Category Archives: Property Law and Estate Agency

Caithness and Sutherland Property – what happened in 2016 and the prospects for 2017.

Bruce de Wert

Bruce de Wert

Let us start with Brexit. I am very happy to report that, despite the doomsayers, the public shrugged it off!

We were delighted to find that nobody in the buying and selling market saw it as an issue. And this despite the politicians getting into (and continuing in) a lather.

Indeed, following upon the usual summer holiday lull, the market took off again and we have seen no diminution in interest in buying and selling, since.

Our own statistics indicate that sales remained steady despite the fact that Buy to Let sales dropped off a cliff following the Scottish Government imposing a 3% tax on top of the normal Stamp Duty for anyone buying a second home.

The objective was to discourage landlords from buying property and to encourage first-time buyers. It has certainly succeeded in discouraging landlords but it has failed, in this area anyway, in encouraging first-time buyers. Prices in Caithness and Sutherland are low and first-time buyers ignore the typical letting property and buy something bigger!

Having said that, generally, the lower price brackets have done well. In the early part of 2016, there was not much selling over £150,000 but, more recently, a good number of the higher priced properties have sold, as have some properties which had been “stuck” since the crash. Very welcome news!

Whilst the North ploughs its own housing furrow and national statistics should be treated with caution, RICS, the Surveyors body, in their latest report issued this month, indicate that there have been “small increases in new buyer enquiries” and that they anticipate “a gradual rise in activity over the months to come”.
Gail Hunter, director of RICS in Scotland said: – “In Scotland, prices looks set to remain firm in part caused by the lack of stock across the country”.

There is some opinion to the contrary. Talking about the whole UK market, the Halifax in October indicated that “Optimism in the housing market has taken a fall in recent months, with many people now expecting a general slowdown in the market and no, or little, change in house prices over the coming year. This sentiment is consistent with recent findings from the Halifax House Price Index which show that prices are still growing, but to a lesser extent.”

All I can say is that there is no sign of a slowdown here with continued activity right up to Xmas.

In Highland, the Registers of Scotland report that values started this year with an average price of £148,265 which, by October, had risen to £155,163.
Registers of Scotland’s director of commercial services, Kenny Crawford said: “The average price of a residential property in Scotland continues to show steady growth, with month-on-month increases in every month this year apart from February and August. This is a significant change from last year when there were decreases month-on-month in six out of the 12 months. Average prices have been steadily increasing on a year-on-year basis, too, with only one drop in average price being recorded in the past three years.”

It is always worthwhile to look at long-term trends. Sheenagh Adams, Keeper of the Registers of Scotland recently said: – “It’s been a mixed decade in the Scottish property market. Over the 10 years between 2006 and 2016, prices rose by nearly 20 per cent, whilst the volume of sales fell by a third, dominated by the dramatic fall in 2008.”

I remember, in late 2011, reporting to you that prices in Scotland since the crash had fallen by 16% and, in the North, rather more. As a result, my advice to potential sellers was stark – do not sell!

Happily, the picture has changed entirely.

We, in the North, tend not to be affected by the peaks and troughs that occur further South. We are not immune (as was seen in 2008) but, generally, the market here has its own pace and is, currently, on an upward trend.

If there is going to be the much heralded but yet unseen negative effect of Brexit (of which I have considerable doubts), I suspect that it will be some time away.

Certainly, for the past three years, we have had nothing but good news and, for 2017, my advice to potential sellers and buyers in Caithness and Sutherland is – go for it!

Anyone who would like to comment on this article or for this column to touch on any particular matter, please email me on [email protected].

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


Estate Agency in the Scottish Borders – a new challenge

Bruce de Wert

Bruce de Wert

As very experienced Estate Agent with 3 offices and 155 properties in my Estate Agency, Georgesons, in the Far North, it is a very unusual feeling to be the new kid on the block, as I am here in the Scottish Borders!

The Borders is, however, a very different market and it will be a challenge to build up the Smiths Grant Estate Agency. Having said that, giving clients a great experience counts the same, everywhere!

I’m very excited by the prospects and have a number of developments in mind. As a blogger, Facebook and Twitter user, these tools are just the start of engaging with purchasers.

