Navigating cross-border moves

signing documents

Cross-border property transactions can be confusing if you’ve never attempted them before. The English and Scottish legal systems are surprisingly different given we’re all part of the UK, and the lack of common ground can pose problems if you’re attempting to sell on one side of the Border while buying on the other. Though there are plenty of ways to make life easier for yourself…

  1. Understand the terminology differences

Navigating unfamiliar legalese is a key part of understanding what’s going on. If you know the English refer to a binding legal contract as exchanging contracts, while the Scots refer to it as concluding missives (the latter word defining a series of solicitors’ letters), you can use the relevant lingo depending on who you’re speaking to. Similarly, Scots ‘settle’, whereas south of the Border, the day you pay for your property and get your keys is known as ‘completion’. Understanding these distinctions can resolve delays caused by misunderstandings.

  1. Land ownership is different in Scotland

The English system of leasehold doesn’t really have a Scottish equivalent, which will be a relief to anyone who’s tried to extend a lease during its final century. The Scottish version of freehold is outright ownership but may also be referred to as heritable title. Even England’s Land Registry of ownership of property and land is different to the Land Register of Scotland (which supersedes the historic Sasine Register, upon which around two thirds of titles in Scotland are recorded).

  1. Budget for financial incompatibilities

In English property chains, a portion of the purchase price is usually paid during the conveyancing process, at exchange of contracts. Conversely, in Scotland, the whole amount is typically paid on the date of taking possession. So, if you’re selling a property south of the Border and moving to Scotland, an interim payment is not likely to be necessary. It may be more problematic going the other way, though any fees can be waived if the buyer and other members of their chain are amenable. However, if you’re buying a new build either side of the Border, you can expect to pay a reservation fee to secure the plot of your choice and a further deposit on conclusion of missives (or exchange of contracts!). The benefit, of course, is that it is less likely that there will be lengthy chains involved. Whatever the outcome, it’s important to remember that incompatibilities are often resolved by communication, negotiation and compromise, but it’s crucial all parties understand what is and isn’t expected of them at the outset.

  1. Coordinating entry dates can be impractical

Trying to coordinate a sale and a purchase under different legal systems to conclude on the same day can be a logistical headache. It’s far safer to invest in short-term rented accommodation through websites like Airbnb and comparison sites such as Home To Go, which list numerous properties available to rent for days or weeks at a time. This may be an expense, but it ensures you have a few days to clear out your old home and burnish the new house. Crucially, it acts as a safety net in the event of any last-minute delays.

If the above sounds too complex or daunting, engage a solicitor who is dual-qualified in both English and Scots law. Post-COVID, they could be based anywhere from Inverness to the Isle of Wight without their location causing too many issues. As an added bonus, you’re dealing with a single point of contact at all times, reducing the risk of lost paperwork or miscommunication causing delays. And if your solicitor is familiar with the nuances of both legal systems, a move in either direction is likely to be stress-free.…


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