Conveyancer Aid for Immovable Property in South Africa

February 15, 2024
Property Law
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Wanderlust. New horizons. New opportunities.

Exploration and migration are instincts wired into human DNA – and throughout history, we’ve been a migratory species. And today, more than ever, these opportunities are readily available.

Now, there are many reasons why you may be considering immigrating (or already have):

  • A job opportunity or work transfer to a new country that offers great opportunities.
  • The opportunity to access better education, healthcare, or lifestyle for your family.
  • Family reunification or access to an ancestral visa.
  • The desire to simply start afresh, to embrace a new culture, or to leverage stronger currencies and wealthier markets.

Whatever your decision, emigration is not without its share of bureaucratic responsibilities. And, particularly for those who are under time constraints, one of those issues may necessitate leaving behind immoveable property.

Delegating Responsibility – Responsibly

Quite naturally, many people make the decision to sell their property and liquidate their assets prior to emigrating. As the seller, you have the prerogative (in most jurisdictions in South Africa) of appointing a conveyancer as an essential part of this process. You may even wish to set up a trust in order to preserve your property or assets. If you’d like to find out more about the role of a conveyancer, or require assistance with this, you’re welcome to contact Witz Inc for an appointment and we’ll walk you through the process, systematically and professionally.

However, you may find yourself in the position of having to leave before your property has been sold or transferred. If this happens, the best advice is to sign a Power of Attorney in favour of someone who remains in South Africa.

There are a few points to note here:

  • It’s imperative that you only sign over a Power of Attorney to somebody you trust implicitly to act with integrity, in your best interests. This might be a trusted family member, or better still, an attorney who is mandated to execute certain duties and responsibilities (or oversee these) on your behalf in your absence.
  • Arranging a Power of Attorney is something you should do before you leave South Africa, as far as is possible. If documents are signed outside of South Africa - to be used in South Africa for the property transfer process - they would need to be authenticated before a Notary Public or at the local embassy or consulate in the country to which you move. This can be a significantly costly process outside of South Africa, a cost you’d want to avoid as far as possible. Again, if you require a Power of Attorney to be drawn up, simply contact Witz Inc and we will assist you with this.

What if You Decide Not to Sell?

In the event that you decide not to sell your immovable property, there are certain steps you should take to ensure your assets are properly protected. This is critically important, because even the best intended plans can be impacted by unforeseen circumstances.

Here are some of the most important pragmatic steps you should take to guard against losses:

Secure Your Property

If your property is going to remain vacant for any period of time, ensure that you render it as physically impenetrable as possible. Most commonly, this includes:

  • Making sure all physical crime barriers are in good order – walls and perimeters, electric fencing, burglar proofing, and unobtrusive barricading within the property itself.
  • Ensuring alarms, cameras, security company links, and early warning / crime prevention technology is in good working order and will regularly be checked.
  • Ensuring that major electrical appliances like your geyser (and if warranted, water supply) are turned off to prevent potential damage in the event of piping theft, power surges, lightning strikes, or other structural damage that may occur sight unseen.

It’s also particularly advisable to also arrange for frequent physical check-ins by a third party.

Guard Against Property Hijacking

Then, there is the contentious issue of property hijacking in South Africa. If criminals or indigent opportunists gain entry to your property, you could be faced with a serious problem.

Illegal squatters not only cause damage and often have no regard for property rights but can be very difficult to evict. Bringing an eviction order can be a costly exercise, with no guarantee that it may be effectively enforced or sustained.

Advise Your Insurance Company of Changes

If your property is left vacant, this will almost certainly affect your insurance risk profile and may even trigger broad exclusions in the event of a claim due to theft or damage to your property.

Ensure that your insurance company is informed, comprehensively and in advance, of the fact that you will be vacating your property. Here, the proverbial “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” advice is sound – and may save you enormous expenses in the event of property damage or loss of goods.

Be Aware of Tax Implications

If you reside outside of South Africa, there is no prohibition on owning immovable property within the country. However, your tax status may change, which could mean additional expenses – particularly when it comes to selling or leasing your property. For this reason, you should consult with a tax expert to ensure that your tax affairs are conducted properly, both within and outside of South Africa.

If Leasing, Appoint a Reputable Leasing Agent

Another solution may be to contract a leasing agent to facilitate a tenant for your property.

This is obviously an attractive option, as it then generates passive income which can not only be used for property maintenance and upkeep, but also deliver profitable revenue to you as the owner.

However, it’s imperative to engage the services of a leasing agent who is both knowledgeable and trustworthy. As a bare minimum, always ensure that the agent has a valid fidelity fund certificate, which is issued to all property practitioners. This means you have recourse in the event of any theft of trust funds collected from your tenants, or losses incurred due to misrepresentation by the agent. Reputable agents will also have access to databases which allow for comprehensive screening of potential tenants.

Again, because the eviction process is so burdensome for property owners, even with regard to legal tenants, it is essential to perform proper due diligence when selecting a leasing agent.

Steps to Safeguarding Your Immovable Property When Emigrating
Step Action
1 Assess Your Options: Decide whether to sell, lease, or keep your property.
2 Appoint a Conveyancer: Consult a conveyancer to assist with property transactions.
3 Power of Attorney: Consider granting Power of Attorney to a trusted individual or attorney in South Africa.
4 Secure Your Property: Ensure physical security measures are in place (e.g., alarms, cameras). Arrange for regular property check-ins.
5 Guard Against Property Hijacking: Be aware of property hijacking risks and take precautions.
6 Notify Your Insurance Company: Inform your insurance company of property vacancy to avoid coverage issues.
7 Tax Implications: Consult a tax expert to understand tax implications of property ownership.
8 Lease Your Property: Consider hiring a reputable leasing agent for passive income.
9 Due Diligence: Ensure leasing agent has a valid fidelity fund certificate. Screen potential tenants thoroughly.
10 Make an Informed Decision: Weigh the advantages and complexities of leaving your property behind. Seek expert advice for a well-informed decision.

Keep, Sell, or Lease? The Decision is Yours.

There are advantages to leaving property behind when you emigrate – but there are complexities, too.

Understanding the implications, one way or another, can save you a great deal of time and expense. It’s well worth obtaining expert advice, based on practical experience, and in accordance with the best legal guidelines for each scenario.

At Witz Inc, we’re committed to ensuring our clients receive the very best advice and representation without compromise. Contact us today – and ensure the safety of your immovable property as you emigrate.