Our new website, which is, naturally, optimised for both PC and mobile use, is up and running at

The Facebook page is at Please “like” for updates.

Follow @Smithsgrant to obtain Tweeted updates.

My aim is to satisfy lots of new clients. I look forward to the challenge.

Bruce de Wert




Property news round-up for 2014 and prospects for 2015

Bruce de Wert

Bruce de Wert

Good news all round, I am glad to say.

Looking back at 2014, at the beginning of last year we were still expecting, by way of offers, between 5 and 10% less than the Home Report valuation. In other words, prices were     still going down.

By the end of the year, however, we were managing to obtain, from buyers, the valuation price. Many were still trying to offer less than the asking but, in general, we were able to resist that. Prices had stabilised, at last!

Not shockingly good like the centre of London (which has subsequently fallen back) but, for Caithness and Sutherland, pretty good news, the likes of which we have not been seeing since the crash of 2008.

Since I opened my office in Tain in April 2014, we have also been able to see how things are going that little bit further south. It seemed the further south you go, the better the news. In that area, prices being achieved are mostly in excess of valuation.

What is, also, heartening is the volume of sales. In 2014, we sold twice as much, in value terms, as we did in 2012.

In general, one can say that town properties are selling much more easily than those in the country.

The financial spread of sales is quite interesting. We sold a great deal more lower value properties. This accords with a rise in demand for buy to lets. When your money is making 1% at the Bank, you are going to look for alternatives and many people, with spare cash, turned to the property market.

Also, if there are scary situations on the horizon, you look for a safe haven. One such scary moment was the Referendum. It was clear that some people were ploughing their money into buy to lets as a safe haven for their money, in case we ended up with the Euro or a Scottish merk or pun.

Conversely, however, another result was that other people were holding back from moving because they did not know what a Yes vote would bring. This is not speculation. This is what people told us at the time when we asked why they were not going ahead. The insecurity was palpable.

Happily, though, after the Referendum result, the floodgates opened and everything went back to normal. One could speculate as to what would have happened if it had been a Yes but I am not going to. As an Estate Agent, I am only happy that the result was continued increases in numbers of sales and higher prices.

Sadly, the demand remains from locals. The English have still not returned in numbers.

And as for 2015, it has been full steam ahead. One might think that this time of year people would be huddling round the fire but this is not the case. We have had a record number of offers, already, which bodes well for the rest of the year.

As an Estate Agent, it is, of course, a temptation to talk up the market but anyone who has read my property pieces before will know that I tend to tell it how it is.

Therefore, I have to say that there are some risks ahead. First, the election. The economy has been powering ahead under the present leadership and wages, at last, are increasing more quickly than prices. We are, at last, individually getting richer although, sometimes, it is difficult to believe it. There is a lot more confidence in the air.

This election is different from previous elections. It is no longer a straight choice between Labour or Conservative. The speculation is that whatever the make-up of the next Government it is quite likely to be a coalition but no one can say who will be in it. Will the new Government continue the same economic policies? What will happen to the economy? Insecurity is always a problem for any market and the housing market is no different.

Perhaps, however, the economic fallout not be felt in 2015. They are longer term consequences as will be the result of the Scottish Government receiving more fiscal powers.


They have made their intentions clear-more tax and more spending and their first alterations to tax our already in place with Stamp Duty arrangements which taking effect in April. Whilst the overall result will be a much larger Stamp Duty for Scottish taxpayers, we, here in the North, are in the happy position of being net beneficiaries of the policy.

For instance, if, today, you purchase a house, costing £150,000, you will pay £500 Stamp Duty. After April, you will pay £300, saving £200. It is only when you reach £254,000 that you will be paying more. Sadly or happily, whichever way you want to look at it, there are fewer houses in that bracket being sold in the North. Happy days for us! Stop press. The Scottish government has indicated that they are going to reduce the Stamp Duty tax previously announced. We shall see but I do not think it will affect us much.

A very brief word about Greece. You might not think that events in Greece could affect you but, by the time you read this, their election result will have been announced.

