Bernera estate demands £16k to finalise house sale

A Church of Scotland minister who has fallen victim to the tactics of Great Bernera’s crofting landlord has described how he has been left “between a rock and a hard place” for the past two years.

Rev Ian Murdo MacDonald described the situation as "infuriating".
Rev Ian Murdo MacDonald described the situation as "infuriating".

Rev. Ian Murdo Macdonald, a native of Bernera and now minister in Tarbert, Harris, cannot complete the sale of his family house at 13 Breacleit because the estate will not sign the deed which transfers ownership of the site on which it is built.

This is in spite of the house and garden site having been decrofted by the Crofting Commission in February 2020. Normally, a straightforward transaction follows with an estate conveying the site to the crofting tenant for a fee of a few hundred pounds.

However, it has become standard practice for Bernera Estate, now owned by a 26 year old business administration student at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, to seek to extract substantial sums of money from such transactions.

The estate was left to his grandson, aged 16, by former owner Comte Robin de la Lanne Mirrlees when he died in 2012.

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    Mr Macdonald started the process of selling the house following the death of his mother who had been resident in Harris House for five years.

    He said: “The idea had been to keep it as a place to retire to but when the bills arrived from the council, the only option was to sell”.

    He was faced with a bill of over £120,000 for his mother’s care, of which £40,000 had been taken from her savings.

    The house in Breacleit was sold for £115,000 so that the vast majority of the proceeds will go to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – if and when they are released.

    The buyer of the house in Breacleit was Mrs Wendy Douglass. As she and her family were living in a caravan, Mr Macdonald allowed occupation of the house while the purchase price remained in an escrow account until the site deed was signed.

    However, the delaying tactics continued. In December, Mr Macdonald received a letter “in connection with 13 Bracelet (sic)” from the young German landlord claiming that “following the proposed purchase, the Estate would be left in an unsatisfactory position because they would have no useable access for the croft”

    Having been “advised by Savills”, he outlined a demand for £16,000 “to provide for the estimated cost of putting in a new access with formation of bellmouth etc as part of their sale consideration”. He added: “The terms of sale would also require the Estate's legal expenses to be met in full”.

    Mr Macdonald described the letter as “not a very welcome Christmas present” and said he had been advised by solicitors that the claim was “baseless”. However, a stalemate now exists which shows no sign of being broken.

    He said: “Although my family and I find this infuriating and stressful as we have not been able to gain closure from having to sell the family home, Mrs Douglass is in an even worse position. She bought the house in good faith and has paid the full price”.

    Mrs Douglass described the situation as “appalling”. Her own family circumstances have changed and she has had serious health issues. “I have been through a lot and this whole business has made matters much, much worse. It is unbelievable”.