North of the border

Why go to Spain for a second home when there's a cheap and beautiful alternative on your doorstep? Ben West discovers a booming holiday cottage industry in Scotland
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ore people than ever own or plan to own a second home, yet there is one prime property location that is almost always overlooked. It boasts stunning, unspoilt scenery, low prices and easy access. So where is this largely untapped destination? Rural Scotland, which for years has escaped the rampant price inflation witnessed elsewhere in Britain.

ore people than ever own or plan to own a second home, yet there is one prime property location that is almost always overlooked. It boasts stunning, unspoilt scenery, low prices and easy access. So where is this largely untapped destination? Rural Scotland, which for years has escaped the rampant price inflation witnessed elsewhere in Britain.

There are high speed train links (London-Glasgow/Edinburgh typically takes about four hours) and inexpensive hour-long flights from bargain airlines flying from numerous UK cities to Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh. The roads, too, are generally good.

Prices plunge when you cross the border. "We have found a much slower start to 2005 than 2004. There has been little, if any, increase in prices since autumn and this is likely to continue," says Caroline Vickers of Smiths Gore. "That said," she continues, "the price of property right near the border has been catching up with England. It's when you hit Dumfries that prices start decreasing significantly."

Just over the border at Kirkpatrick Fleming in Dumfriesshire, Smiths Gore (01228 546400; www.smithsgore.co.uk) offers Rosemount, a well-proportioned six-bedroom country property in immaculate order. It has several elegant reception rooms, and stands in spacious grounds with large lawned areas and a former coach house and stable block that could be, subject to the necessary consents, converted into holiday accommodation to realise extra income.

The £450,000 guide price certainly seems modest when you consider that this money would currently buy, for example, a one-bedroom "penthouse" apartment at the One SE8 development in Deptford, south London.

Venture further north to the Scottish highlands and islands, and prices tumble even further. Highland hot spots include almost anything rural and traditional within a 20-mile radius of Inverness, and sales are consistently strong around Beauly, Nairn and the west coast. Cottages in good condition, surrounded by unspoilt countryside, can go for less than £80,000.

The rugged, unspoilt county of Sutherland, north of Inverness, with its dramatic scenery and rugged coastline, is a good source of quality, inexpensive Highland property. Offers over £55,000 are being asked by CKD Galbraith (01463 224343; www.ckdgalbraith.co.uk) for Tuiteam at Rosehall in Sutherland, for example. Currently made up of two semi-detached former rural farm workers' cottages, this purchase has the potential to be converted into a lovely home. It's set within spacious grounds 12 miles from Lairg, with views over the River Oykel and hills beyond.

"We find 40 per cent of our buyers come from south of the border," says Martin Long of Bell Ingram. "They are tempted by the quality of life. There's tremendous value for money here. You can sell your Victorian semi for £300,000-plus in the South and buy something quite substantial here with no or a very little mortgage.

"It's been helped by the huge growth of regional airports and cheap airlines," he continues. "I can jump on a train to London from Perth and it takes just six hours and costs from £28 return."

Offers over £70,000 are invited for the Mill House at Rogart in Sutherland, about 10 miles from the holiday resort of Dornoch. This three-bedroom former weaving mill, built in about 1890, still features some of the original mill workings and is on the books of CKD Galbraith at Inverness.

Many owners of second homes are keen to generate income from holiday lets, and in Scotland this can be easily achieved. Holiday-makers are generally happy to pay a certain amount per week to rent a home, typically between £400 and £800, irrespective of area. You'll benefit financially far more from holiday-let rental income, of course, if your cottage cost £75,000 in Scotland rather than £300,000, as it could well do in, say, the Cotswolds.

One of the biggest concentrations of buyers of properties for holiday lets is around Lochgilphead in Argyll. The pretty lochside village of Tayvallich is particularly popular with the sailing fraternity, and Crinan, boasting a small and picturesque harbour and canal, is another sought-after area.

Savills' Edinburgh office (0131-247 3711; www.savills.co.uk) currently offers Inverlussa House at Loch Sween near Lochgilphead. With a guide price in excess of £595,000, this immaculate property has six bedrooms, four reception rooms and lovely gardens.

English buyers beware

Prospective buyers of Scottish property should be aware of several important points, not least that the purchase and conveyancing system is very different from elsewhere in the UK.

If you wish to buy a property in Scotland, you make a formal offer and often there is a closing date at which time interested parties are invited to put forward sealed bids.

This often results in you typically paying 10 to 20 per cent more than the asking price (and as much as 40 per cent more in a bullish market), although you are unlikely to be gazumped.

Yet you may have to pay for a surveyor without knowing whether your offer will be acceptable to the vendor.

If your offer is acceptable, however, the purchase can be completed relatively speedily.

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