Legal Talk – Buying Property in South Africa as a Resident or Non-Resident (Part I)

Buying Property in SA as a Resident or Non-Resident
(PART 1 OF A 4 PART SERIES)

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. South Africa 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.

NON-RESIDENTS

There are no restrictions on 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, such as, the local registration of entities registered outside of South Africa where it purchases 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 purchasing property in the country with the intention of residing for longer periods, a resident permit will have to be applied for in accordance with the given requirements and procedures of South African law.

BUYING A PROPERTY

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. Contracts most commonly take the form of an Agreement of Sale or Offer to Purchase 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 either fulfilled/not fulfilled;
  • the purchase price is less than R250 000.00 and certain additional criteria in terms of the Alienation of Land Amendment Act are present entitling the Purchaser to "cool off."

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 respectively which company/close corporation is the registered owner of a property. These contracts, strictly speaking, need not be in writing and can be concluded verbally which, although legally binding, is not advisable and it is recommended to record the agreement in writing to ensure that the material terms agreed to are accurately recorded.

The decision to enter into and sign an Offer to Purchase/Agreement of Sale is not a decision to be taken lightly and it is recommended that an inexperienced purchaser obtain independent legal advice if uncertain in any respect.

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 to attend to the registration of transfer of a property sold, whilst the costs attendant thereon are for the account of the purchaser, unless contractually agreed to otherwise.

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 an intense 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 in the situation where the shares/members 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 necessarily pass to the new owner, unless otherwise agreed to.

COSTS

Brokerage is payable where an estate agent is responsible for concluding 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 also responsible for the cost of procuring 'beetle free and electrical compliance' certificates. The purchaser is responsible for the payment of transfer costs and the costs of registering any new mortgage bonds over the property purchased. Transfer costs include transfer duty payable to the Receiver of Revenue calculated using the following formula, based on the purchase price:

R0 - R500 000 exempt
5% between R500 000 – R1 000 000
8% on the balance above R1 000 000

where a natural person purchases the property, shares or members interest in a residential property owning entity; or

8% of the purchase price

where the purchaser of the property, shares or members interest in a residential property owning entity, is not a natural person. Attorneys' fees for attending to the transfer and registration of mortgage bonds are calculated according to a tariff. Further sundry charges are imposed by the Deeds Registry and the Bank granting financial assistance.

Courtesy: STBB Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes

STBB Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes is a firm of business-minded lawyers which was established in 1900. At present, the firm consists of over 100 professionals practising from 15 offices throughout South Africa.

Visit their website: www.stbb.co.za or contact them on: +27 (0) 31 583 8060

Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage which may arise from reliance on information contained in this article. © Copyright STBB Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes 2007. All Rights reserved

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