Buying and selling property: Who pays the taxman?

Note: What follows is of necessity just a general summary of some complex provisions, there are various exemptions and exceptions (such as possible zero-rating of going concern sales), and many traps for the unwary.  So take specific advice on your particular circumstances.

Whether you are the buyer or the seller of property, one of you is going to be paying SARS for the privilege, and you risk a very unpleasant and unbudgeted surprise if you don’t clarify before you enter into the sale exactly who is liable for what.

Both the status of the seller and the nature of the sale are key here. In broad terms –

  1. The seller is liable to pay VAT if it is a “vendor” (registered or obliged to register for VAT) selling the property in the course of its business activities.  Common examples include sales by property developers and speculators, and sales of commercial buildings.  As a seller, make sure that your sale agreement obliges the buyer to pay you the VAT on top of the purchase price because VAT is deemed to be included in the price if not otherwise specified.  You must pay SARS regardless of whether or not you have to dig into your own pockets to do so
  2. The buyer pays transfer duty in all other cases, the most common examples being private sales of residential property.  As a buyer, work this into your cost projections, the current transfer duty rates being as per this table –

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