the most exciting cities in America. Mueller echoes her fellow agents on buying now in the US: "You can't go wrong."

www.aylesford.com, 020-7351 2383 www.manhattanapts.com, 001 212 378 2360 wwwbridgemon.com www.sfrelo.com, 001 415 722 2076www.yoo.com, 020-7009 0100 www.caxtonfx.com, 0845 658 2223

Buyer's guide
* Because downtown Manhattan is a regeneration area, there are no taxes on new-builds for 10 years.
* If buying into a serviced building, bear in mind that maintenance and management charges can be high – rising insurance premiums have pushed up overall fees.
* You may own in the States, but you won't be able to visit your property for more than six months a year – and you need a visa to stay that long.
* The market is predicted to bottom out around March next year and the dollar may well start to rise again around then.

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