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Buying South African real estate

Buying South African real estateBuying South African real estate. As a resident or non-resident. South Africa follows a system of land registration where every piece of land is reflected on a diagram and ownership recorded in one of the regionally located Deeds Registries where documents are available for public viewing. Buying South African real estate is reputed to have one of the best deeds registration systems worldwide with an exceptional degree of accuracy and security of tenure being guaranteed. Property can be owned individually, jointly in undivided shares or by an entity such as a company, close corporation or trust or a similar entity registered outside South Africa.

Buying South African real estate or selling in the wild African bush can be stressful. Should you need a reliable real estate agent you can trust to take some of the burden off your shoulders, then call or e-mail Julian: +27 (0)83 400 8490 |

Information courtesy of: STBB – SMITH TABATA BUCHANAN BOYES (Updated: 2015 / 2016 fiscal years)

Buying South African real estate – Non-Residents

There are no restrictions in respect of property ownership by non-residents, save for a prohibition on illegal aliens owning immovable property within South Africa. There are, however, procedures and requirements which must be complied with in certain circumstances when Buying South African real estate, such as the local registration of entities registered outside of South Africa where they purchase property in South Africa, and the appointment of a South African resident public officer for a local company whose shares are owned by a non-resident. In the event of a non-resident buying property in the country with the intention of residing for longer periods, a residence permit will have to be applied for in accordance with the relevant requirements.

Buying South African real estate

All contracts to acquire land must be in writing, contain certain prescribed information and be signed by both buyer and seller to be valid and legally binding. Buying South African real estate, contracts, most commonly take the form of an Agreement of Sale or Offer to buying property, which once accepted, constitutes an Agreement of Sale.

Once an Agreement of Sale has been signed by both parties it represents a valid and binding contract from which neither party can withdraw without incurring legal consequences, save in certain instances where:

  • the agreement is subject to certain conditions which are not fulfilled;
  • the purchase price is less than R250 000.00 and certain additional criteria in terms of the Alienation of Land Act are present entitling the Purchaser to “cool off” and cancel the sale.

The de facto ownership of property can also be obtained by means of acquiring the shares/members interest and loan claims in a company/close corporation that owns a property. These contracts, strictly speaking, need not be in writing and can be concluded verbally. Although legally binding, this is not advisable and it is recommended to record the agreement in writing to ensure that the material terms agreed to is accurately recorded.

Transfer Procedure

The registration of a property transaction is handled by a specially qualified legal practitioner known as a conveyancer. It is customary for the seller to appoint the conveyancer. The costs attendant thereon are for the account of the purchaser, unless contractually agreed to otherwise. When buying South African real estate, the conveyancer prepares the requisite transfer documentation which, after signature by the purchaser and the seller and receipt of various clearances required by government departments, is lodged (together with the cancellation of any existing mortgage bonds and new mortgage bonds to be registered) in a regionally located Deeds Registry. The deeds are subject to a stringent examination process whereafter they are made available for registration. On the date of registration of transfer all existing mortgage bonds registered over the property are cancelled, simultaneously with the registration of any new mortgage bonds by the purchaser in favour of the bank granting financial assistance. The purchaser is recorded as the new owner of the property and the purchase price is paid to the seller. The above procedure does not apply where the shares/ member’s interest and loans are acquired in a property-owning company/close corporation as no change in ownership is recorded in the Deeds Registry. It is important to note that upon transfer to the new owner, any liabilities in respect of the property incurred by the previous owner remain with the previous owner and do not pass to the new owner, unless otherwise agreed to or in the case of certain historic municipal rates and taxes debts that attaches to the land. If the sale agreement relates to the sale of shares/members interest in a company or close corporation, the entity will remain liable for settling the liabilities it incurred.


  • Brokerage is payable where an estate agent is responsible for the successful conclusion of a sale of immovable property. Brokerage is customarily payable by the seller who mandates the estate agent to procure a purchaser for the property.
  • The seller is usually also responsible for the cost of procuring beetle free, electrical, gas, plumbing and electric fence compliance certificates where necessary.
  • If the seller’s property is bonded, the seller is liable for the costs relating to the cancellation of the existing bond over the property.


  • Conveyancing Fees

Buying South African real estate, the purchaser is responsible for the payment of transfer costs and the costs of registering any new mortgage bonds over the property purchased. These are often referred to as the ‘conveyancing fees’. The conveyancing fee is determined according to the purchase price of the property and determined by a tariff guideline issued by the Law Society.

  • Conveyancing fees further include:
  • Transfer duty that is payable to the Receiver of Revenue, calculated on the following formula, based on the purchase price:
  • For properties with a purchase price of up to R750 000, no transfer duty is payable.

