Long-time south London residents have always seen the advantages of living in such districts as Wandsworth and Clapham, with their good stock of houses and green spaces, the difference now is that the "I could never live south of the river" contingent has done an about-turn. Eighteen months ago, Ivor Dickinson of Douglas & Gordon could not get a flicker of interest from Chelsea buyers for flats in Prince of Wales Drive, which runs south of the Thames alongside Battersea Park. The river then, he says, seemed about five miles wide, whereas now it is five yards. "Such buyers consider pounds 350,000 for a very large flat extremely good value. Given that those flats sold for about pounds 250,000-pounds 275,000 two years ago, many of the traditional Battersea buyers can no longer afford to buy there."
The push southwards has been due mostly to the shortage of good-size properties everywhere in London, and it has put particular pressure on Clapham and Wandsworth. But there is also a strong pull factor from the number of independent schools in the area, not least Dulwich to the east and Wimbledon to the west.
Stockwell has been seeing some of the highest increases, as have Kennington and Camberwell - areas with patchy appeal since some of their loveliest roads are architectural oases. The vibrant and newly confident Brixton, is increasingly popular with younger buyers. Sara Graybow from Hamptons International is seeing prices exceed those of the booming Eighties. Yet, despite Brixton's stock of large houses, families are still wary of its old reputation. These are the very kind of houses, in fact, that are in such demand in Wandsworth.
Meanwhile, the Toast Rack, five streets that butt into Wandsworth Common off Trinity Road, have seen particularly high increases. A house in good condition that would have sold 18 months ago for pounds 500,000 would now go for at least pounds 750,000. The ripple effect is carrying displaced buyers towards Balham and Tooting, most notably the Hever Estate. Sara Graybow wonders whether the price increases of 30 per cent that she has been seeing in the past few months can be sustained. In a few cases recently she has seen surveyors downvalue property by up to 10 per cent. "We have just sold a large family house in Merton Park for pounds 100,000 more than the asking price, which was high at the start. Even a nice, three-bedroom terrace house will be seeing increases of 15 per cent."
At the moment, John D Wood has a six-bedroom unmodernised house on the Toast Rack that is causing a stir. It hasn't been on the market for 90 years. At a guide price close to pounds 800,000 it is about to go to sealed bids.