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The coming of the Chinese lairds to Scotland

By Juwai, 09 April 2012
Scotland is on the verge of having its first Chinese laird. Wealthy Chinese investors are said to be scouring the property market to find a Scottish castle to call home. Emma Cowing reports for Scotland on Sunday. April 8, 2012 -- Leading property agents are reporting a rise in interest from rich Chinese and Taiwanese buyers, who have made their fortunes in the Far East boom. Wealthy Russians are also snapping up prime properties in Edinburgh for the first time. At least three country castles on sale for more than £2 million have been sold or are under offer after buyers sought to avoid the end of the stamp duty holiday in last month’s Budget. Sales prior to the Budget attracted a 5 per cent tax, which has now risen to 7 per cent. Deals signed prior to change will have saved the buyer £40,000 on a £2 million property. Ran Morgan, head of Scotland residential property at Knight Frank, which has several properties over £2m on its books, confirmed an increase in interest from China. “It’s a slowly evolving phenomenon,” he said. “This year so far I’ve been out showing properties to Chinese, Taiwanese and Saudis. It’s something that we’ve seen growing for a while.” Jamie Macnab, of estate agent Savills, said it had also seen an increase of interest in Scottish rural properties from China. “It’s a market we expect to grow. We’re constantly looking at how to attract Asian money, and we’re confident it will come. We had one young Chinese man who came into the Edinburgh office recently, hired a cab and then went to view eight properties in Fife because of the golfing interest. Golf is a key reason why the Chinese and the Koreans want to buy property here.” John Coleman, head of residential and farm agency at Smiths Gore in Scotland, said: “There have been one or two large Chinese consortiums looking for investments in the UK and have looked at a few Scottish estates but we’re unaware of any transactions having gone through yet. They are testing the water, and they’ll do it in London first.” Prices in central London have been driven up by wealthy Russians seeking a safe environment to invest. Agents say the next step could be the purchase of Scottish landed estates, which, even with thousands of acres, are relatively inexpensive compared to London. In Kensington, the average residence costs £2m. One of the biggest recent property sales in Scotland, by Knight Frank and Retties, was of 14th-century Stobhall Castle in Perthshire, which, despite a price tag of £2.35m, went to a closing date last October with six prospective buyers, three of them from overseas. “Of those one was Singaporean, one Belgian and one Canadian,” said Morgan. “If you’re a foreign buyer you want to be investing in a tangible asset. They will initially flock to London, tour round and get outbid, get disappointed and begin to look elsewhere. In our Edinburgh market we have sold three properties to Russians in the past six months. The Russians have never really been in the market before, and that is definitely a recent trend.” Scotland has made a concerted effort to forge increased business links with China in the past year, where the number of dollar billionaires now exceeds 300. First Minister Alex Salmond visited China in December and signed a cultural agreement which should mean more Scottish paintings, poets and performers are seen in China and vice versa. However, there are still some issues which may deter Chinese buyers. There are currently no direct flights between Scotland and China, although Salmond announced last year that talks would take place to establish these.