First time flat buyers account of buying property in Edinburgh

First Steps

This was to get an agreement in principle for a mortgage. This was a pain free process with Halifax Bank of Scotland, who I called up and within 15 minutes of talking through my income and how much deposit I could afford, they had given me a quote on how much money I could borrow. I had tried using their online mortgage promise, but their website didn’t work too well. I also got a ‘quote’ over the telephone from the Alliance and Leicester. Both of these financial organisations seem willing to offer higher income multiples that many of the other banks and building societies. My advice would be to phone these places up rather than take their online borrowing calculators as gospel, as the mortgage calculators on most of these banks Internet sites do not take into account the full picture e.g. existing loans, size of deposit, age.. etc.

Concurrently to this I was browsing the ESPC website. Over 90% of property in Edinburgh is sold on this website and it updates every Tuesday. My advice is be quick! Get on the ESPC website on Tuesday and search for areas you are interested in. If you see a property that is suitable phone the selling solicitors up right away and arrange an appointment. Sometimes they will direct you to the set viewing times - usually Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon. If it’s a fixed priced property I would press to see it before this: preferable the same evening. For new ‘offers over’ properties you can probably afford to wait until the fixed viewing times… however one property I looked at on Grindlay St last year went up on the Tuesday and the owners received such a good bid for it, the property was sold by Thursday. I think this is an exceptional case - but more property seems to be going quickly. So don’t waste a minute!

Also, I commissioned a solicitor to work on my behalf. This doesn’t cost anything (the commissioning that is!), but rather your solicitor will take a note of your details and answer any questions you might have. They also send you some relevant documentation and a quote on how much their fees will be based on a purchase price you specify. Watch out for stamp duty - at the time of writing for properties over £120,000 this is 1% of the total purchase price, unless your property is in an excluded zone. When you have found a property you are interested in you phone your solicitor up and he acts on your behalf. For a fixed price property this will be to say you’ll have the property. For offers over properties the first stage will usually be registering a note of interest in the property, followed by a firm bid. This is all handled with solicitors in Scotland.

The Purchase

One Tuesday I was eagerly browsing the ESPC website to see which new properties had been added. I saw one that looked suitable - at a fixed price. Not many of those available in Edinburgh, with many using the offers over system to get the best price possible. So I phoned the selling solicitors up to arrange a viewing. They tried to direct me to the open viewing on Thursday, but I rejected this and arranged a viewing for the same Tuesday night.

After looking around the property (the current owners let you in and answer any questions you may have) I left quite excited by the prospect of this flat. Prior to viewing I had seen around 10 other properties, where I only seriously considered one or two of them. This place seemed to tick all the right boxes, had the right location and just felt right. I was just keen not to miss out - but as the first viewer I knew that an instruction to my solicitor the next day should secure it for me. My advice here is - don’t hesitate! The market, at the time of writing, in Edinburgh for properties in the first-time buyer price range seems to be extremely competitive. If you have found the right place - get onto your solicitor asap!

And that’s exactly what I did. The next morning I phoned my solicitor up and gave him details of the property and the selling solicitors details. I also advised when I would be looking to move in: two months. 10 minutes later my solicitor (after contacting the selling solicitor) had called back and said he was awaiting the selling solicitors getting in contact with their client. Anyhow, after a few hours, I received another call back from my solicitor saying the offer had been accepted. When contacting my solicitor I had put the offer ’subject to survey’. I think this is standard practice and my purchase of the property is subject to the condition that a survey I commission on the property has to satisfy me, before this condition gets removed.

The survey was arranged by my solicitor for the next day! The next afternoon my solicitor called again and read out the main findings of it - which were all fine. A full printed copy of the survey was also sent through the post, which I received about a week later. The bottom line was there was no major problem with the property and the valuation matched (well exceeded by £1000) the purchase price. My solicitor said the sellers were keen to get this condition removed, as a number of other persons were interested in the property. I had no hesitation in telling the solicitor this condition could be removed.

Now in Scotland the sale of a property goes through this missives system - which as the dictionary definition would suggest are just written letters between my solicitor and the selling solicitor. As I see it these are just numbered points that are sent to one side for agreement and sent back and then back again. At some point I think the aim is all these points are agreed and deleted and the sale is binding. Ask your solicitor for more about this though - because I don’t understand the underlying legal implications too much.

I had heard rumours of many solicitors in Edinburgh and across Scotland adopting a standard form of missives. As before this, and indeed as some solicitors still have now, each solicitor had their own way of defining the missives. This led to the likelihood of protracted haggling over these missives - which meant that either party could get out of the sale during the many weeks these missives were being haggled over. As my solicitor advised, these standard missives should speed the process up somewhat. In fact, he said the missives could theoretically be concluded within 24 hours (although of course this isn’t the case - read below!). Anyhow I was happy to go with this new missives system and hoped to complete the sale as soon as possible.

The Missives

These concluded within approx. 3 weeks of the bid being accepted. I think this was a fairly hassle free process for my sale, with just a few missives bouncing back and forth to get some building consents (for changes made to the windows and kitchen) exhibited. However it was a long way short of the theoretic 24 hours it could take to conclude a sale with the standard missives system! The conclusion came in the form of a letter by my solicitor with an attachment from the selling solicitor saying that they accepted all terms in my solicitors previous letter and it contained references to all previous missives that would form part of the sale contract. At this stage my solicitor advised that I was now legally bound to buy and that the sellers were legally bound to sell.

While the missives had been ongoing I had applied for a mortgage with Halifax Bank of Scotland properly. This was a very painless procedure, done over the phone. The advisor I spoke did seem to go on a lot about various insurances and protections I could take out - but I refused all these. All I had to do was take in 3 months of payslips and some id to a local branch, where they were photocopied and faxed through. Within a week the mortgage has been offered, and my solicitor has received the appropiate paperwork.

I also had to provide id to my solicitor during this time and fill out a ‘Land Registry Return’. Luckily my solicitor completed much of this form on my behalf, for me to check through and sign. This is basically the documentation that includes an instruction to pay the stamp duty fees. My solicitor will handle all this though, with me putting the money into his account and then out of that money paying the stamp duty.

Move in

I’m now just waiting for the move in date within a couple of weeks - so will write more once available! Thanks for reading.


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