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Buying a house in South Africa, as a foreigner, requires quite a lot of cash; only 50% of the purchase price may be funded by a bank - the other half must be paid in cash.

Also bear in mind that the exchange rate of South African Rands to Euros is poor and does not show any indication of improving. Foreign exchange control law, while very lenient at the moment, could also change; this might mean that you would not be able to take your money out of South Africa in the future

For these reasons, consider very carefully before you invest a large sum of money in the country.


To buy a house in South Africa as a foreign citizen, the following must be fulfilled:

  • You need to have at least a temporary residence permit
  • Unless you have a permanent residence permit, at least 50% of the property price must be paid for in cash
  • The cash paid for the house must come from your conutry of origin
  • You will need to provide a statement of foreign assets and liabilities
  • The South African Reserve Bank must consent to the transaction (a commercial bank can help you with this).

If you apply for finance from a bank in South Africa, that bank may also have other criteria.

Once you have decided to buy a house, this is how the process normally develops:

What are you looking for?

From the type of house to the number of bedrooms to whether the house has a pool - all this depends completely on your own preference. What you also do need to consider, living in Johannesburg are the following:

Johannesburg does not have a practical public transport system which means that you are going to be driving your kids around.

You will need a certain level of security installed in your house; the basics would be: burglar bars on windows, an alarm system, electric fencing, an automatic gate and outside lighting.

Off the street lock-up parking is also important as is the location of your house: living near open land or high density housing may make you more vulnerable to crime.

Some suburbs or streets have been enclosed to have restricted points of access and egress which are sometimes monitored by a guard - these are called "gated communities".

Which suburbs should you look for a house in? You want to choose one that is pleasant to live in, good value for money and safe. In a good suburb, your house will maintain its value and you won't loose money when you decide to sell. Check out our page on Johannesburg suburbs here: desirable suburbs in Johannesburg.

You will need to do some research to decide which suburbs fit these criteria; look at the properties on offer, drive around the suburbs and ask people you know what they think about the area. Many suburbs have a Residents' or Community Associations which can be a very good source of information click this link for contact details: Johannesburg Residents' and Community Associations.

You might find the Sunday Times Property Guide useful for getting information on property prices and trends. You can also ask estate agents but make sure to check independantly as well.

Avoid property close to cheaper, high density housing, a major transport hub or open land.

Would you like a free-standing house with a large garden and you own pool or a townhouse with more security? Perhaps a lock-up and go flat suites you better? These are the basic property types:

A flat - equates to a Wohnung
A house - the same as a Haus
A townhouse - known as a Stadthaus; these are generally not free standing houses as they typically share at least one wall with the neighbouring unit. Management of the entire property is handled by a committee consisting of property owners (the Body Corporate) and you are enerally not able to make changes to the outside of the property. Normally a monthly levy is paid to cover maintenance and running costs of the property.

Various modles of ownership exist in South Africa; Freehold and Sectional Title are the most common.

Freehold - typical of a house. You own the entire property and all structure on the property. As such, you can make any changes to the property which you would like to.

You will have to pay the municipal rates on a monthly basis; the amount is determined by the value of the property. You will also be billed directly for electricity and water by the city.

Sectional Title - usualy flats and townhouses. You own everything inside the property but everything outside is owned by a committee consisting of property owners (the Body Corporate); this includes the outside walls of the flat or townhouse as well as the land on which the property stands.

Running costs, water, electricity and other costs for the property are paid collectively by all the owners via a monthly levy. This levy is managed by the Body Corporate. Municipal rates and refuse removal will be billed directly to you by the municipality.

What can you afford?

When buying a house you need to consider the purchase price of the house and the fees and taxes you are required to pay when you buy property in South Africa.

You should not be required to pay agent's commission as this is paid by the seller.

The purchase price - as a non-citizen, you will be required to pay 50% of the purchase price in cash. You can finance the other 50% by taking out a home loan (mortgage bond). The amount which a bank is prepared to lend you will depend on what you earn, your current expenses and fixed costs and the interest rate.

You can use the tools on these websites to give you a rough idea of the loan you would qualify for:

Standard Bank
First National Bank
Homeloans SA
Ooba Home Finance
SA Homeloans
SA Bond Calculators
Property Junction Bond Affordability

Fees and taxes - Primarily these are taxes (including transfer duty), bank, legal and conveyancing fees. Unfortunately, these costs can be significant and banks do not finance them so you need to have the money available. You can use these finance calcultors to give you an idea of what your Fees and taxes might be:

SA Bond Calculators
Ooba Home Loan Costs
Property Junction Bond and Costs Calculator

Finding your house

There are a variety of ways of looking for a house; you can go online or look in the paper. Here are some useful place to start:

Sunday Times Property Guide - a weekly paper also available online.
Property 24 - an online directory of houses for sale.
Private Property - lists houses for sale.
Property Junction - an online listing of houses for sale.
IOL Property - part of The Star newspaper, this site features houses for sale on a daily basis.
Gumtree - originally used goods website but now advertises property as well

You can also ask an estate agent to find you a house but your choice will be limited to the houses on his books.

