Budget 2021: Improved Incentives for First Time Property Buyers

UPDATE: The government plans to extend again the measure which reduced stamp duty to 1.5%. Acquirers will have until the end of July to sign a promise of sale and benefit from the reduced rate.

We’ll keep you posted about further announcements.

The existing scheme to aid buyers in purchasing their first home is being extended, with the property value eligible for duty exemption increased from the current upper-limit of €175,000 to €200,000.

This incentive and others affecting the real estate sector have been announced on Monday in the Budget 2021 speech. Yesterday’s budget also extended the reduced duties announced earlier this year as part of the COVID-19 economic regeneration plan.

Reduced stamp duty of 1.5% and Final Withholding Tax of 5% for Inter Vivos transfers will apply to promise-of-sale agreements made until March 2021, and until the end of 2021 for the signing of contracts of sale.

Other property incentives

Duty on property donations is also being eased, with the first €250,000 in the value of a property being exempt, an increase from the previous threshold of €200,000. Amounts in excess of €250,000 shall be subject to duty at the rate of 3.5%

The rate of duty on the acquisition of residential properties is being reduced to 3.5% on the first €200,000.

Reduction in duty for second-time buyers is also being extended to acquisitions made throughout 2021. This scheme allows individuals who sell their first residence to purchase another home to claim a duty refund of up to €3,000 if it is their sole property.

Extension of reduced duty rates on the acquisition of properties located in an Urban Conservation Area (UCA) or in Gozo. The current duty of 2.5% (down from the previous rate of 5%) will continue to apply during 2021

During 2021, all profits derived from the assignment of rights on a promise of sale relating to immovable property will be taxed at a final tax rate of 15% increased from the first €100,000.

UPDATED: Fiscal incentives for property buyers and sellers: Stamp duty reduced to 1.5%; final withholding tax to 5%

UPDATE: The government plans to extend again the measure which reduced stamp duty to 1.5%. Acquirers will have until the end of July to sign a promise of sale and benefit from the reduced rate.

We’ll keep you posted about further announcements.

The government announced temporary financial incentives for Maltese property buyers and sellers as part of a COVID-19 economic recovery package launched on 8th June 2020.

Legal Notices 240/2020 and 241/2020, concerning the payment of stamp duty and property transfer tax, provide for the following revisions to the fees that must be paid for contracts that occur by 1st April 2021:

  • Property buyers will see their stamp duty reduced to 1.5% from the present rate of 5%. Schemes that are currently in existence (such as First Time Buyers and UCA Scheme) can be used in conjunction with this rate of stamp duty.
  • Property sellers will pay a final withholding tax of 5%, a decrease from the 8% / 10% tax currently in place.

These reductions apply to property values up to a maximum of €400,000.

Properties valued over this amount will have the reduced rates applied to the first €400,000. Any fees due over and above this amount will be calculated at the normal rates.

Donations of immovable property (under Article 32C of the main Act) are not subject to the revised stamp duty rates.

The new measures apply to transfers of immovable property made on or after the 9th June 2020, but before 1st April 2021. These transfers will qualify for the reduced rates if the notice of the final deed is given to the Commissioner for Revenue by 30th April 2021.

In a related announcement, the government said it will also amend the First time Buyers Scheme so that people who had previously bought any property that doesn’t constitute a residence (e.g. a garage) will be able to qualify for this scheme when purchasing a new home.

Client’s Perspective: Signing a promise of sale

A notary public will be the second or third person involved in what will probably be the most important decisions in your life. 

Luckily, I worked with Veronica Mizzi Young before, so it was only natural that when the time came to signing a konvenju (promise of sale) as first-time homeowners, my fiancée and I would ask for her assistance again. If you’re in a similar position and don’t know a notary yet, then consider this a personal recommendation!

As a couple, we’ve always put a lot of time and thought into all our decisions; however, over time, we noticed that the world tends to surprise us with opportunities we would never have expected. 

