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A Foreigner’s Guide To Buying Property In South Africa - 2018

Category Buying Property

 WHO TO CONSULT

There is no restriction on foreign investors acquiring property in South Africa

All ownership of land is recorded in a deeds registry and is evidenced by means of a deed of 
transfer which is registered at the deeds registry. There are various deeds offices situated across 
the country. 

A conveyancing attorney who has been admitted as such by the High Court of South Africa attends 
to the transfer process which is finalised by means of registration at the deeds office.

WHAT ARE THE FORMALITIES?

Under the Alienation of Land Act an agreement for the sale of land, whether freehold or sectional 
title, must be in writing and signed by the seller and purchaser or their agents acting on their 
written authority.

There is no recognition in South African law of the British legal concepts of "joint tenants" or 
"tenants in common". 

As the South African deeds office does not concern itself with the laws of countries outside South 
Africa, the consent of the spouse of a person whose marriage is governed by the laws of a foreign 
country will be required when property in South Africa is acquired by one of the spouses

Certain transfer and mortgage bond registration documents will therefore require signature by the 
spouse. This is so because under South African law there are two basic matrimonial property 
regimes, being in community of property or out of community of property. In the former case the 
provisions of the Matrimonial Property Act provide that both spouses must act jointly when dealing 
with (i.e. acquiring or encumbering)  fixed property.

Documents signed outside South Africa for purposes of use within South Africa must be signed 
according to the provisions of South African High Court Rule 63, which provides that:

Any document executed in any place outside the Republic shall be deemed to be sufficiently authenticated for the purpose of use in 
the Republic if it be duly authenticated at such foreign place by the signature and seal of office- 

(a) of the head of a South African diplomatic or consular mission or a person in the administrative or professional division of the 
public service serving at a South African diplomatic, consular or trade office abroad; or 

(b) of a consul-general, consul, vice-consul or consular agent of the United Kingdom or any other person acting in any of the 
aforementioned capacities or a pro-consul of the United Kingdom; 

(c) of any Government authority of such foreign place charged with the authentication of documents under the law of that foreign 
country; or 

(d) of any person in such foreign place who shall be shown by a certificate of any person referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c) or of 
any diplomatic or consular officer of such foreign country in the Republic to be duly authorised to authenticate such document under 
the law of that foreign country; or 

(e) of a notary public in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana or Swaziland;
 or 

(f) of a commissioned officer of the South African Defence Force as defined in section one of the Defence Act, 1957 (Act 44 of 1957), 
in the case of a document executed by any person on active service. 

HOW SHOULD YOU ACQUIRE THE PROPERTY?

Property can be owned by an individual, company or other entity, either local or foreign. 

Individual

Any person can own property outright in his/her own name and may also rent out the property.

The rental income will be taxed under the South African tax regime by virtue of the fact that the 
property is situated in the Republic of South Africa.  South African tax returns are therefore required 
to be completed and submitted annually.

When an individual disposes of the immovable property, capital gains tax is payable at the 
maximum effective rate of 18%

Foreign companies and trusts

For foreign companies to acquire property in South Africa, they must register as an external company 
in terms of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. 

The deeds registry will also require a foreign trust to be registered by the Master of the High Court 
of South Africa.

South African companies

Any rental income, net of expenses, derived by the company is taxed at a rate of 28%. 
The rate of 28% for the company is lower than the maximum tax rate for individuals, which is 
currently 45%.

When the company disposes of the immovable property, capital gains tax is payable at a rate of 
22.4%. 

Dividends declared by a company attracts dividend withholding tax at a rate of 20%.

South African trusts

Any rental income, net of expenses, derived by the trust is taxed at a rate of 41%. 

When the trust disposes of the immovable property, capital gains tax is payable at a rate of 36%. 

TRANSFER TAXES

Transfer duty is payable to SARS by a purchaser when property is acquired. 

With effect from 1st April 2018 the following transfer duty rates apply:

If the seller of the property is a registered vendor for VAT purposes, then VAT at 15% is payable by 
the seller and not transfer duty. 

Under certain circumstances the acquisition of a business property maybe subject to zero-rated VAT. 

