A guide to buying a house or flat in Scotland

Looking to buy your next home in Scotland and unsure about the process? Coronavirus COVID-19 has meant that some aspects of buying property in Scotland have changed. You can find the latest advice and guidance for property buyers and sellers during the Coronavirus pandemic on ESPC.

To help you find your next home in the current climate, below we look at what is involved in the property buying procedure and commonly asked questions about the buying process in Scotland. Plus, we explain how ESPC can help you find your new house or flat first.

ESPC agents cover areas across the south of Scotland, including Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife, the Scottish Borders, central and west of Scotland, and Dumfries and Galloway. So, whether you would like to buy a property in Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dunfermline, one of our expert solicitor estate agents can help.

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What is the process of buying a house in Scotland?

Aspects of the property buying process in Scotland are different to before COVID-19. We provide a step-by-step guide to buying a house in Scotland below.

1. Find a solicitor to represent you

Did you know that you need a solicitor to buy a property in Scotland? All ESPC agents are solicitor estate agents so they can take care of the buying process for you and will also be able to help with selling your property if you are selling a home in Scotland.

ESPC solicitor estate agents are duty bound to offer the best possibly service to you and work to stay up-to-date with the latest guidance and legislation on buying a house in Scotland. Plus, in their moving home during COVID-19 guidance, the Scottish Government advised that anyone thinking of buying or selling a property should speak to a solicitor at an early stage.

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2. Work out your budget

Whether you’re moving home or buying for the first time, you’ll need to work out what your budget is for a new home. You may wish to get independent mortgage advice to work out your mortgage options for your next home.

For those who already own a property, it’s worth getting a free property valuation from an agent as that will help to give you an idea of what your home is likely to sell for, and therefore inform how much you can spend on a new home.

When considering the financial side of things, make sure to factor in other costs such as removals and Land and Building Transaction Tax, which you can find more about below.

3. Search houses and flats for sale

Once you have a budget in mind, it’s time to find the right home. Use ESPC’s explore areas tool to find areas that may work for you. Once you know the area or areas that you’re interested in, write a list of requirements you have for a property and work out which ones are must-haves and those you could live without.

Now you have a clearer idea of what you’re looking for, sign up to My ESPC to register your requirements and get email notifications of properties that suit your needs as soon as they come to market.

4. View properties

Once you’ve identified some houses or flats that you like the look of, you will likely want to view them to see if they are right for you.

Due to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government has advised that viewings should be done virtually first if possible and you should only view the property in person if you have a strong interest in purchasing it. Open viewings are also not permitted right now and so all viewings must be done by appointment.

The selling agent will be able to send over details of virtual viewings if they are able to offer them for that property. If there are no virtual viewings available, you should make use of the photos, property description and Home Report.

If you decide to proceed with a physical viewing, the agent will be able to advise you on the process for this and the necessary health and safety precautions that will be taken due to Coronavirus COVID-19. Find out more about viewing a property safely during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

5. Submit a note of interest and make an offer

Once you’ve decided you like a property enough to make an offer, you should alert your solicitor so they can submit a note of interest in the property. This doesn't commit you to anything but does register your formal interest in the property. If more than one note of interest has been made, the seller may choose to set a closing date – all offers must be in by then. However, a seller isn't obliged to set a closing date and can accept any offer at any time.

Your solicitor will be crucial at this stage – their expertise in the local market will allow them to advise you on how much to offer.

6. Finalise your mortgage

Once you’ve made an offer and it has been accepted, you now need to get your mortgage approved. If you’ve already got an agreement in principle, this stage should be a bit easier. You need to work out exactly how much you need to borrow and how much of a deposit you can put down. An independent mortgage adviser can help you with this.

7. Conclude the missives

After you’ve had an offer accepted, the conveyancing process will begin. If your offer is verbally accepted, your solicitor will discuss the acceptance with you and negotiate on your behalf with the seller’s solicitor.

The offer, acceptance and any subsequent letters, which are intended to be part of a legal contract, are known as the “missives”. When the final acceptance letter is issued, missives are said to be “concluded” meaning the purchaser and seller have entered into a legally binding contract and cannot withdraw from it without penalty.

Your solicitor will advise you when the missives are concluded and send you a copy of the full contract.

8. Move home

Your moving date or date of entry will be agreed in advance. This is also the date that the transaction will be settled. The purchase price is paid to the seller’s solicitor in exchange for the disposition (the legal document that will transfer ownership of the property from seller to purchaser), title deeds, other documentation and the keys to the property.

Your solicitor will calculate the balance required for settlement, including any Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and fees due. You will be asked to transfer the funds to your solicitor, and they will speak to your mortgage lender to arrange for the funds to be transferred in advance.

Once you’ve moved in, if there are any issues with the property, then you have five working days to notify your solicitor.

And once that’s all done, it’s time to celebrate your new home! 

The Scottish Government has advised that buyers and sellers should be prepared to be flexible on the date of entry in case either party involved in a house move display symptoms of or test positive for COVID-19 and has to self-isolate.