Often, the more we try to plan things meticulously, the more likely they are bound to go spectacularly awry! In hindsight, many of these unforeseen outcomes end up being far better than anything we could have planned.

“Connections” is the name of the (Maltese) game

We found the perfect place by chance through a work colleague who put us in touch with an old schoolmate that was selling. We hadn’t been looking around seriously for very long; we had gone for only a couple of viewings before, and the kind of property we planned on buying was the complete opposite of this particular property for sale.

Nobody is really prepared to make a decision as hugely consequential as purchasing property for the first time. You can try to be as objective as you want—like we tried to do—but the final “yes” always comes from the heart. 

In our case, the property clicked with us immediately, but we wouldn’t admit it so readily. Directly after the viewing, we went to one of our favourite public gardens, and after a long and animated walk, we decided to buy that property.

Hitting a snag or two

Things are never as easy as they seem to be. We almost thought we had lost our chance as we had to delay signing the promise of sale by a week due to a trip abroad we had planned earlier. 

We had already contacted Veronica by then, who duly gave us a list of all the documents we needed to bring with us and a tentative date for our meeting. With no way to confirm things definitively, we had no choice but to leave everything up to fate.

Luckily, fate was on our side this time. Back in Malta and a few emails and phone calls later, the property was still available and we managed to set a date for the meeting. 

Veronica was incredibly patient with us, and despite already being familiar with some aspects the konvenju process (I helped write that article!), I suddenly found myself doubting everything I knew. I couldn’t believe we were actually about to sign on a property: our very own home-to-be!

Signing the deed

We signed the promise of sale at VMY’s office in Rabat. Always the consummate professional, with an eye for efficiency and simplicity, Veronica had already drafted the contract for us. All that was left was completing the customary KYC and GDPR forms that every notary has to provide to their clients. 

After reading the document together and filling in our personal information, we were finally ready to sign the deed. Veronica would keep the deposit for us and forward the provisional tax to the right department. The whole process took around an hour and when we left, we had all the signed paperwork safely tucked in a VMY folder.

Not quite over yet

Of course, the world couldn’t help itself one more cheeky jab in the ribs. Little did we know that we had signed our promise of sale on the verge of the COVID-19 outbreak in Malta. 

Thankfully, we found a great deal of support from the architect, the bank, and of course, Veronica herself. It’s easy to get lost amid land registry plans, Schedule 8 forms, and property valuation form, but all the professionals involved were eager to guide us and let us submit several documents electronically, or by post if that wasn’t possible.

Property Sales to Foreigners in Malta


The Law on Property Sales and Foreigners

According to provisions made in Chapter 246 of the Laws of Malta with regards to property sales, citizens of all European Union member states who have resided in Malta on a continuous, uninterrupted basis of a minimum period of five years BEFORE the date of acquisition of immovable property may freely acquire such property without the necessity of obtaining an acquisition permit (AIP). However, individuals who are not citizens of a European member state may not acquire any immovable property unless they are granted an acquisition permit issued by the Maltese tax authorities. With regards to those who need an AIP, the minimum price is also set in stone with foreigners being legally obliged to spend at least €104,500 for the purchase of a flat or maisonette and at least €174,000 for the purchase of any other immovable property.

Areas of Interest for Foreigners

While some may view these price ranges as being somewhat restrictive, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna recently said in parliament that almost 1,000 properties worth €400 million have been sold to foreigners over the last four years and that almost half of that number were in areas such as St Julian’s, Sliema, Swieqi, Gżira, Msida, Pietà, Ta’ Xbiex, Pembroke, San Ġwann, Qormi, Birkirkara, Ħamrun and Santa Venera, showing an overall preference by foreigners for the Northern Harbour district. Given that these areas are notoriously pricier than the south, it comes as no surprise that the value of the 482 properties mentioned by Mr Scicluna amounted to the princely sum of €175 million with an average of €363,881 being spent on each. The lowest number of property sales was registered in Żejtun, Birżebbuġa, Gudja, Għaxaq, Kirkop, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Mqabba, Qrendi, Safi and Żurrieq where a mere 38 properties were purchased and the total sum spent in this area was valued at €5.5 million. Moreover, in an interesting twist, a total of 115 properties collectively worth €25 million were bought by foreigners in the sister island of Gozo and despite the fact that properties in Gozo are markedly cheaper than in Malta, the average price of each property purchased was €220,801.

