A record number of overseas buyers have this year visited Scotland with a view to buying a sporting estate, according to agents, despite the storm clouds that continue to gather over the global economy.
Sterling’s comparative weakness has made Highland estates that can offer grouse moors, deer-stalking and salmon rivers more affordable to prospective buyers from as far afield as Russia, India and the Far East.
There is the additional attraction of tangible assets in a period when financial markets are rocky.
“If you have some spare cash, what is the point of putting it in the bank when interest rates are at an all-time low,” said Anna Thomas, of Savills, the estate agency.
Simon Brown, of the property agency CKD Galbraith, said: “It’s the luxury end of the market and there are some people out there with an awful lot of money. Land is being seen – as is gold – as a safe place to put a bit of money, as part of the portfolio.”
Savills said: “Our mailing lists have always included buyers from all over the world, but what marks this year out from previous years is the number of foreign buyers who have travelled across the world to view these properties.”
Partly this is because estates are now on the market long enough for overseas visitors to come and see them. CKD Galbraith reckons the average estate comes to the market only once in every 16 years. Before the recession, many estates were sold privately to UK buyers without ever being marketed.
Although only a handful of estates tend to be advertised at any one time, Ms Thomas said as many as 30 estates – with a total market value of £200m – could potentially be available for sale.
Savills is currently marketing the Blairquhan Estate in Ayrshire with a guide price in excess of £4.85m, and the Hensol Estate in Kirkcudbrightshire for offers over £4.25m.
As well as the purchase price, the annual running costs of estates can be substantial. Ms Thomas believes that an owner interested in shooting grouse and deer and salmon fishing could easily spend up to £500,000 a year on gamekeepers and managing the stocks – though few estates offer all three.
CKD Galbraith has recently sold the Heights of Kinlochewe Estate in Wester Ross, which had a guide price of £2.6m, and is still marketing the Tournaig Estate at Poolewe in Wester Ross, with a guide price of £2.5m. It said both had received encouraging levels of interest from domestic and foreign parties.
Yet in spite of this increased overseas interest, the agency said most of the estates sold recently have gone to British buyers, mainly aged in their 40s or 50s, and often with a connection to the City of London, such as hedge fund managers.
Mr Brown said: “People always think a foreigner will come in with a big sack of money, but that is not always the case.”
There can be cultural chasms with overseas buyers. One Russian oligarch, inquiring about the security at a Scottish castle, was dismayed to be told by the aristocratic owners that it had only a burglar alarm. The prospective buyer, who was more used to sheltering behind perimeter fences and armed guards, went elsewhere.
Jamie Macnab, of Savills’ Edinburgh office, said: “Many sellers, when asked about security, just point to their Labradors.”
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