Many houses are "On show" on Sundays - this means that you can simply go to the house and have a look around (some agents will ask to see your id before they let you in so take some with you).

Making an offer

(Click here to download an example of a standard Offer to Purchase from First National Bank)

Before you make an offer, make sure that you have looked the house over thoroughly;

- Check for structural integrity,
- check for obvious defects and ask the agent or seller if there any problems with the house
- look for any obvious signs of damp and ask the seller or agent about these
- ask the agent or seller if the house has any problems which are not obvious
- find out why the owner is selling
- check with the local municipality that all the buildings on the property are legal and built to standard

If you have any concerns, you can ask for a specialist investigation to take place.

Once you have decided to buy a house, you will make a written Offer to Purchase. You do not have to offer the asking price. Normally you and the agent or seller will discuss the terms of this offer.

Paying a deposit always strengthens the offer and, as non-citizens are required to pay 50% of the purchase price as a deposit, you will have a very attractive offer. You may also be able to negotiate a better interest rate with the bank for the remaining amount if you have paid a large deposit.

When you pay the deposit, stipulate that it is paid into an attorney's account and that you will receive the interest accrued on the money when the deposit is released.

You will probably not be able to get pre-approval for your financing because you need Reserve Bank approval for the loan and this approval requires a signed Offer to Purchase. However, as pre-aproval is normally more of an indicator of what the bank will loan you, rather than a guarantee from the bank, this is not really serious.

Make sure you include an expiry date for the Offer to Purchase in the offer itself so that the seller has a limited amount of time to make up his mind about your offer.

An offer to purchase is not only about the price and payment of the house. It will also contain conditions which must be met for the offer to be valid, such as:
  • that the buyer obtains finance and bond approval,
  • that the buyer sells his existing property,
  • the date on which the buyer can occupy the property,
  • that the property successfully passes specialist inspection approvals

Other conditions would include:

A 72 hour clause - Some offers might include a 72 hour clause. This means that the seller can continue to look for another buyer even after he has accepted your Offer to Purchase. If he does find another buyer, you then have 72 hours to fulfill the terms of your Offer to Purchase.

Occupational rent - Even if neither you nor the seller intend to rent the property from one another, do include an Occupational rent clause just in case the property transfer is delayed.

The Defect clause - which defects need to be repaired before the sale. Obvious defects (patent defects) should be noted in the Offer to Purchase and you should also stipulate who is responsible for the cost of repairing or replacing the defect. Ask the agent or the seller about latent defects - defects which are not easily detectable upon superficial investigation. Also see the "Voetstoets" stipulation below.

The "Voetstoets" stipulation - if the seller declares that he sells the property "Voetstoets", this means that the property is sold "as is" Any defects - whether patent or latent will then be for the buyer's account unless the seller deliberately concealed the defect.

Fixtures and fittings - fixed items (eg fitted kitchens, built-in cupboards, light fittings, curtain rails, fitted carpets, alarm systems and pool cleaning equipment) are typically sold with the house although this can be negotiated. It is common that the stove is sold with the house. Make sure you and the seller are clear as to what is being sold with the house - this can help to avoid conflict at a later stage.

Compliance certificates - The seller has to provide you with an Electrical compliance certificate and, if the property has any gas systems installed, a Gas compliance certificate as well. Some compliance certificates are not required for property transfer but are good to have; Electrical fence system compliance certificates are required for all electrical fence systems installed on or after 1 October 2012, an Entomologist certificate ensures that the property is free of wood eating insects.

Agent's commission - The estate agent's commission is normally paid by the seller

Before you sign the Offer to Purchase, it is a good idea to have your lawyer look it over.

After you have signed the Offer to Purchase, the agent or seller may accept your offer or make you a counter offer. If a counter offer is made, it generaly causes the original Offer to Purchase to become invalid.

Should you wish to cancel the Offer to Purchase, contact your lawyer to find out what if you are legally able to do so. A "cooling off" clause in the South African Consumer Protection Act, may allow you to cancel the offer if less than five days have elapsed since you signed the offer and if the sale is for less than R2000 000.


