HOUSE buyers are now making offers on properties which include legal clauses that give the buyer the chance to walk away if Scotland votes for independence.
As polls show the gap between Yes and No narrowing, potential buyers have inserted the get-out clause on some purchases – mainly in Edinburgh, which attracts a large proportion of families moving to Scotland from south of the Border.
Property experts say sales of top-end homes – which are often snapped up by highly paid executives in Edinburgh’s financial services industry – have slowed amid concerns over independence, while properties at the lower end of the market have also been affected.
A number of firms, including life and pensions giant Standard Life, have warned that they would consider relocating their headquarters to England in the event of an independence vote.
Edinburgh boasts the second largest financial services sector in the UK behind London, and the fourth biggest in Europe.
Sandy Burnett, a partner at Edinburgh law firm Murray Beith Murray, said requests to insert the clause were becoming more common as 18 September approached. He said: “There are often conditions put on offers, but the new one is where it says, ‘In the event of a Yes vote on 18 September, the purchasers can resile from the bargain’.
“I received one offer for a flat conditional on a No vote last week. I have spoken to other agents and it is increasing as we are getting nearer to the referendum. At the moment, there is a general air of uncertainty, and no market likes uncertainty.
“In Edinburgh, the top end has been most affected – the £1 million to £2m New Town properties which are often fuelled by London buyers or Scots coming back from London. They’ve been sitting on their hands for the last few months.”
Other concerns include uncertainty over attitudes to second homes in an independent Scotland, while buyers hoping to secure finance are unsure of what will happen to mortgages and borrowings.
Mr Burnett said: “We are in the doldrums at the moment, until a decision comes one way or the other. Whatever way it goes, the certainty will help the market.”
Sharon Zaremski, associate at estate agency Strutt & Parker, said that she had also heard industry claims that some clients were requesting the legal right to back out of a sale.
She said: “We know from talking to solicitors that a small number of offers are being made subject to a No vote. It is definitely not widespread and we do not have any offers subject to the outcome of 18 September.”
However, Robert Carroll, managing director of property firm Mov8, said that concerns over independence had had little obvious effect on the market.
He said: “I am a firm believer that the truth lies in numbers rather than in individual opinion. The number of sales and purchases that we acted in during the past month are not only in line with what we would have expected but are beyond what we would have hoped for in
David Marshall, business development manager with the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, added: “There may be a small number of these offers out there, but I would be surprised if any seller was motivated to accept such an offer unless it was substantially better in financial terms than the next best.”