American professor and a broken Harris agreement

An American academic has reneged on a “verbal agreement” to sell her holiday home on Harris after claiming she was “radically uninformed about the state of the property market in South Harris”.

By Brian Wilson
Friday, 1st October 2021, 11:16 am
The property is being marketed by the Inverness office of CKD Galbraith's
The property is being marketed by the Inverness office of CKD Galbraith's

The person who had agreed to buy the house, at 8 Scaristavore, for £275,000 said this week that he was making the story public to illustrate the “gold coast greed” operating in Harris and its implications for the community.

Lou Stein and his wife have a family connection in Harris. Their son has Down’s Syndrome and the prospect of sheltered employment on the island. Mr Stein is an award-winning theatre director with a specialism of working with actors who have learning difficulties.

Beyond their own dismay at the behaviour of the seller, they are concerned about the implications of the current market for local people and those with connections to Harris who cannot compete in it.

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The former three bedroom croft house has been owned since 2006 by April Alliston who is a Professor in the English Department at Princeton University, New Jersey. According to her web-page, she “works mainly at the intersections of the fields of 18th-century studies, gender studies, and the history and theory of the novel”.

She described it this week as “a wrenching decision for me to part with my heart’s home in Scaristavore”. Having done so, she entered into a verbal agreement with the Steins who offered her what Lou described as a “more than generous £275,000”.

The “verbal agreement” is confirmed by Ms Alliston in correspondence seen by the Gazette, with an entry date of September 1st which she had even offered to bring forward if desired while her solicitor in Stornoway dealt with “minor questions that shouldn’t endanger our transaction”.

The Steins were actually en route to Harris when the bombshell struck – a message informing them that she was no longer selling. Professor Alliston followed up with an e-mail to the Steins : “I understand what a shock it must be for you and your family after so much discussion and planning and believe me I could hardly feel worse about that. I am asleep now and not capable of talking”.

However, she added: “I can only say the error was that when we made our verbal agreement and still when we last communicated about a formal agreement I was radically uninformed about the property market in South Harris. I am wretched about disappointing you and your family but I just cannot deprive my own”.

The property is now being marketed by Galbraith’s in Inverness at “offers over £275,000”. According to the website blurb: “A place of diverse landscapes, fascinating history and a strong cultural heritage, the island is the ultimate get away from it all destination”.

This week, the Gazette e-mailed Professor Alliston seeking her ethical view of reneging on verbal agreements and asking how much was she now expecting to get for the property. Her response did not address either question.

She said the house had been decrofted before she bought it. “Although my citizenship and employment do not permit me to live in the UK, my dream was to continue spending months out of every year in my Harris home and leave it to my children”