    From R750 001 to R1 250 000, transfer duty is calculated at 3% on the value above R750 000 (in other words, you don’t pay transfer duty on the rest R750 000, only on the portion that exceeds this amount.)

    From R1 250 001 to R1 750 000, transfer duty is calculated at 6% on the value above R1 250 000 Plus at a rate of R15 000.

    From R1 750 001 to R2 250 000, transfer duty is calculated at 8% on the value above R1 750 000 Plus at a rate of R45 000.

    From R2 250 001 to R10 000 000, transfer duty is calculated at 11% on the value above R2 250 000 Plus at a rate of R85 000.

    From R10 000 000 upwards, transfer duty is calculated at 13% on the value above R10 000 000 Plus at a rate of R937 500.

Transfer duty is payable on the acquisition of property whether by an individual or entity. Note the exception: no transfer duty is payable if VAT is payable. VAT is payable in a transaction if the seller is a registered VAT vendor and the property sold forms part of the seller’s business.

  • sundry charges are imposed by the Deeds Registry and the Bank granting financial assistance;
  • deeds office levies;
  • pro-rata rates and taxes; and
  • expenses for obtaining rates/levy clearance certificates.


When buying South African real estate, documentation prepared by the conveyancer pertaining to the registration of transfer of the property and any mortgage bond to be registered over the property is required to be signed in black ink and must be authenticated if signed outside South Africa. This is sometimes inconvenient and it is possible, and often advisable, to leave a General Power of Attorney (GPA) in favour of a trusted person in South Africa to assist in this regard. This having been said, it is important to note that no person is allowed to sign an affidavit on someone else’s behalf, even if a GPA has been granted. Where the purchaser is married according to the laws of a foreign country and a mortgage bond has been applied for, or on the re-sale of the property, the spouse of the purchaser will be required to assist the purchaser in signing the mortgage bond documentation or transfer documents.


When buying South African real estate, the Offer to Purchase/Agreement of Sale will typically contain the following standard provisions:


When buying South African real estate, a deposit is not mandatory but serves as a gesture of good faith on the part of the purchaser and an indication of financial ability. This amount will be invested by the estate agent/ conveyancer in an interest-bearing trust account, interest accruing for the benefit of the purchaser. Both attorneys and estate agents are covered by Fidelity Funds, which guard against the risk of theft or negligence on the side of the agent or attorney.

Provision will be made in the Agreement when buying property for a guarantee to be called for in respect of the balance of the purchase price. In general, a guarantee will only be acceptable if issued by a local financial institution which means that the funds will actually have to be remitted to South Africa in order for a local bank to issue such a guarantee or, alternatively, arrangements must be made between a foreign and local bank for a back to back guarantee to be issued. It is, however, possible to negotiate the issue of a Standby Letter of Credit from an overseas institution in certain circumstances.


Occupation is the physical occupation of the property whereas possession is generally deemed to be the date upon which the purchaser assumes responsibility for the property and it is customary for possession to pass on the date of registration of transfer. Transfer refers to the actual date of registration of ownership in the Deeds Registry in favour of the purchaser.

Occupational interest is the rental payable by the party occupying the property belonging to another where the date of occupation and date of transfer differs and is normally expressed in Rand terms or as a percentage of the outstanding balance of the purchase price.


This is a standard inclusion in all deeds of sale and implies that the property is bought ‘as is’, which means ‘in the exact condition in which the property is found.’ The Consumer Protection Act applies to sale agreements where the seller is in the business of selling land, such as a developer. In such instances, the seller is obliged to provide the purchaser with property that is free from defects, as defined in the Act.


When buying South African real estate, the property owner is required by law to be in possession of a valid electrical compliance certificate certifying that the electrical installation at the property meets certain statutory safety re-quirements. The beetle-free certificate certifies that all accessible parts of the property are free of infestation by certain defined beetle and this, whilst it is a standard inclusion in the Agreement of Sale, is neither a legal requirement nor is it included in sales of sectional title units. Beetle-free certificates only apply to proper-ties in the Western Cape and Kwaproper-tiesZulu-Natal provinces.

The cost of attending to the necessary repairs in order for the aforesaid certificates to be provided is generally accepted as being for the account of the seller, although the parties can contractually agree otherwise.


If there is a gas appliance installed in the property a Gas Certificate of Compliance must be obtained, confirming that the installation complies with certain statutory safety requirements. If there is a Solar appliance installed in the property a Solar Buying Property must be obtained, confirming that the installation complies with certain statutory safety requirements. If there is a Lightning Conductor appliance installed on the property, a Certificate of Compliance must be obtained, confirming that the installation complies with certain statutory safety requirements.


