We'll do it our way

Owning a country house in Scotland is an attractive prospect, but be prepared for a different selling process. The buyer decides on a price, gazumping is rare and, strangest of all, there is no chain. Dorothy Walker explains the basics
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The Independent Online

Nearly half of Scotland's most desirable country houses are being sold to buyers from England. But even returning Scots find the house-buying process North of the Border has puzzling differences from the English way of doing things. The buyer has some expensive decisions to make and it can be a white-knuckle ride.

Nearly half of Scotland's most desirable country houses are being sold to buyers from England. But even returning Scots find the house-buying process North of the Border has puzzling differences from the English way of doing things. The buyer has some expensive decisions to make and it can be a white-knuckle ride.

Asking prices in Scotland - usually called the "offers over" price - are set about 10-20 per cent below the valuation, which is the price the agent thinks will eventually be achieved for the house. The asking price may even be 25 per cent below valuation to attract buyers' interest.

"The absolute best thing about the Scottish selling system for buyers and sellers is that there are no chains," says Jamie Macnab, of FPDSavills, Edinburgh, whose firm sells about 40 per cent of its Scottish country houses to English-based buyers. "When a buyer coming from the South rings up and says, I don't understand your system, the first thing we say is, you must appoint a Scottish lawyer to make an offer on your behalf."

Before making that offer, the would-be buyer is expected to pay for a survey and arrange the mortgage finance. Jamie Macnab says: "The offer will be absolutely binding. An offer subject to the sale of your own house will not be considered, so that precludes chains."

A closing date is usually set for offers. Jamie Macnab says: "We do not set a closing date for our own perverted pleasure. We do it only to separate two buyers. We say you have one chance to put in your best offer and we will make our decision at 12 noon on Friday. It is very fair."

Martin Long, of Bell Ingram, Perth, says: "The advantage of the Scottish system is that once a house goes under offer it is relatively rare for it to fall through. You do have a contract once the offer has been accepted. It is a conditional contract, therefore, there are all sorts of loopholes that you can wriggle out of, but it is a much more firmed-up process than down South.

"To the uninitiated it is all shrouded in mystery, closing dates and offers, all very secretive. At closing date we look for a clean offer, where the house has been surveyed and the finance has been fixed, so there is quite a lot of work to do prior to making an offer. That is why purchasers don't like it. It is opposite of down South, where the system is stacked in favour of the purchaser."

In the Borders, which have a particular appeal for both English and Edinburgh-based house hunters, the split between buyers is about 50/50. James Denne, of Knight Frank's Lauder office, says: "There is a certain mythical aura around the Scottish system and the bit that fazes most people is trying to decide how much they feel the house is worth.

"The amount people offer has to be the most they feel that property is worth to them. If they miss out, they know they could not have gone any further."

A buyer who is determined to purchase a house can make a pre-emptive bid, possibly 20 per cent above the valuation, and many agents would recommend the seller to take such an offer without setting a closing date.

And how are Scottish country houses valued? Martin Long says: "If I am having difficulty, I will mentally pick it up and plonk it down in Hampshire, value it there, and then divide by two. It's a very rough rule of thumb, but it does work."

BUYING GUIDE FOR ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND

Under the English system, a guide price is agreed by the vendor and agent. Buyers make an offer, which is subject to a satisfactory survey of the house. There is no closing date for offers and the house may be left on the market for some time.

After an offer has been accepted, the process goes to exchange, usually with a 10 per cent deposit. Money is handed over - four to six weeks after exchange - on completion.

In Scotland, there is commonly an "offers over" price. Buyers have to decide what the house is worth and make a sealed bid via a Scottish solicitor by the closing date for offers. Traditionally, the bid has not been subject to survey, although there may be other conditions. Following negotiation between solicitors for both sides, the bargain goes to conclusion of missives, typically in four weeks. At date of entry the money is handed over.

Nine is the magic number

The House of Craigie in Ayrshire illustrates perfectly how pricing works when it comes to marketing in Scotland.

"We do a pretty good Georgian period houses in Scotland, says John Coleman, of agents Knight Frank in Edinburgh. "When they do come up, they are very popular." He is enthusiastic about House of Craigie - "a charming house, our equivalent of an English rectory" - which is seeking offers over £650,000. Set in rolling countryside four miles south of Kilmarnock, protected by seven acres of woods, gardens and paddocks, Craigie has been a comfortable family home for 250 years.

Today this seven-bedroom former manse, with its swimming pool and tennis court, is typical of the houses that attract buyers from the prosperous financial centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as from England.

Coleman says: "I would expect that at closing date we will get offers beginning with an eight. Each year in the whole of Scotland, we get as many decent country houses coming on the market as in, say, the southern half of West Sussex. That is why we have caught up pricewise so much recently - supply is outstripped by demand.

"If somebody wanted to take House of Craigie off the market now, we wouldn't consider anything less than something beginning with a nine." Knight Frank: 0131 225 8171.

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