Hot Spot: Stratford, East London

East End values with a West End flavour
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The Independent Online

Stratford in east London is a Dorian Gray sort of place. Substantial facelifts have been salutary, but the deeper wrinkles in this stubbornly downmarket area will be harder to shift.

Stratford's persistent sleaze, however, is responsible for relatively moderate property prices in an area destined for further improvements. The makeover will be genuine and lasting, not illusory or temporary.

"Last year, prices went through the roof and were unbelievable, comparable to the West End," according to Sheikh Ahmed of letting and management agency Property Mart. "Stratford doesn't have that much to offer to justify prices continuing to rise. But I don't think they can go much higher."

Stratford had not received the kind of top-to-toe regeneration of, say, the Isle of Dogs. "Property development has been occurring in pockets, and they have brought people from other parts of London and outside the city into Stratford," says Mr Ahmed, who has worked in Stratford for 10 years and lived in the area for 20. "The developments have attracted a better calibre of people. There was a lot of poverty and unemployment here. There still is, but a bit less."

"Stratford is up and coming if you can afford it. Newly refurbished and new-build properties here are extremely expensive for the area and out of reach for the locals. Most people live in poor quality housing both in the private and public sectors," Mr Ahmed notes.

With its outstanding transportation links, Stratford has finally started to attract City professionals, many of whom are on short-term contracts and prefer to let a property rather than buy. "They want flats which are close to the tube station or with easy access to buses to the tube," explains Mr Ahmed. "Buyers from outside the area were buying mostly for investments, but this trend has stabilised."

"Big retailers were leaving Stratford in droves and now they are returning," according to another veteran area estate agent, Mark Odams of Upsdales, who says that 12 years ago you couldn't give away property. "Now it is attracting both occupiers and investors. Rail links are excellent, and shopping and entertainment centres have had a major regeneration."

Even with last year's price spurt, Stratford still looks very attractive to first time buyers. "We are getting first-timers from areas where their £150,000 would buy a small flat and here they can buy a three-bedroom freehold house," says Mr Odams.

"Prices are starting to level off, and I see a stabilising, a return to normality over the next six months," predicts Mr Odams, who is well aware of the risks inherent in soothsaying. "None of us would have predicted what happened with prices in the first half of last year. People were paying silly money. Now I foresee a steady upward movement, maybe five per cent annually," he says.