Offer to Purchase

An Offer to Purchase, once signed by both parties, constitutes a Deed of Sale and is an agreement by you to buy the property and an agreement by the seller to sell the property to you. Once signed, this is a legally binding document.

Expiry date

The date on which the Offer to Purchase expires and the offer becomes defunct.


A cash amount paid as part of the property cost.

Suspensive Conditions

Conditions which must be met in order for the Offer to Purchase to be valid.

Pre-approved finance

A pledge or certificate for a certain amount from a bank indicating that you would be granted a mortgage bond for that amount. This is normally only an indication and not a guarantee from the bank. Not easily available to non-citizens.

Occupation date

This is the date on which the buyer can occupy the property.

Occuptational rent

The rental to be paid by either the buyer should he reside on the property before he owns it or by the seller if he remains on the property after he has sold it.

Fixtures or fittings

These are not always easy to define but, as a rule of thumb, all items which are fixed to a surface (or planted in the ground) would remain on the property when it is sold. The buyer or the seller may negotiate these items if they wish.

Electrical compliance certificate˟

This certificate confirms that the electrical installations on the property are safe and legally compliant. Such a certificate is valid for two years and may be allowed to expire until changes are made to the electrical installation or until the property changes hands; at this point the seller must obtain a valid Electrical compliance certificate. The certificate can only be issued by an eletrician registered with the Electrical Contracting Board of South Africa.

Entomologist certificate˟

A certificate confirming that the property is free of woodborer or termite insects. This certificate is particularly necessary in coastal areas. It must be issued by an entomologist registered with the South African Pest Control Association and is valid for three months. The certificate is arranged and paid for by the seller.

Gas compliance certificate˟

This certificate ensures that all gas installations have been inspected and that these are safe and in proper working order. The owner of any property which has gas installations must have a valid Gas compliance certificate at all times. The certificate can only be issued by an authorized person who is registered with The Liquefied Petroleum Gas Safety Association of Southern Africa (LP Gas).

Electrical fence system compliance certificate˟

All electrical fence systems installed on or after 1 October 2012 are required to have electric fence system compliance certificate. The certificate is valid until changes are made to the installation. Only Electric Fencing Installers registered with the Department of Labour may issue this certificate.

Cooling off period

The period of time within which a buyer may cancel the sale without incurring a penalty. Usually five days but may be subject to more conditions. Any monies already paid by the buyer must be returned to him withiin 15 days of the cancellation.

˟These certificates may also be required for insurance purposes.
Before you sign the Offer to Purchase, it is a good idea to have your lawyer look it over.
If you are buying a Sectional Title property, ensure that the finances of the development are sound.

Paying for the house

If you are going to finance or part-finance the property through a bank, apply for this loan as soon as you have signed the Offer to Purchase. Amongst others, the following institutions finance home loans:

Standard Bank
First National Bank
Homeloans SA
Ooba Home Finance
SA Homeloans
Better Life Home Loans

The property is transferred into your name

Once the bank has approved your bond, it will be registered and the necessary documentation will be lodged with the Registrar of Deeds (Deeds Office). The Deeds Office will register the transfer of the property into your name.

The buyer and seller's banks and the relevant attorneys' will do all this. You will not have to do anything except pay the fees and tax and sign the transfer and bond documents.

This process can take up to 3 months, once it has been completed, the property belongs to you.

Moving in!

Your bond has been registered and the property is in your name. Now you are welcome to move in and enjoy you new home!


Compared to buying a house, renting one is much easier and requires far less capital cost. It is also less expensive than in Germany as you do not have to pay any agent's costs; the property owner carries all the agent and managing costs. In addition, the agreed rental cannot be changed by the owner, within the contract period, if his costs increase.

What you do need to be careful of is that the property remains in the same condition as when you moved in. Unless you get written permission from the owner, do not make any changes. The good news is that, if you don't change the house, you won't have to renovate it when you move out.

More good news is that you won't have to maintain or clean any communal areas on the property you rent. Your only responsibility will be paying the rent every month.

These are the basic steps to renting a property:

What are you looking for?

Are you looking for a 3 bedroom house with a huge garden and a pool? Or maybe a lock-up and go townhouse? This will depend completely on your own needs and preferences. However, things that you should consider when living in Johannesburg are:

Johannesburg does not have a practical public transport system which means that, if you have children of a school going age, you are going to be driving them around.

You will need to make sure that the property has a minimum level of security installed; the basics would be: burglar bars on windows, an alarm system, electric fencing, an automatic gate and outside lighting.

If are considering a flat or town house, make sure that access to the complex is adequately controlled. A block of flats should have intercom access and townhouses should have at least this. Some townhouses will have security personnel controlling access points.

Make sure you have safe, off the street, lock up parking for your own and your visitor' cars˟.