OTHER COSTS

The Seller is responsible for the payment of the estate agent’s brokerage.

If the property is mortgage, the Seller will pay the cancellation costs in order to cancel the mortgage
bond.
A Seller is responsible for the compliance certificate inspection fees and any remedial work required 
in order to have the electricity, water, gas, electric fence and beetle certificates issued. 

The Purchaser is responsible for the payment of the attorneys’ fees relating to the registration of the 
property into his/her name and any bond registration fees.

Deeds Office charges, and levy and rates clearance certificate charges are payable by the Purchaser

WHAT ABOUT FINANCING?

A foreign purchaser can obtain a loan from a South African bank of up to 50% of the purchase price 
provided all South African Reserve Bank conditions are satisfied. If you are a permanent resident in 
South Africa however you may qualify for a higher loan provided South African Reserve Bank 
requirements are met.

Repayment of a loan to finance the acquisition of fixed property will generally be secured by means 
of registration of a mortgage bond at the deeds office simultaneously with registration of transfer of 
the property into the name of the purchaser.
Mortgage bonds afford a bondholder first preference over the proceeds of the sale of the property in 
the event of insolvency of the property owner. 

TWO BASIC PROPERTY TYPES

As with the distinction in British law between commonhold and freehold property, under South African 
law there is sectional title (similar to commonhold) and freehold property.

The Deeds Registries Act and the Sectional Titles Act are relevant here. 

Whereas freehold property is depicted on a diagram approved by the Surveyor-General, it is 
possible to own units in buildings through the Sectional Titles Act. These are known as sectional title 
units, and are registered in a deeds registry, by reference to a sectional title plan, prepared by a 
land surveyor and registered with the Surveyor-General. 

A unit in a sectional title scheme is to be described in title deeds as follows:

A unit consisting of:-

(a) Section No. ….. as shown and more fully described on Sectional Plan No. SS………./…., 
("the sectional plan") in the scheme known as …………… in respect of the land and building or 
buildings situate at ………….., in the municipal area of …………………, of which section the floor 
area, according to the said sectional plan, is 82 (EIGHTY TWO) SQUARE METRES in extent 
("the mortgaged section"); and

(b) an undivided share in the common property in the scheme apportioned to the said section in 
accordance with the participation quota as endorsed on the said sectional plan ("the common 
property").

Under the Sectional Titles Act it is also possible to have the exclusive use of certain parts of the 
common property such as parking bays, registered under a notarial deed or allocated in terms of 
the rules of the sectional title scheme.

WHAT IF YOU SELL YOUR PROPERTY IN SOUTH AFRICA?

The seller is entitled to appoint his own conveyancing attorney to attend to the transfer, to ensure that 
the purchase price is properly secured and in good time, and to ensure that the transfer process is not 
delayed by the purchaser.

Properties may not be transferred unless the mortgage bond is cancelled. Accordingly the consent 
of the bondholder is required for the transfer of a property. 

A withholding amount is payable to the SARS pending determination of the tax liability by the 
non-resident seller to SARS. The amount withheld by the purchaser serves as an advance payment 
towards the seller’s final income tax liability.

The current rates are 

o 7.5% for individuals 
o 10% for companies and 
o 15% for trusts. 

If certain requirements are met, application may be made to the South African Revenue Services for a 
tax directive stipulating a lesser/no amount to be withheld.
Treaty relief may be available to taxpayers in terms of international treaties. 

Can you transfer your sale proceeds abroad?

Before the proceeds of the sale of immovable property in South Africa or shares in a company-
owning South African immovable property may be taken abroad by a non-resident, South African 
Reserve Bank approval is required.     
     
So, it is advisable to keep all financial records relating to the transaction, particularly proof that the 
funds used to purchase the property were introduced from overseas.

ESTATE DUTY

Estate duty is levied at 20%, however any assets bequeathed to the surviving spouse is not subject to 
estate duty. The rebate of R3.5 million is also applicable to non-residents in respect of South African 
assets only. It is recommended that a Last Will and Testament, regulating the distribution of South 
African assets, be executed.

Author: Herold Gie Attorneys (Stefan Le Roux)

Submitted 08 Jun 18 / Views 936

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