Scotland v. England (adventures in home-buying)

Having complained earlier about the fact that Scotland really wasn’t all that different from England, I am now suffering through one of the major differences: the legal systems. In particular, how they apply to buying houses.

In Scotland, any offer you make to purchase a property is legally binding (except for when it isn’t; sellers, you might want to check with your lawyer that any offers you get are as binding as you think they are). In England, you can change your mind and withdraw your offer, without penalty, right up till the contracts are exchanged and money changes hands, which can be as late as the day that you’re due to move.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems. In Scotland, for instance, we wouldn’t have been able to make an offer on the flat that we’re currently interested in early enough because we didn’t have a mortgage arranged first. Had we made an offer without at least an agreement in principle, we’d have been taking the risk that our offer was accepted and then no one would lend us the money (which was very nearly the case). In England however, there’s nothing to discourage anyone from making an offer without fully considering whether they’re going to be able to follow through on it. This leaves the seller in the position of having to decide which of the offering buyers are most likely to be able to meet their offer as well as having to decide amongst the offers on their own merits. My current concern is that someone else’s offer will be accepted over ours and they will then pull out, the property will end up back on the market and we’ll have to go back through all this stress again if we’re still interested in buying the flat. (We know that there have been at least two other offers submitted.)

And (in England) the saga doesn’t end when your offer is accepted since the seller could also change their mind and pull out at any point up to the moving date. This is why there’s such a problem in the market with ‘chains’ (which I’m not going to get into discussing here). At least in our current situation, the seller is a bank who took the flat as a part exchange for another property so there’s no chain on either side and they hopefully won’t just randomly decide not to proceed with the sale.

Almost finally, a word of advice to estate agents: unless you’re absolutely certain that you’re going to have a decision from the seller on the submitted offers by close of business, don’t tell the prospective buyers that you’ll let them know by the end of the day! And if you still don’t have a decision from the seller two days later, it would be nice to call the prospective buyers and let them know that that’s the case!

Finally, for those of you who are worried that this blog is going to turn into a house-buying/renovating saga of woe, don’t panic! I don’t want that to happen either and will be doing my very best to find something (anything!) else to post about.

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