The transfer of rights in property sold is a fundamental aspect of contract law. When parties enter into a sale contract, they establish reciprocal rights and obligations regarding the subject matter of the sale. However, it is important to note that a sale contract does not automatically transfer real rights, such as ownership or limited real rights of security, in the property. Instead, the transfer of ownership and other real rights is determined by principles of property law. This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the requirements for the transfer of rights in property sold, exploring key legal principles and implications.

Sale Contract as an Obligationary Agreement:

A sale contract establishes the rights and obligations between the buyer and seller. Specifically, it grants the buyer a personal right to claim the transfer of the subject matter of the sale from the seller. However, the sale contract itself does not effectuate the transfer of ownership or other real rights. South African law follows an abstract system of transfer of ownership, where the validity of the transfer is independent of the underlying transaction. The acquisition of ownership occurs based on principles of property law, and the sale contract is viewed as an obligationary agreement without any real effect.

Requirements for Transfer of Rights in Property Sold:

Certain requirements must be fulfilled to facilitate the transfer of ownership or other real rights in property sold. These requirements apply to both corporeal and incorporeal property.

Seller’s Ownership of Property Sold:

The seller must be the owner of the property or act with the owner’s authority to transfer ownership. If the seller does not have ownership rights or the authority to transfer ownership, they cannot pass ownership to the buyer. In such cases, the owner can claim the property from the buyer, even if the buyer acquired it in good faith and made payment.

Delivery of the Property:

Another essential requirement is the delivery of the property sold to the buyer. The form of delivery varies based on the type of property involved. Immovable property, like land, is transferred through registration in the appropriate deeds office. Corporeal movable property can be delivered through actual or constructive means. Constructive delivery may take different forms, such as symbolical delivery, delivery with the long hand, delivery with the short hand, transfer by constitutum possessorium, or attornment.

Transfer of Incorporeal Movable Property:

Incorporeal movable property, such as contractual rights, is transferred through cession, which involves a bilateral act where the cedent transfers the right to the cessionary through an agreement.

Intention to Transfer Ownership:

At the moment of transfer, both the seller and the buyer must have the intention to transfer and acquire ownership, respectively. The transfer’s validity and efficacy for passing ownership are determined by property law principles independent of the sale contract. While ownership typically passes at the time of delivery, parties may expressly or tacitly agree that ownership will pass at a later time or be conditional.

Cash and Credit Sales:

In the context of sale contracts, cash and credit sales are distinguished for determining the timing of ownership transfer. In cash sales, ownership is usually intended to pass upon delivery and payment of the purchase price. In credit sales, ownership may pass upon delivery, with the understanding that payment will be made at a later date. The classification of a sale as cash or credit depends on the parties’ express or tacit agreement, which can be inferred from the contract terms, surrounding circumstances, and conduct of the parties.

Reservation of Ownership Clauses:

Parties to a sale contract may include a reservation of ownership clause in credit sales of corporeal movable property. This clause allows the seller to retain ownership until the buyer fulfils their obligations under the contract, such as making full payment. While reservation of ownership clauses are valid and enforceable, they must be drafted carefully to ensure compliance with statutory requirements and protect the interests of both parties.


The transfer of rights in property sold involves a complex interplay between contract law and property law principles. While a sale contract establishes the rights and obligations between the buyer and seller, it does not automatically transfer ownership or other real rights. Property law requirements determine ownership transfer, such as the seller’s ownership, delivery of the property, and the intention to transfer ownership. Understanding these legal principles is essential for parties engaging in sale contracts to ensure the effective transfer of rights in property sold and protect their interests.

Sale agreements and transfer of ownership can be a complex process; contact an expert at SchoemanLaw for your legal needs.