Commonly asked questions about buying a property in Scotland

What are the differences between buying a house in Scotland and England?

While there are many similarities between the process of buying a house in Scotland, there are a few differences. A key one to highlight is that, in Scotland, a solicitor submits offers on your behalf. In England, conveyancers are not generally involved until the price is agreed.

There are other differences, including that most properties for sale will also be legally required to produce a Home Report in Scotland. Property tax is also different in Scotland, with LBTT replacing Stamp Duty in 2015.

To find out more about the differences between the processes, it’s worth speaking to a solicitor. ESPC agents are experts in the Scottish property buying process so can help advise you on the differences.

What is LBTT and how much will it cost me?

Land and Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) is a property tax in Scotland. It replaced Stamp Duty from 1st April 2015

How much property tax you’ll be required to pay in Scotland depends on the value of the home, whether you’re a first time buyer (first time buyers benefit from tax relief up to £175,000) and if you are purchasing the house or flat as a second home or buy-to-let (an Additional Dwelling Supplement of 4% applies to most second homes).

Use our LBTT calculator or speak to an ESPC agent to find out how much Scottish property tax is likely to cost you for your next house purchase.

What does “offers over" mean?

Many properties in Scotland are advertised as “offers over". This means the seller is looking to receive an offer over the asking price set. Knowing how much to offer for a property priced like this can be tricky. Your solicitor will be able to assist with this by looking at how much other homes have been sold for and offering their expertise and insight.

Some properties are also set as “fixed price" which generally mean the first clean offer of the asking price will be successful, although this isn't always the case. However, you may still be able to negotiate and offer under the asking price – your solicitor can help you more in this regard.

“Offers over" and “fixed price" are generally the most common pricing terms, but you may also come across “offers around", “offer in the region of" and “guide price" amongst others.

How long does it take to buy a house or flat?

The exact time it takes to buy a home is dependent on how long it takes you to find the right property and get an offer accepted, among other factors. 

Before COVID-19, the standard time it took was around eight weeks. However, the process may take longer than usual at present due to Coronavirus as mortgage lenders are receiving high volumes of applications and solicitors are processing a high number of transactions, partially due to the pent-up demand as a result of lockdown restrictions.

How much deposit do I need to buy a house in Scotland?

Prior to COVID-19, many lenders offered 95% mortgages so buyers only needed a 5% deposit to purchase a property. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many lenders have raised their minimum deposit amount to 15%.

Some lenders do offer 10% deposit mortgages currently but there are often quite strict criteria that the borrower needs to meet. There are also some schemes that can boost your deposit. It is worth seeking independent mortgage advice to discuss your options and get a mortgage deal that’s right for you.

Can I pull out of a property purchase in Scotland?

An offer isn’t legally binding until the missives have been concluded. If you wish to withdraw your offer before this point, you should alert your solicitor and seek their advice.

Once missives have been concluded, neither seller or buyer can withdraw without facing penalties.

Has Coronavirus COVID-19 impacted the process of buying a house in Scotland?

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted certain aspects of the property buying process in Scotland, including house and flat viewings. Your solicitor estate agent can advise you on these changes and you can find the latest guidance on buying a house in Scotland during COVID-19 on ESPC.

Find homes first with ESPC

Trying to find the right home can be tricky. As the home of property, ESPC is here to make the process of buying your next home easier, by helping you finding the right property first, Here's how we can help.

  1. Sign up to My ESPC to receive property alerts straight to your email inbox. My ESPC allows you to save a search with all of your filters and requirements and you can get email notifications of homes that match what you’re looking for. You can also watchlist properties and be alerted if any of your favourite properties are updated, have a price change, have a closing date set or come back to the market. 
  2. Beat the crowds with ESPC exclusive. Each week, we advertise hundreds of properties 72 hours before any other property website, which helps you to find your dream home first.
  3. Easily find out all the information you need about a house or flat. We ensure that the properties advertised on our website contain all the useful information you want to know before viewing a home, including council tax band and school catchment (you can even search by school catchment area). You can also download Home Reports immediately to find out detailed information about a property as soon as possible. And many of our property listings also have virtual viewings available so you can view a property from the comfort of your own home. 

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Advice and tips on buying a property in Scotland

Staying safe during house viewings - a guide for property buyers and sellers

Some restrictions on Scottish house moves were relaxed 29th June which means physical property viewings can now go ahead. This article offers advice about how to stay safe during property viewings.

Coronavirus COVID-19: Advice for property buyers and sellers in Scotland

We've provided some advice for property buyers, sellers, homeowners, landlords and tenants during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the UK.

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The initial consultation with an adviser is free and without obligation. Thereafter, ESPC Mortgages charges for mortgage advice are usually £350 (£295 for first time buyers). YOUR HOME MAY BE REPOSSESSED IF YOU DO NOT KEEP UP REPAYMENTS ON A MORTGAGE OR OTHER LOANS SECURED AGAINST IT.

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