What are the differences between buying and selling property in Scotland and England?
26 September 2023
If you live in England, but are thinking of buying a property in Scotland, you may not know that there are several major differences in the home buying and selling processes between the two countries.
Scotland has a separate legal system from England, and while many things are similar, there are also many differences between the ways that the two systems work, especially when it comes to buying or selling property.
With many buyers in England thinking about relocating north of the border, it's important to understand how the buying and selling process differs in Scotland versus England, and to know what the process of what buying a home in Scotland is like.
Read on to find out the differences between buying a home in Scotland and England.
Preparing to sell a property in Scotland versus England
Selling a property in Scotland is a more in-depth process than in England. Selling a home in Scotland means that, as the seller, you take more responsibility and the financial burden for listing your home for sale. Sellers will first engage a solicitor estate agent, who handles both the marketing and conveyancing of the property. The solicitor estate agent will commence work on the marketing of the property, arranging the photography, video tour, online listing and property brochure (also known as a property schedule).
They will also commission a document called a Home Report, which is a legal requirement in Scotland – properties cannot be listed for sale without a Home Report. The Home Report is paid for by the seller and is made available to all interested buyers. The Home Report includes a property survey, an energy efficiency certificate and a detailed homeowner’s questionnaire, plus an estimated property valuation, so that buyers can find out lots of information about the property before they commit to it.
Selling a property in Scotland is very different to selling a property in England, where sellers engage an estate agent who works on the marketing of the property, and will appoint a separate solicitor at a later date, when they have accepted an offer on their home. The only legal requirement of a seller in England is to order an EPC certificate for their home, which confirms the energy efficiency of the property.
In England, if a buyer wants to know more in-depth information about the condition of a property, they can generally order a survey after their offer has been accepted. This means that a buyer may find out concerning information about the property's condition only after having their offer accepted and paying for the survey, after which time they will need to decide whether to proceed with the purchase. However, many buyers opt to rely instead on the basic inspection that comes with their mortgage valuation report, to keep costs low.
Marketing a property in Scotland versus England
If you're selling a home in Scotland, you would generally use a solicitor estate agent to sell your home – this means that the marketing and conveyancing is handled under one roof, which is generally quicker and more effective than in England, where sellers appoint separate estate agents and solicitors to handle different parts of the process.
If you're selling a home in England, properties are placed on the market with a negotiable asking price. Sometimes this is listed as a price bracket that the seller finds acceptable, or a specific price, but it’s very common for prices to be negotiated between buyer and seller prior to agreeing, and buyers may frequently pay less than the listed price.
Homes for sale in Scotland are generally placed on the market with either a fixed asking price, or an ‘offers over’ asking price, where it’s expected that the home will sell for anything up to 20% (and sometimes more) above this price, depending on the market.
How do you make an offer on a property in Scotland versus England?
The way that buyers make offers on a property is very different in Scotland in comparison to England.
If you're buying a property in England, buyers make their offer directly to the estate agent, or even to the owner in some cases, and agree the price and any terms of the sale upfront.
Making an offer on a property in Scotland works in a different way. Buyers must appoint a Scottish solicitor in order to make an offer. Once a solicitor has been appointed, the buyer can choose to note their interest in the property, which means that they will be kept informed about any other offers or interested parties, or if a closing date has been set.
Alternatively, buyers can make an offer without noting interest, but this will be made via their solicitor, who submits a formal written offer to the seller’s agent.
Closing dates are more common when buying a property in Scotland, although 'best and final' bids are becoming more frequently used in England too.
A closing date is when all interested parties must submit a formal offer to the selling solicitor, along with proposed timescales and any other information they want to share, such as their buying position. The seller will then choose their preferred buyer – this may not always be the person who bid the most money. Following this, the seller’s solicitor issues a qualified acceptance letter, making the sale more secure.
‘Gazumping’, a familiar threat to those buying a home in England (when a person offers more money than the accepted bid, sometimes throwing the agreed sale into jeopardy) is less common when buying a home in Scotland, as when an offer is formally accepted on a property, it is taken off the market.
Paying stamp duty in Scotland versus England
Property tax applies in Scotland and England, however, they are different in nature and calculated differently depending on where you are buying a home.
In England, stamp duty (Stamp Duty Land Tax, or SDLT) applies to properties priced at £125,000 and above, and increases proportionately to the value of the property, with different price bands in place.
In Scotland, SDLT was replaced in April 2015 with LBTT (Land and Buildings Transaction Tax), which applies to residential and commercial property purchases. LBTT is designed so that the charge is proportionate to the price of the property, with different percentage rates for each price band. Properties priced at £145,000 and under are exempt from LBTT payments, but for first-time buyers, this is increased to £175,000.
If you are buying a second home in Scotland, an Additional Dwelling Supplement may apply on top of LBTT.
What is the conveyancing process in Scotland versus England?
The conveyancing process in England is generally seen to be more stressful than its Scottish counterpart, mostly because it takes much longer for the agreed sale to be legally binding. In England, the exchange of contracts that makes a sale legally binding happens much closer to the completion of the sale, in most cases a week or two before the moving date. Until contracts are exchanged, either party can withdraw from the sale without penalty – this means it’s not unheard of for whole property chains to fall through close to the sale date, meaning the process can often be fraught with worry.
Buying in Scotland is very different, as instead of exchanging a single contract, solicitors will exchange a series of formal letters, known as ‘missives’. When the missives are concluded, the sale becomes legally binding. Generally this happens much sooner in the sales process, after which time the solicitor will finalise the legal work of transferring the property deeds to the new owner. After missives have concluded, the seller is legally bound to transfer ownership to the buyer – if they pull out, the buyer can claim damages, making this a very rare occurrence.
What happens if you’re selling in England and buying in Scotland, or vice-versa?
If you’re selling a property in Scotland and buying a property in England, you will probably find the move to be less challenging than for someone making the reverse journey. Once missives have been concluded on the property for sale in Scotland, the binding contract allows you to move forward and complete the purchase of the property in England.
However, it isn’t possible to sell in England and buy a home in Scotland in one process. This is because the exchange of contracts doesn’t happen until close to completion of sale, meaning that buyers won’t be able to move on with the purchase of the Scottish property until very late in the process. If anyone in the chain of sale is unable to complete, this would affect the process and require a short-notice change of plans.
Something to be aware of, particularly if you are buying a flat in England, is the prevalence of leasehold properties instead of freehold. With freehold properties, you own the property and the land it sits on, but with leasehold, you own the property for a fixed period of time, but not the land it is built on. This often means an obligation to pay a ground rent or annual fees to the person who owns the freehold, and sometimes a fee to extend the lease if it is approaching 80 years left to run, which can be complicated and expensive. Lenders will often not loan for properties where the lease has less than 80 years, so this is something to watch out for. In Scotland, flats are more likely to be sold on a 'commonhold' basis, which means that each flat owner owns their freehold, and the 'common areas' (stairwells, entryways etc.) are looked after by a factor, a company to which each flat owner pays a fee for maintenance.
When buying a home in Scotland or England, if you are selling in the other at the same time, it is also worth noting that you would need to engage the services of two solicitors to complete your property purchases: one familiar with English property law, and one with Scottish property law.
Find out more
If you're interested in finding out more about buying a home in Scotland or selling a property in Scotland, speak to one of our friendly solicitor estate agents.