The left-wing Syriza party is said to be poised for victory and they have indicated that they will reject austerity and effectively, renege on the national debt accumulated in earlier spending sprees. They may be ejected from the Euro. If they go, many pundits, including the Guardian newspaper, speculate on a Euro crisis. I do not think we are back to 2012 but Europe will not be a happy place and we have most of our trade there. We shall see.

Having said all that, I have a nice warm feeling about 2015.

I think that: –

  • It will become easier to sell your home in 2015
  • Prices will start to rise!

 Happy New Year!

North of Scotland property review of 2013 and prospects for 2014

I’ll start off with a large dollop of good news issued by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

They expect, in 2014, a rise in prices, throughout Scotland, of 7%.

I’m happy to say that I believe that a price rise will come to the North of Scotland. This is real news because this has not been seen for a very long time.

Do not expect 7%, however. Expect a much lower percentage. This is due to the fact that RICS are banking on there being more property desired than available, nationwide. Here, however, we differ since there is plenty of housing stock available and lower demand.

These are, however, happy days and cause for celebration.

So how did we do in 2013?

More good news! We saw the return of buyers in numbers. According to the Registers of Scotland, sales in the Highlands rose by nearly 40%, which was one of the highest in the country. It was a continuation of the theme of 2012 where people had decided that prices were not going up any time soon and so, if they were going to move, they may as well do it straight away. After all, even if they were not to get the price that they had hoped for, neither would they have to pay a high price for the property they were purchasing. Indeed, with demand being so low in historic terms, the prices being paid were generally under the home report valuation. In other words, prices were going down.

Having said that, the good news is that, in the last couple of months properties have been selling at their asking price. A new development and a welcome one!

According to the Registers of Scotland, prices nationally rose 5.6% but, sadly, in the Highlands, prices were reported, overall, to have dropped by 0.8%. Highland figures, are, of course, skewed by Inverness where there is much more investment, both private and public. It always seems to do rather better than the rest of the Highlands and so, in the North, the drop would have been much higher.

As the year went on, the good economic news kept coming. The Westminster government had read the economic signs correctly and the world looked on in astonishment as we raced to the top of the growth tables in the Western world.

There was very little negative news. The European crisis had not gone away but had quietened down. Critics may say that the upturn is fuelled by credit but it is an upturn, nevertheless, and the old truism holds good – “success follows success”.

I was very much heartened by events in 2013. Properties that had been on my books for a long time sold. The English started coming back with money in their pockets to buy retirement properties. Prices steadied. It was, pretty much, all good news. It is true to say that plots did not sell well but I have great hopes, for 2014, on that side, too.

All in all, 2013 was a good year and you can expect 2014 to get even better.
If you would like to comment on this article or would like this column to touch on any particular matter, please comment on my blog at

Bruce de Wert has over 25 years of experience and is Principal Solicitor and Estate Agent at Georgesons, Wick and Thurso.  Follow him on Twitter – @BrucedeWert and Facebook – MyScottishLaw


Housing boom predicted – but not consistent rising prices…yet!

Georgesons Estate AgencyConfidence! I mentioned that in my last article and, boy, do we now have it in spades!

 All the pundits are predicting a housing boom. Some doomsayers are even predicting a housing bubble!

 Amazing to think that, only a year ago, there was still a lot of doubt. Not any more…

 I think we can well and truly say that the market is improving rapidly. Sales are up substantially, here in Caithness and Sutherland.

 As for prices, it is interesting to see that, wherever in Scotland you are, the average asking price is significantly higher than the price that is finally accepted.

S1 Homes has worked out that the figure accepted by the average seller was over 8% less than the asking price . The average house sale in Scotland, at £153,102, was £14,500 below the average asking price, they calculate.

Since the advent of Home Reports, the asking price is usually that found in the Home Report and we are finding that eventual selling prices are usually between 5% and 10% less than that.

RICS say that “looking ahead, it seems that prices across the country are going to continue to rise, with a net balance of 29% more Scottish surveyors predicting increases over the next three months and 56% more over the next year.”

I hope this is true but I have spoken to many colleagues throughout the country and I have yet to find one who is experiencing consistently rising prices. Indeed, when you read the commentary of the various RICS Scottish regional pundits, it is nothing like as upbeat, with virtually only Edinburgh reporting closing dates and above Home Report prices.

