Property: Home Truths

No Scots gazumpers

A friend has told me that it s not possible to be gazumped in Scotland. Is this true?

HK, Kingston-on-Thames

Absolutely. In Scotland, as soon as the buyer's offer to purchase the property is accepted, a written binding contract is formed by the agents acting for the seller. This means that the buyer cannot back out of the purchase and it stops the seller accepting a higher offer without breaking the contract.

Divorce query

I have been divorced for nearly two years, during which time I have not lived in the house with my wife and children. I have recently received two letters from our mortgage lender requesting payments of arrears and also a proposal for future payments. This must be a mistake, as the divorce courts decided that the house should be transferred to my ex-wife's name. What should I do?

DE, Manchester

Although the court decided that the house should be transferred into your ex-wife's name, this does not automatically mean that the mortgage was also transferred. The courts cannot force a lender to transfer a mortgage from joint names to a sole name. However, if your lender agreed to transfer the mortgage to your former wife's sole name then you should contact it as it has made a mistake and is wrong to ask you for your proposals.

Often when the courts state that a family home should be transferred into the sole name, the lender is unwilling to do so because it feels the mortgage is not affordable on one income. In these cases, only the property is transferred into the sole name but both the husband and wife remain responsible for the mortgage payments. (This is known as beneficial transfer.) In this case, your lender is right to contact you regarding the arrears as both you and your former wife are still jointly liable for the mortgage payments. It is important you find out whether both the house and mortgage were transferred into your ex-wife's name or just the house before you take any further action. Your solicitor should be able to help you.

Selling privately

I want to sell my home, and thought I might try to sell it myself without using an estate agent. Can you give me some advice and are there any laws I need to consider?

JR, Shrewsbury

There is no legal obligation to use an estate agent when selling a property but you will need to carry out the necessary research. There are restrictions on what you can say about a property. You must comply with the rules laid out in the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, which means that your description of the property should be straightforward and factual.

If you want to put up a "for sale" sign outside your house, you need to make sure that it does not break the law as it is subject to size restrictions.

q George Wise is managing director of NatWest UK Mortgage Services.

q Send your queries on practical property issues to: Home Truths, `Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171 293 2043; e- mail Home Truths is not a substitute for professional advice. Readers are urged to take appropriate legal and tax advice.