For a flat, castle, or country estate, try Scotland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 1993, 12:00am

SCOTLAND is a land that conjures up cold, wind-swept visions in many people's minds.

The first thoughts are often of remote lochs and castles rather than investment opportunities.

But, in many parts of Scotland, you can actually buy a loch or a castle - or a wide range of other more conventional investment properties.

Most houses are stone built and many are old and architecturally interesting.

Edinburgh is an historic but vital city of medium size which is prospering from the integration of United Kingdom into Europe.

Rural properties in Scotland range from commercial farms and forests to sporting and amenity estates whose value lies in their remote, wild and beautiful locations - aspects which are becoming increasingly rare and prized in the 1990s.

Property in Scotland has suffered far less drastically in the recent recession than in other parts of the United Kingdom and, over the long term, it has shown steady capital growth above inflation.

With increasing instability around the world, this consistent performance has become attractive to investors.

The early signs that confidence was returning to the residential property market were first witnessed in the spring and early summer of this year and have continued and, indeed, gathered pace as the year has progressed, with the autumn selling being uncharacteristically more bullish than the spring.

Market conditions have remained the same throughout the year as interest rates have continued at historically low levels of six per cent (base) with the added incentives of low fixed rate mortgages for up to five years being readily available.

Prices have remained stable with no real evidence of values rising and conditions now appear ripe for prices to increase in the spring.

Property to rent is still in short supply at all price levels with rents remaining high as a result of competition from both the professional classes and the growing student sector.

As a result, rental yields have remained strong and continue to be favourable with other investments while interest rates continue to remain low.

Edinburgh is world famous for its Georgian New Town with its elegant facades and formal layout of classical crescents and leafy parks.

Properties in the New Town provide flats with spacious and ornate interiors which retain fine period features, including open fireplaces and plaster cornices.

Only a short walk from the city centre, these flats are very popular with a wide range of tenants, especially among the professional classes.

In general, they are the best performing residential investment properties and will produce an income yield of around 10 per cent.

The very best Edinburgh flats will cost between GBP150,000 (HK$1.7 million) and GBP250,000 and when rented out will normally produce lower income yields of about eight or nine per cent.

Traditionally, Edinburgh has always had a large and thriving professional class and a wide variety of family houses have been built for them in and around the city centre and in the surrounding suburbs.

These range from terraced Georgian New Town townhouses to smaller Victorian villas in large leafy gardens in residential areas like Colinton and The Grange.

Good family houses of this type will cost in the region of GBP200,000 to GBP400,000 with interior layout and fittings varying markedly, depending on the period when they were built.

Over the past two years, prices in this section of the market have fallen by about 15 per cent to 20 per cent and there are still many properties available at discounted prices.

Good quality family homes are in demand to rent, mainly from visiting diplomats and businessmen, usually for periods of up to a year.

Rentals of about GBP15,000 to GBP25,000 per annum are achievable.

Scotland can boast a wide range of country houses with each particular area having its own style and charter.

Ranging in size and complexity of design from simple classical Georgian villas to huge and rambling baronial mansions, country houses are often situated in the most delightful settings, with splendid wooded grounds.

Most country houses are worth between GBP250,000 and GBP400,000 with exceptional properties worth up to GBP700,000.

All across Scotland, traditional farmhouses and former manses have been sold off over the years as farms and church congregations have amalgamated.

These types of properties are readily available providing spacious and straightforward accommodation in charming houses of age and character.

The accommodation is usually fairly typical and a good house of this sort with three reception rooms, five bedrooms and a large garden of about an acre will cost between GBP100,000 and GBP300,000.

Such properties are always popular and there is a good rental market, especially within 30 kilometres of Edinburgh or Glasgow where rents of GBP6,000-GBP12,000 per annum are achievable.

Scotland's farmland market is also of interest.

The country has endured a dismal and probably the wettest summer since the disaster of 1985 with temperatures above 22 degrees celsius recorded in Edinburgh on only one day. The harvest has, therefore, been very disappointing and by mid-October was still far from completed.

The pound has strengthened, forcing grain prices down, and the long term interest rates (10 years) have dropped into single figures.

The key factors which have influenced the market are levels of interest rates and the CAP reforms.

Farms are now much easier to finance and the requirement to compulsorily set aside land has created a considerable demand for extra arable acres.

The dairy sector remains stable. The net result has been a very tight supply of arable farms which has led to surprisingly high prices being paid.

Farms advertised on the open market have attracted large amounts of offers with the best land in East Lothian and Angus making GBP2,500 an acre.

In some cases, values are 25 per cent up on last year.

The forest property market displayed many bargains in the course of 1992 because confidence was low and uncertainty prevailed as to when economic recovery would take place.

The UK's unexpected exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, with the subsequent devaluation in sterling, brought about a rise in the price of imported timber which, in turn, produced a surge in the sale price of domestically grown timber.

The overall knock-on effect this summer was to raise the demand and prices being paid for plantations. Those who were discouraged from selling their woodlands in the course of 1991/2 because of low prices, saw a chance to sell this summer at more respectable prices and this perception brought a number of very attractive woodland properties to the market.

Because recovery is fragile, this has created a situation in which supply is slightly ahead of demand and prices are not strengthening further.