Examination of the Registers of Scotland price data shows a negligible increase in prices over the last year. About £200 on the average price, they report, of £156,000. This disguises some significant regional differences but the good news is that Highland is up – even if it is only by 0.8%.

Perhaps it is that surveyors are marking up the prices in new Home Reports. I, certainly, hope so!

So I would agree with those who say that there is a boom but there is certainly not a bubble. A bubble only occurs where prices rise substantially. That may be happening in England but I do not see the evidence for it in Scotland. This is, undoubtedly, good news as we do not want to see tearaway inflation ever again.

Meantime, the good news is, undoubtedly, that if you want to sell your home there are many more buyers out there than they used to be.

Bruce de Wert


My Solicitors website, Georgesons

My Estate Agents, Georgesons property



Separation agreements and transfer of title

property separationI have been asked: — “My husband and I are seperating but still living in the same house at the moment. He would like to buy a property close by but needs his share of the equity in our house to achieve this. I will remortage, which is agreed, to do this. We are both on the title deeds of the house and I am getting conflicting information from a few solicitors and he is getting different advice again! At present all we would like to do is transfer the house deeds into my name and he legally accepts an amount for the house to become mine with no claim against it.

I have been told that we need a legal seperation agreement to achieve this and that my husband cannot remain in the house.

Surely this can be achieved in an amicable way. Any advise would be appreciated. Thanks”

The first thing to understand about this is that you own this property together completely distinctly from your marital relationship. As far as the law is concerned you are just two strangers who happen to own a property together.

Accordingly, you can transfer this property without a separation agreement. The confusion surrounding the advice that you are receiving is that, whilst such a transfer is entirely possible, it is not advisable.

Normally, the house represents a substantial part of any couple’s wealth. As a result, it is often to be found that the capital value of the house is not equally divided. For instance, if the husband has a valuable pension and the wife no pension, you may find the wife will have the house transferred to her and the husband keeps the pension.

The solicitors are concerned that the house should be dealt with as part of the separation deal because they fear that you buy him out, he spends the money and then, when the time comes to divvy up the rest of the matrimonial property, he has nothing left and you are disappointed!

If your situation is that if there is nothing else to be divided, then there is no reason to delay. The solicitors are right. The husband will have to leave because since you are still married, as soon as you become the sole owner, your husband requires rights under the Matrimonial Homes legislation. You will not be able to put him out!

There may be a way round that whereby he gives up those rights but you will need very good legal advice on that before you go down that road. Much better that he should leave.

There is further comment at

Bruce de Wert, Solicitor

I offer a hassle-free divorce service to those who have children under the age of 16 and have agreed everything. More information at

Disclaimer: A blog is not legal advice. You should check your personal circumstances with a solicitor as small details can make a difference!

Housing market confidence!

The Headlines


•           Confidence in the property market is much higher than it has been of late.


•           Sales picked up in December and have kept up momentum.


•           Mortgages are becoming easier and cheaper to obtain.


•           There is a great deal of borrowing activity by first-time buyers.


•           Prices are still reducing. This is expected to continue but the rate is expected to lessen. This is not a serious problem unless you bought at the top of the market.


•           There are more buyers than there were but still nothing like 2007. This explains why some properties have not sold.


•           Repossessions have stabilised.


To sum up, things are much better than they were. It is not all wonderful but a very considerable improvement.


The Detail


Confidence is what drives the housing market and there is presently bags of it!

This explains why homes, in Caithness and Sutherland, are selling much more quickly and in greater numbers than we have seen since 2008.

This is reflected by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland who report that “For the first time since mid-2011, the new buyer enquiries and newly agreed sales series remained positive for the third consecutive month.”

Statistics are, as usual, the basis of all good reporting and, of course, they tend to lag well behind the actuality. Nevertheless it is useful to report on them.

For instance, Iain Malloch, chair of the Council of Mortgage Lenders Scotland, talking about 2012, commented:

“The Scottish housing market showed positive signs of recovery in 2012, broadly following the pattern seen in the rest of the UK. The availability of mortgages at more than 90% loan-to-value has more than doubled in the last two years and lenders expect to offer more high loan-to-value mortgages this year. This, and the fact that the number of first-time buyers is at a post-crunch high, suggests that lenders really are open for business.”

