Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan?s announcement that the threshold at which transfer duty applies will increase from R500 000 to R600 000 is welcome news for the property industry, particularly the residential market, which has been depressed since 2008, David Warmback, a partner at Durban-based law firm Shepstone & Wylie, says.

This year?s Budget is the first time in five years that property transfer duties have been adjusted. The new rates, effective from February 23 this year, are:

Gordhan said in his Budget speech this week that the sliding scale at which transfer duty is levied will also apply to companies, close corporations and trusts. Previously, the sliding scale applied only to individuals, whereas companies, close corporations and trusts paid transfer duty at a flat rate of eight percent.

Warmback says although transactions in the commercial and industrial property sector are often subject to VAT (transfer duty does not apply if the seller is a VAT vendor), smaller businesses that buy property from a non-VAT vendor will benefit from the new transfer duty rates.

?With the stagnation of property prices over the past few years, the change to transfer duty should bring welcome relief to those in the property market ? not only first-time and low-income home-buyers but buyers in higher price ranges as well,? Warmback says.

Jacques du Toit, the senior property analyst at Absa Home Loans, says the decrease in transfer duty rates is an attempt by the government to promote homeownership and to address the affordability of housing, especially among the lower-income population.

?This, together with government?s housing subsidy and the banks? mortgage lending criteria for low-income and first-time property buyers, will support the lower end of the market.?

Du Toit says that in the absence of further interest rate cuts expected in 2011, the lower transfer duty and expected higher level of economic growth should support the residential property market this year.

Gordhan also announced that the government is exploring establishing a savings scheme that will provide first-time homeowners with a deposit as an alternative to the exemption on interest earnings.