A property is sold together with all fixtures and fittings of a permanent nature. Generally fixtures and fittings include anything which is attached to the property or which by virtue of its considerable mass accedes to the property. To avoid uncertainty, the purchaser is cautioned to ensure that all items intended to be included in the purchase price are specified in writing in the Agreement of Sale.

Agreements for the acquisition of shares/member’s interest and loan accounts in property-owning companies/close corporations, contain many of the clauses discussed above. Such agreements are, however, substantially different from property sale agreements and include numerous warranties and indemnities that the seller gives to the purchaser, as the latter is acquiring the property-owning entity together with its financial history.


South African residents are liable for the payment of Capital Gains Tax (“CGT”) on the disposal of any capital asset, subject to certain limited exceptions. Non-residents, however, are only liable to pay CGT on the disposal of the following:

  • Immovable property situated in South Africa, including any right or interest in immovable property. (This also includes an interest of at least 20% in a company where 80% or more of the value of the net assets of the company is attributable, directly or indirectly, to immovable property in South Africa.)
  • Assets of a permanent establishment of a non-resident through which trade is carried on in South Africa. CGT is payable in the year in which the asset is disposed of. The current rates, as at March 2015, are the following:


  • 33,3% of the gain made on the sale of immovable property must be included in the annual income of the taxpayer. The latter will then be taxed at the rate that applies to the taxpayer’s particular level of annual income. The maximum at which individuals are taxed is 41%. This makes the highest effective rate of CGT for individuals 13,65% (41% x 33,3% = 13,65%). There is a yearly rebate of R 30 000 for natural persons.


  • 66,6% of the gain made on the sale of immovable property by a company must be included in the annual income of that company. A company’s income is taxed at 28%. Therefore the effective CGT rate for a company is 18,65% (66,6% x 28% = 18,65%).


66,6% of the gain made on the sale of immovable property by a trust must be included in the annual income of that trust. A trust’s income is taxed at 41%. Therefore the highest effective CGT rate for a trust is now 27,31% (66,6% x 41% = 27,31%). The capital gain is calculated and disclosed in the individual’s income tax return for the year in which it is sold. Thus, if a non-resident disposes of immovable property in any year of assessment and is not already registered as a South African taxpayer, he or she will have to register as such and submit an income tax return reflecting the calculation of the capital gain and will be liable for the payment of CGT on that gain.


An obligation relating to the withholding of a percentage of the sale proceeds from non-resident sellers was introduced into our tax laws in 2007. When buying South African real estate the provision requires that, where a non-resident sells a property for more than R2 million, provisional CGT must be paid to SARS in an amount of :

  • 5% in the event of a natural non-resident seller,
  • 7.5% in the event of a foreign company; and
  • 10% in the event of a foreign trust unless a specific CGT directive is applied for prior to transfer of the property being registered.


The answer to this is a resounding NO, save for a prohibition on illegal aliens owning immovable property in South Africa. Non-residents will of course be subject to the same laws and regulations as South Africans and it is compliance with these stringent requirements that ensures the efficiency of the South African land registration system and security of tenure.

Should the non-resident when buying real estate, not wish to purchase the property in his or her own name but rather in the name of an entity, such entity must be locally registered and meet the requirements inherent in registration of the chosen entity, such as the requirements of the Companies Act.

For example, a non-resident may decide to own the property through share ownership in a company or as a beneficiary in a trust. In the event of a non-resident acquiring property in the name of an entity, funds brought into the country will represent a loan to the local entity and will require Exchange Control approval.

For the most part however, property is registered in the name of the purchaser as an individual. There may be specific reasons for taking transfer in the name of an entity. For further advice, contact conveyancing attorneys STBB Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes,

Note that when buying real estate the purchasers will have to finalise their choice of entity in which to purchase the property prior to signing any Offer to Purchase or Agreement of Sale, as no changes can be made at a later date without the possibility of penalties being imposed and resultant delays in the transaction. It is possible to sign an agreement as nominee for another, but the nomination of the alternative purchaser must then be made before midnight on the date of signature of the agreement.

Finally, a non-resident can purchase South African property over the internet without entering the country! However, should the prospective purchaser intend residing in the property for any length of time, he or she will need to comply with the requirements of the Immigration Act and either have a valid permit to temporarily remain in the country or be in possession of a permanent residency permit.


Foreign funds can be paid into any nominated bank account in South Africa. This account will usually be the trust account of the estate agent or transferring attorneys into which the deposit for the property and the balance of the purchase price is paid. These funds will be invested for the non-resident’s benefit and the non-resident can rest assured that such

a deposit is secure and guaranteed, as the operation of
these trust accounts is regulated by the professional boards overseeing the operations of both attorneys and estate agents. If the money is deposited into an attorney’s trust account, the client will be required to sign a specific instruction form, directing the attorney to invest the money and requesting interest to accrue to the client. Failing such an instruction, interest earned will accrue to the Law Society.