My experience is that the current situation has improved beyond that. I noticed a significant uplift just before Christmas last year and this is reflected in the April Bank of England inflation report which stated: —

“Over 2012, mortgage approvals by all UK-resident mortgage lenders for house purchase were broadly flat, though had picked up in the second half of the year.”

Not that it is all good news. Prices are on the slide in Caithness and Sutherland and that is reflected by RICS Scotland who say that a slight balance of surveyors expect price reductions this year but if you are a seller, unless you boughyout at the top of the market, that will not be of much concern to you, since the house you buy will also be cheaper.

Let us start at the bottom – the first-time buyer. In 2012, the number of first-time buyers in Scotland rose to the largest annual total in four years, according to new data released by the Council of Mortgage Lenders in Scotland. A total of 19,000 first-time buyers became homeowners – a 13% increase compared to 2011.

And I repeat that this is historic data and my experience is that the market since just before Christmas has changed. There is a great deal more cheer and happiness amongst our clients and customers than there has been for some time.

This is not to say that everything that we have put on the market has sold. There are still some properties which have been on the market for a long time. The market is by no means what it was in 2007 but it is a great deal better than it has been for a long, long time.

So why is this?

Low interest rates are a big boost and, as a result of that, the Bank of England April report indicated that that: —

“The total flow of net lending ….was positive in the three months to February.” Net lending is the total lent by lenders less the amount repaid by borrowers. Confidence is high if people are borrowing at a higher rate than they are we paying their mortgages. Since the crunch, people have been cautiously paying off their mortgages. This trend seems to be have been reversed.

The Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) has undoubtedly had a part in reducing the rate of interest charged by lenders. FLS is a scheme whereby the Bank of England lends money to mortgage suppliers at cheap rates. The fall has not been as much as some expected, however, as the Bank’s inflation report indicated that mortgage rates “have not fallen as much as anticipated” but that “further falls are possible”.

Aaron Strutt of Trinity Financial mortgage brokers was reported in the Sunday Times on 19 May as saying: — “These figures suggest the banks have been failing to pass on the full benefits of the FLS to borrowers”.

Nevertheless, mortgages are cheaper than they have been for a very considerable time and so the uptake, particular by first-time buyers, is higher. Since first-time buyers were absent for a long time, this is a matter of great cheer.

The Government has a New Buy scheme which improves affordability as the government will give a deferred loan of 20% of the price, the lender will give 75% and use the borrower, 5%. This only applies if you are a first-time buyer buying a new property but I am unaware of any builder here, in Caithness, who is taking part in the scheme. Lenders are also not very keen.

One indicator of the affordability of mortgages is the level of repossessions and the Council of Mortgage Lenders report that: —

“Mortgage arrears and repossessions have stabilised at levels lower than many anticipated when the economic downturn started. Low interest rates, continuing employment, lender forbearance and tactical public policy support have combined to ensure that repossession really is a last resort.

Altogether, then, there is good cheer around and, assuming there are no more Euro shocks, it looks like it is full steam ahead for the property market in Caithness and Sutherland.

Bruce G. de Wert, Solicitor


Solicitors and Estate Agents

Wick and Thurso

+44 (0)1955 606060 (option 2)

Property 2013 – the prospects for Caithness and Sutherland

property jigsawImagine the scene – a darkened room, an old crone with a shawl over her head and the crystal ball centred on the table.

Draw up a chair whilst I (the old crone) gaze into the future….

First to say is that the omens are better than for a long time.

The UK property market is picking up, according to figures from the Bank of England.

In November the number of new mortgages approved for home buyers, but not yet lent, rose to 54,036 – the highest November figure for three years.

This suggest the Bank’s Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) is encouraging more lending to home buyers.

The number of approvals is regarded as a good indicator of forthcoming trends and suggests that sales will keep on rising in the coming months.

Both the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors have predicted that FLS will help to revive lending and sales this year.

