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How buying and selling property in Scotland differs from England

They may be part of the Union, but the process of buying and selling property in Scotland and England differs markedly. 

It’s not just in terms of the important legal aspects. Many Edinburgh letting agents, with English clients, are very much aware of the differences.

The buying process, for instance, isn’t the same - there is no such thing as gazumping in Scotland - nor is the actual professional you use to guide you through and finalise the transaction: in England it’s usually a conveyancer who sorts out your property purchase, while in Scotland it’s a solicitor. 

We’ll go on to outline those differences and others, in this post:

Legal differences

In Scotland once you’ve bought a house you’ll pay the government a sum of money known as the Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT). 

In England this is referred to as Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT). Both taxes are for the same thing, but Scotland changed SDLT to LBTT in 2012. 

The threshold at which buyers start paying tax differs too. In Scotland it’s if the property is worth more than £145,000. In England it’s lower at £125,000.

How the buying process differs

In Scotland once a potential buyer has seen a property they like and their bid accepted, both he or she and the seller will swap missives (legal bits of paper outlining the transaction taking place). 

At which stage both parties are legally committed to the sale. 

In England an offer is made subject to contract, meaning that nothing is legally binding until the formal contract is signed and exchanged. 

In this way, it’s pretty easy to be ‘gazumped’, ie the property owner decides to sell to another bidder who offers a higher offer. 

Pricing a property

In Scotland it’s an ‘offers over’ system with bidders putting in offers and the highest winning. In the event the house or flat is advertised at a fixed price then the first to offer the amount being asked is usually the victor.

In England the price is very much more negotiable (and usually comes down rather than goes up).

Surveying the property

There are big differences in respect of having the property surveyed. In Scotland the seller produces a Home Report (unless the property is a New Build), which includes a survey on the condition of the property and how much it will make on the open market at the time. 

The survey is used by the prospective buyer provided the surveyor is approved by his or her mortgage provider. 

In England it’s the individual or couple planning to buy who have to pay for the survey (it used to be this way in Scotland too until it was changed back in 2008).

Professional who assists

In Scotland, when buying a property, you will always deal with a solicitor in order to make it legally binding and guide you through the process. 

Sometimes the estate agent will be involved too but not in a formal manner (ie it’s the solicitor who does the ‘official’ buying for you). 

In England you can use a solicitor, but it’s more often than not a conveyancer who does this job. 

He or she is qualified to sign off the paperwork in the same way a Scottish solicitor does.

Jonathan Gordon is the managing director of Clan Gordon Letting Agents, based in Edinburgh. 

Poll: Do you own property in Scotland?

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  • Tom Purcell

    In the buying process, there really isn't much difference between missives being 'concluded' in Scotland and contracts being 'exchanged' in England. In Scotland, if missives haven't been concluded, both parties can change their minds and pull out.

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    Tom is right. There has been an unwelcome move recently to missives not being exchanged promptly and increasingly being exchanged just before the entry date - so no longer a much better system than South of the Border.

     
  • John Gell

    I think one difference is that in Scotland it's possible to conclude missives very quickly if the parties are so minded, whereas contract completion south of the border seems to take a while even if there is agreement in principle between buyer and seller.

    Thus, the dislike in Scotland for any element of conditionality in missives, such as "subject to offer of mortgage finance".

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    Property can be bought quickly south of the boarder, I have agreed a purchase on a monday and completed on the friday before now to beat the competition, solicitors don't like it but sometimes they just have to be told .

     
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