Scenery and low prices pull in English and expats to fuel a boom in property sales on the west coast
By James Ellingworth, Sunday Herald 14.06.09
NESTLING ON the bank of Loch Leven, just down the road from Glencoe, Ballachulish is best known as the dividing point between the north and south divisions of shinty.
This quiet former slate-quarrying village, with its picture-postcard views seems an unlikely place to spark a revival in the troubled Scottish property market. Yet, according to industry experts, that is exactly what is happening.
As the recession bites, property on the west coast is soaring in popularity, with English couples and expat Scots deserting the overseas glamour spots of the boom years to seek their own piece of the Argyll coastline.
"We've seen the trend of late of a lot of people coming out of Dubai, and British people buying all sorts of property in the west of Scotland because it looks like good value to them," says Simon Rettie, managing director of Rettie and Co estate agents, based in Edinburgh.
"People are buying in the west as the prices begin to correct because it's a good opportunity to get in the market."
The type of buyer has also changed, with strong interest from south of the border replacing "Americans buying two or three properties", according to Rettie. Many of the new buyers are Scots living in England or abroad, or English people with strong links to Scotland. Sailing enthusiasts are also well represented, given the spectacular coastline.
Mark Gibson, from Cumbria, is typical of the new buyers. The 40-year-old engineer and his wife Sue have just bought a cottage in Ballachulish dating from the 1700s for around £250,000.
"I've been going to Scotland for a number of years and I keep coming back several times a year. We got married half a mile from where the house is, and it's a place that we've talked about moving to permanently in the future.
"The attraction for us is the scenery and the picturesque nature of the terrain. We'd been toying with the idea for a while and looking at locations."
Asked whether the current economic climate was a motivation for the move, Gibson says it "played a role" - house prices in the area are down 15% on two years ago, but starting to rally - but says he would have moved to Scotland soon regardless.
Glasgow estate agent Geoff Lockett confirms strong interest in property on the west coast. "There are more buyers than ever from down south.
"The people who want to live up here are generally English, while the people buying second homes are predominantly Scots ex-pats living down south or abroad. The second-home buyers tend to have more of a Scottish connection."
Although the Gibsons will use their new house as a second home to begin with, they have not ruled out a permanent move and plan to let out part of the property. "The house won't be left empty, I don't believe in that. It is going to be used at all times," Gibson insists.
He is also keen to dispel fears of an English invasion in Argyll, saying he plans to become part of the community and already knows people in the area.
Lockett claims the new arrivals add a lot to the area without forcing locals out. "These properties have been of this holiday cottage type for the past 50 years. The majority of the population in Argyll live within the villages and towns, so it doesn't really affect the overall population that much.
"The people who are coming up to earn a living as part of a lifestyle change actually probably add a hell of a lot to the community financially. They'll probably improve the property and benefit the economy."