Georgesons Estate AgencyI’m pleased to say that 2017 has been a good one for Caithness and Sutherland and there is great confidence in the air. Sales are reported by the Registers of Scotland to have increased, overall, in the Highland area by 10.3%.

As regards prices, nationally in Scotland, prices increased, overall, by 2.8% with the average price being £143,544

Semi-detached properties led the charge with an increase of 4.2%. Interestingly, detached properties were right down 0.9% but that is, probably, because of the Stamp Duty changes which punish the higher property price brackets. More of that later.

Highland did rather better at 3.5% and our average price is, also, higher at £159,874. Unfortunately, the Registers of Scotland do not sub divide their statistics within Highland so it is not possible to see statistics for localities.

On the pricing front, we are, generally, obtaining a price equal to the asking price which is, usually, based on the Home Report valuation. The surveyor will have built in the price increase and all this indicates a confidence in the market.

The predominant interest, at the moment, in Caithness and Sutherland is from first-time buyers. Happily, in our area, prices are moderate and people are able to buy a decent home the first time around. The second most predominant group of purchasers are folk relocating North to retire or prepare for retiral, and they are, generally, downsizing to rural locations. They are able to sell up down South, buy a home here and still have some funds left over.

One happy change this year is the return of the closing date. We have been able to set a number this year. If you can reach all potential buyers out there, there are benefits as, with a closing date you know that you are getting the maximum price. Buyers have only one chance in this closed bid system – which is a joy for sellers and a nightmare for buyers!

Buy to let purchasers were a big feature at one time but they have died a death, taxed out of existence with a double whammy of tax increases both on stamp duty and income.

As to the future, I read the finance pages and I am seeing nothing that, seriously, worries me. There is the usual economists’ doom and gloom but I have, consistently, ignored that because my experience is that these “experts” have no more insight than the average person. The forecasts have been, consistently, wrong since the crash (and even before). I believe that most people are also of the same opinion and a recent survey by the Bank of Scotland on barriers to moving house confirms that, showing only 15% citing an “uncertain economic outlook”.

As for the tax issue, Stamp Duty (now called Land and Buildings Transaction Tax) seriously bites if you are in the over £380,000 bracket but, happily, for the average price in Highland, it actually offers a saving over the old rate. So, don’t doubt it, there are benefits in living in the North!
As I write this, the Scottish Budget has been announced. Stamp duty for first-time buyers has been abolished but only up to £175,000 whereas, in the rest of the UK, it is £300,000.

As for the future, for the past four years, we have had nothing but good news and, for 2018, my advice to potential sellers and buyers is that all is well and go ahead with your plans!

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Bruce de Wert has over 25 years of experience of Law and Estate Agency and is the Principal Solicitor at Georgesons and a director of Georgesons Estate Agency Ltd.