Rural Scotland’s resilience has come to the fore again – Andrew Linehan

The rural property world has a habit of continuing operations in unusual times, writes Andrew Linehan

Andrew Linehan is a Partner with Murray Beith Murray.

As Scotland begins to find its way out of lockdown, the rural property world is beginning to open up to new transactions settling.

During lockdown the Registers of Scotland were closed for submission of most deeds. In practice, this meant few transactions were able to settle – leaving aside the difficulties of moving, let alone the opportunity to view properties – during lockdown. That has now changed and the Registers of Scotland intake register has reopened for electronic submission of a limited number of applications each day.

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Experience does show that the rural property world has a habit of continuing operations in unusual times – whether through the banking crisis, the year of the Scottish Independence referendum, Brexit or now during COVID-19, in the last decade or so alone.

Rural land owners and land managers are always doing deals with one another, and Covid-19 has been no different to previous exceptional years. The sceptic might say that such years are becoming the “new normal”. It is too soon to say what impact on property values Covid-19 will have, but doubtless people’s urban experiences of lockdown may serve to increase the attractiveness of property purchases across rural Scotland.

Given the changes to so many people’s working practices during the lockdown, it may be that many businesses will allow – and indeed encourage – staff to work remotely when lockdown is over.

Assuming that this trend, which had of course begun before Covid-19, continues, then many more buyers from Scotland and beyond may look to embrace life in our rural communities and so give a further boost to the rural property market.

Perhaps the decades-long trend of rural depopulation will finally be reversed – provided that broadband connections can support the needs of remote working. It is harder to guess what the impact on our retail, supply chain and food production sectors will be, although online retail appears to have thrived during lockdown at the continued expense of the high street. It will be interesting to see if there is any appetite for shorter supply chains and food miles, and whether this increases domestic demand for domestic produce – with consequential impacts on the properties that supply such produce.

Opportunities can often come from difficult experiences, and as the lockdown is eased – but with the potential of travel restrictions likely for some time to come – it might be that holidays in rural Scotland will be much sought after.

Days out at North Berwick or on the Clyde might be valued by today’s Scots in a manner unseen since previous generations. That in turn may enhance the potential of rural tourist and leisure businesses and encourage investment in properties that support them. It is, of course, too soon to say exactly what impact social distancing and other Covid-19 related precautions will have on the operation of such businesses.

The residential property market is unlikely to see significant reopening until viewings become possible. Much activity now relates to settling deals that were agreed pre-lockdown. Many agents will be busy getting properties ready to launch once viewings are allowed, although some limited viewings of farmland and forestry have remained possible. Whether the Royal Highland Show week later this month (it was due to take place on June 18-21) will see the usual number of new farms and estates launched on to the market, we will have to see.

While acknowledging that some rural businesses have of course been far more affected than others, rural Scotland has shown a hearty resilience to carrying on doing business in difficult times. Social distancing during lambing and calving are nothing new to those involved in those long and lonely shifts.

As rural lawyers, Murray Beith Murray have continued to be busy and have worked remotely throughout lockdown. We are here to support you and your family and your business as Scotland moves forward.

Andrew Linehan is a Partner with Murray Beith Murray.