Why are Americans snapping up Scotland’s high-end homes?

Americans have been on a shopping spree for properties in Scotland.

US buyers now represent 4% of total transactions recorded by real estate firm Savills, up from 1% in 2019. Agents report a sustained surge in buying from Americans, particularly at the top of the market. Interest really picked up after the pound plunged last year to near parity with the US dollar—the weakest on record. The UK currency has recovered, but property interest remains, agents say.

Ricardo Volpi, from Knight Frank, says 40% of prime purchases—deals exceeding £1 million ($1.25 million)—in Edinburgh were by buyers from outside Scotland. This includes Londoners and Scots returning after living and working elsewhere, but he’s seen Americans looking for historic homes or a pied-à-terre in the city. 

“There is a lot of demand for townhouses in the city center in the £2 million-plus range with outdoor space,” says Volpi, who highlights New Town, an area north of Princes Street known for Georgian-period homes, as a hot spot. He’s an agent on one of Scotland’s most expensive listings: aneight-bedroom house designed in Scots Baronial style, with 7.8 acres of landscaped gardens and woodlands, that’s listed for £6 million.

With a population of just over a half-million people, Edinburgh is known for its scenic medieval city center, the thousand-year-old castle in the middle of the city, its thriving pub and whisky scene, and summer festivals such as the Fringe. In tourism, Edinburgh is the UK’s second-most-visited city, after London; a boom in new luxury hotel openings includes the top-rated Gleneagles Townhouse and 100 Princes Street, which the operators of Ashford Castle intend to open next year.

Sales of homes priced above £1 million have been on a tear since the pandemic, spurred by Edinburgh’s urban amenities and easy access to the countryside and such popular green spaces as Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. From March 2020 to June 2023, the average price of a home selling at £2 million and above rose 32.6%, according to Knight Frank. (House prices increased 20% in the UK on average during that time,according to data from Halifax.) Recently, however, prices have edged down, falling 1.1% on an annual basis in Edinburgh, according to Knight Frank. It’s part of a larger downturn in the housing market due to rising mortgage costs.

Max Mills, head of residential sales in Edinburgh for property company Rettie, says many Americans have family connections to Scotland, and the heritage is inspiring big purchases. These clients usually pay cash, meaning they aren’t put off by increased mortgage rates.

“The buyers have been people wanting to come to Edinburgh to enjoy the festival or come to the Scottish Open—who have been here on holiday but want a home base of their own,” says Rettie. He says he’s seen golf in particular prove a big draw for Americans, citing such renowned golf courses as St Andrews and Gleneagles. Playing golf originated in Scotland.

“Some well-connected Americans are already members of high-profile golf clubs in Scotland and are buying houses for when they can have time to start playing the links here more regularly,” Rettie says. Americans also like that the housing stock includes castles whose histories far outdate anything in the US.

One currently for sale is Dunbeath Castle, which sits dramatically on a cliff above the North Sea. It’s listed for £25 million by Savills and includes 28,500 acres of land and 12.5 miles of river flowing to the coast. A castle has stood on the location since the 15th century.

Earlier this year, Utah attorney David Leavitt and his wife purchased 19th century Knockderry Castle in Argyll for £1 million. They’ve started a blog documenting their renovation work; they’ve been dreaming about such a purchase for more than a decade. Savills says Towie Barclay Castle in Aberdeenshire is also under offer from an American buyer. The structure dates back to the 1400s. 

Meanwhile, a famous American is looking to offload a prime piece of property. Nobel laureate Bob Dylan has a slice of Scottish history that he put up for sale this summer: Aultmore House, a 16-room Edwardian mansion located in Cairngorm National Park in the Highlands, is listed with Knight Frank for £3 million. The agent for the 18,357-square foot property says Dylan hasn’t been able to use the property as much in recent years after buying it with his brother for £2.25 million in 2006.

Jess Simpson, who runs a property firm in England’s Oxfordshire, says her American clients seek trophy properties such as castles. Simpson’s agency helps clients find homes for £7 million and up. She has observed a threefold increase in buyers from the US in the past year, including one who bought a house for £80 million when the pound was worth little more than the dollar.

“The trifecta for wealthy American clients for UK properties is generally a house in London, an estate in the country—in a place like the Cotswolds—and a Scottish castle or estate,” Simpson says.

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