When a non-resident transfers funds from a foreign source into a South African bank account, a record known as a “deal receipt” is kept of the foreign funds received by the South African bank. This is an important document which must be retained for purposes of repatriation of the funds.


The South African Reserve Bank will adjudge all foreigners not having their domicile in South Africa as non-residents. This however does not include foreigners with South African work permits who will be considered to be residents for the duration of their work permit.

When buying real estate, Non-residents are restricted in they’re borrowing ratio to an amount equal to the amount brought in from a foreign bank. As such, if a purchaser brings sufficient money into South Africa to cover the costs and transfer duty of the transaction together with 50% of the purchase price, he will be able to borrow an amount that is more than 50% of the purchase price. In order to qualify for a South African mortgage bond, the non-resident will need to provide proof of earnings and comply with the Financial Intelligence Centre Act. This Act, in simple terms, requires identification of the non-resident for money laundering purposes, and involves the production of certain documents such as a passport and proof of residential address.


Buying real estate in South Africa in order for a non-resident to service repayments on a mortgage bond, he or she will need to open a non-resident banking account which can only be done from within the country. Again, certain documentation relating to the applicant’s identity will be required, ie. application form detailing name, passport number and address, certified copies of the relevant pages of the passport, and proof of source of income, such as a salary slip or pension statement. All copies will have to be certified as copies of the originals. Once the bank account has been opened, foreign funds will have to be deposited immediately.

In certain circumstances when buying South African real estate, local currency can be deposited into the account, for example, rental income acquired from property belonging to the non-resident. This is dependent on the bank being in possession of a certified copy of the rental agreement. This type of deposit, together with any other South African deposit into the non-resident account, will require the Reserve Bank’s approval, as non-residents are not entitled to generate income in South Africa, other than interest/rental generated from the foreign funded capital asset. Obviously the Rand value received on the sale of immovable property in South Africa can also be receipted into the non-resident account, provided the necessary documentation is lodged prior to the deposit being made.


It is customary when buying South African real estate for the seller of immovable property, to nominate the attorneys who will attend to the transfer. Such attorneys then act for the seller and on his or her instructions. Consequently, in the event of a dispute between the seller and purchaser, when buying real estate, the purchaser would have to seek independent legal advice. Note that whilst the seller selects the attorneys, the purchaser pays the transfer costs.


yes, but there are certain formalities that must be complied with. Documents can either be signed before a Notary Public in certain countries or alternatively at the South African Embassy in that country. This can unfortunately turn out to be costly and time consuming.

If a seller or purchaser is in South Africa at the time of Buying South African real estate, but returning overseas shortly thereafter, it is advisable to sign a special or general power of attorney in favour of a local friend or family member who will then be able to act on his or her behalf. When buying real estate, it is important to remember that affidavits cannot be signed by an authorised representative on your behalf.


Understandably, whenBuying South African real estate, this is without doubt the number one concern of non-residents considering investing in South Africa. The answer to this question is simply, yes. Money from a foreign source together with any profit, proportionate to that non-resident’s shareholding in the property, may be repatriated in due course in terms of SA Exchange Control Regulations. If the non-resident owns property together with a SA resident, only his portion may be repatriated, and is limited to the amount which can be proven to have emanated from a foreign source plus the profit on that portion.

On transfer of the property to the non-resident purchaser, all deal receipts, a copy of the agreement of sale together with the conveyancer’s final statement of all costs, must be retained by the non-resident purchaser for the duration of his ownership and will have to be presented to the Reserve Bank on sale, when the proceeds are to be repatriated back abroad. This facilitates the repatriation of the funds and profit on sale of the property, provided the bankers are satisfied that such profit is reasonable and market related.


While South Africans are taxed on their worldwide income, non-residents are liable for income tax only on income accruing from a South African source. For example, if the property is rented, the rental income will be subject to South African income tax. In addition, a non-resident is liable for payment of capital gains tax on the disposal of a South African property.

Finally, when buying South African real estate, it is important to note that a non-resident who has not permanently immigrated to South Africa will be considered a resident for income tax purposes if he or she spends more than a certain length of time within the country. This is known as the “physical presence test” and is calculated in terms of days spent in the country over a three year period.

No tax is levied on foreign pensions.


When Buying South African real estate, estate duty is presently calculated at 20% of the dutiable amount of an estate. However, any inheritance bequeathed to a surviving spouse is not subject to estate duty. Buying real estate, Non-Residents, like South Africans, are entitled to a rebate of R3.5 million on their dutiable assets; however, unlike South Africans, this rebate is limited to assets situated in South Africa.

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