This pickup in business accords with my own experience. Since the crash in 2008, business has tailed off as Christmas approached – but not this year. Both sellers and purchasers were still active and this is bodes well.

Housing is all about confidence and this last year has been remarkable for the sustained level that I have seen.

One reason for this may have been the decrease in EU scares. The spectre of Euro collapse is still there. It is, however, in the shadows and the markets seem to have renewed confidence that the EU will become more and more a centralised economy where the periphery cannot spend, spend, spend as they used to.

Whether this European “vision” is something that we want to be a part of is a question for politicians and not for this column but the absence of crisis is producing something of a feelgood factor in the property market at the moment.

Surveyors play a key role in the property market and their latest report from December predicted that:-

• Housing transactions to climb to the best level since the onset of the credit crunch.
• Prices to post modest gains helped by an increase in mortgage finance.
• Housing starts to remain well short of projections of household formation

These are UK wide predictions and I cannot say that I agree with all of them but, in general, they reflect the confidence in the market that I’m talking about

My particular caveat is about prices. I think they will continue to fall. The UK wide picture is very much skewed by London. There are large inflows of cash from outside the UK and these tend to drive up prices in London. Since the figures concerned are very big, they mask the picture for mere mortals such as us, way up in the North.

I saw a headline in the Press and Journal saying that prices had gone up. This was information from the Highland Solicitors Property Centre. Unfortunately, for us, most of HSPC properties are in Inverness. Inverness always does well as there is very much, these days, a centralising tendency and this sucks in jobs from the fringes. I am afraid that what happens in Inverness is completely irrelevant to what is happening here.

So what does the crystal ball tell me? It is smoky and unclear but I think I see that: –

• It will become easier to sell your home in 2013
• Prices will continue to fall but perhaps not at the rate we have seen recently.
• Prospects for buyers will continue to be good. The supply of mortgages will continue to increase.

Happy New Year!

A good time to buy in Caithness and Sutherland!


Georgesons Estate Agency Wick CaithnessIn Caithness and Sutherland, specifically, there is no question about it. Prices are dropping – and quite steeply. The statistics for the Highland region, as a whole, are a drop of 4.4% but that, of course, includes Inverness which always seems to do rather better than the rest of the Highlands.

There was a logjam over the last 3 to 4 years whilst people waited to see what was happening but now they realise that times are not going to get better quickly, they are biting the bullet and selling.

Of course, whilst you may have to accept a lower price for your own property, there are also plenty of bargains out there for when you go on and buy. For most people, the absolute price is not a major issue although this is not, sadly, true if you bought at the top of the market.

What is important is that the market is starting to move. I have certainly had more sales this year than last. Interestingly, that is contrary to the national picture exhibited by the Registers of Scotland, who indicated that the numbers of houses being sold dropped by 2.1% although, in the last quarter in the Highlands, there was a rise of 10.8% in sales. My experience may be an issue of market share within Caithness and Sutherland.

As regards mortgages, the Building Societies Association reports that lending was up 10% compared to the same month last year and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, who represent Banks indicated that house purchase lending was up 9.1% although there was a considerable decline in the remortgage lending.

Dry statistics? I do not think so! They tell you the truth about what is really going on and it is all pretty positive stuff. I told you the bad news during the bad times and it has been a pleasure to report positive developments during this year.

Who is looking? At the moment, it seems to be virtually all internal to Caithness and Sutherland although there are some bargain hunters from outwith. We have buy to let purchasers but also, happily, we continue, this year, to have the person who has managed to sell and is looking to upgrade! One exciting development was a holiday home buyer. They have been absent for 3 or 4 years and I hope that this is a “green shoot” which will lead to growth in that market which was, previously, an important one.

It is certainly a very good time to be a buyer and, particularly in this area where prices are so low, a first-time buyer.

Bruce de WertBruce de Wert


[email protected]

My property website can be seen at


What is a ‘refreshed’ Home Report?

Victorian propertyIn today’s market, prices can be volatile and, generally, are moving downwards.

If the valuation report you are looking at is more than a few months old then it might well be worthwhile to have it refreshed. Effectively, this means that the surveyor is sent back the report and asked to update it. The most important feature of that updating is, of course, the price.

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