A number of suburbs, or even streets, have restricted points of access and egress which are ofetn monitored by a security personnel - these are called "gated communities".

(˟Your car may not be covered under the terms of your motor vehicle insurance if it is not off the street and locked up).

To find out which suburbs would suite you, you will have to do some research; look at the properties on offer, drive around the suburbs and ask people you know what they think about the area. Check out our page on Johannesburg suburbs here: desirable suburbs in Johannesburg. Residents' and Community Associations can also help you with information on a suburb; click this link for contact details: Johannesburg Residents' and Community Associations.

If you plan to rent through an estate agent, you can ask his advice, make sure to check independantly as well. The Sunday Times Property Guide contains current information about property trends and prices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

Be wary of renting a property near a lot of cheaper, high density housing, a major transport hub or open land.

When renting, you are really looking at space, convenience and safety.

If you're going to be living in Johannesburg with your family and pets, you might consider a house. On the other hand, if live alone or do a lot of travel, you might want something more compact with less maintenance; a flat or townhouse might suit you better.

A lot of flats and townhouses do not allow pets.

What can you afford?

Costs when renting are very straight forward. The monthly rental costs will either include water and electricity or you will be billed separately; every property receives its own electricity and water bill and you should be charged only this billed amount. You may ask to see the bill from the municipality.

Other than water and electricity, there are normally no other costs to you.

Generally, a deposit of one or two months rent is required. When this deposit is refunded, any interest accrued on the money must be paid to you as well.

For more information on the renting costs, see the section on signing the lease below.

Finding your place

Most of the properties to rent are advertised on the internet. The best place for printed adverts would be the Sunday Times Property Guide. This paper mostly advertises houses for sale but does have some rentals on offer.

You can also look on the following sites:
Private Property
Property Junction

You can ask an agent to help you but they will only have a limited amount of properties available.

Inspecting the property
It is not customary in South Africa for tenants to make changes to a property they are renting; this is not to say that you can't make any but you MUST get the owner's written permission for the change as well as whether the change must be reversed when you leave the property. If you don't do this, the owner may well charge you to restore the property to its original condition.

This is why the property inspection is so important; you and the owner can ascertain the state of the property as well as any existing damages so that you are not held responsible for something that happened before you moved in.

Take as long as you like when you do the inspection and make notes and take photographs of any existing damage or anything you think could cause a dispute. Make sure the owner or agent has copies of this documentation and has acknowledged the contents.

Legally, the landlord or his agent MUST be present for this inspection.

You will generally meet with the owner or agent to inspect the property just before you sign the rental agreement.

Signing the lease
(Click here to download an example of a standard lease agreement for a house or cottage from Private Property.co.za)
(Click here to download an example of a standard lease agreement for a townhouse of flat from Private Property.co.za)

Once you have decided to rent a property, you will meet with the owner or his agent to sign a rental or lease agreement.

The following should be included in the lease agreement;

That you AND the owner or agent have inspected the property and you have submitted documentation indicating existing defects and damage.

The monthly rental amount;

Any additional costs; these should be itimized

The length of the lease agreement; the rent may not be increased during this period unless otherwise stated. (Do NOT accept a rent increase during the lease period unless you absolutely have to; it is not common practice).

The notice period period required by both parties should the other wish to terminate the lease. You can terminate the lease early by giving 20 business days notice but you may be charged a cancellation fee (this must be reasonable and cannot be all the rental that the owner would receive for the remainder of the lease period. The Consumer Protection Act recommends 10% of this amount).

What happens after the lease expires. If both parties are happy, you can sign a new lease or continue on a monthly basis. After the initial lease has expired, the landlord may increase the rent. The increase is normally around 10% but you can negotiate. However, once a new lease has been signed, the rent cannot increase until the end of that lease (unless stipulated).

That you and the owner or agent will inspect the property when you leave to determine any damages (normal wear and tear is NOT considered to be damage and you are not responsible for this). If the owner or his agent fail to attend this inspection, this is considered an admission that no damage occured to the property during your stay.

If you are liable for damages, the owner has to get reasonable quotes for repair. These will be paid out of your deposit.

Any repairs must be carried out as a matter of urgency and any remaining deposit must be returned to you within 14 days of the repairs being finished.

If you do not have to pay for damages, then your deposit must be returned, with interest earned within 7 days of the expiry of the lease. Some leases will specify that the owner has 30 days to repay your deposit but this is not legal.

This list is not exhaustive and you should carefully examine the lease agreement and make sure that you are happy with it before you sign it.

If you have any questions, try the tpnForum

That's it! You're now free to move in and enjoy your new place.

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