Why is this happening?

Given past trends, this boom in market dynamics and property sales is being ascribed to the revamped residency and visa programme launched last August which allows third country nationals to gain residence permits against an investment in interest-free government bonds of €250,000. Due to the fact that individuals given a residence visa can travel in the Schengen area as well as reside in Malta itself, it is of little wonder that investments in our little island have sky rocketed and property sales have increased.

Civil Code Amendments on Inherited Vacant Properties

Inherited Vacant Properties


With regards to the matter of inherited vacant properties, the coming into force of the Civil Code amendment to the current laws regulating inheritance on the 1st of April 2016 was seen as a welcome change for many heirs who previously had to wait for five or ten years to find any possible resolution to internal disagreements regarding the sale of their empty properties. Indeed, thanks to Act No. XIV of 2016,


“The periods of ten years previously provided for in articles 495(3) and 495A(1) (prior to their amendment) and of five years previously provided for in article 495B (prior to its substitution) respectively and as in force prior to the 1st April 2016 shall no longer apply as from the 1st April 2016”


Instead, heirs are now allowed to conduct the sale of inherited vacant properties after a mere three years, provided that more than 51% of the heirs are in agreement.

So what does this mean for Maltese families and their inherited vacant properties?

Prior to this amendment which was proposed in the 2016 budget in an effort to free up a number of the estimated 41,232 inherited vacant properties on the island, many families were forced to spend years wrangling over whom to sell to and what kind of cut they would receive, with the effect of some of the heirs actually passing away themselves and the properties in question degrading to irretrievable states. These inherited vacant properties do not only pose safety issues due to a lack of maintenance, but such empty spaces also have a habit of attracting vandals, squatters and other mischief makers looking for a private space to hide out. This recent amendment also makes for one of the most effective pro-environment measures proposed by this legislature.

In essence, this recent amendment to the Civil Code hopes to significantly reduce the number of vacant properties which populate our island in a much shorter time frame than ever before, whilst safeguarding the rights of the majority who do want to sell.


Deposit And Kapparra (Earnest) – The Facts As Seen Through Case Law

The Promise of Sale better known as the “konvenju”, is a concept that has been used consistently in Malta, with the Civil Code making a firm distinction between the konvenju itself and the final contract of sale.

Based on the divide of deposit and “kapparra” (the sum paid in earnest of the sell), our Civil Code emphasizes that ‘a promise to sell a thing for a fixed price shall not be equivalent to the sale itself’ as, while a promise of sale is a unilateral contract, an actual sale is a bilateral agreement by virtue of both parties taking part. In a promise of sale or “konvenju”, the buyer and seller are brought together and a reciprocal obligation is created. Thus, if the sale can no longer be carried out, there is an obligation to make good on the damages the aggrieved party may have suffered as a result.

Why is the Deposit (or Earnest) Paid?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal requirement for money to be paid at the signing of a “konvenju”.

However, there are legal consequences for both parties should such a sum be paid. This sum can be part of the final price, known as a deposit – usually around 10% of the final price

When a sum is paid in earnest, or as “kapparra”, neither of the parties is legally bound to appear at the final contract of sale; both parties are however bound by a penalty clause. Should the promisee withdraw from the agreement and fail to appear on the final contract of sale, he or she loses the sum paid in earnest to the promisor; conversely, should the promisor withdraw, they would then be liable to repay the promisee double the sum which he or she had deposited in earnest.



Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal requirement for money to be paid at the signing of a “konvenju”.

In the case of Brands International Ltd vs Tas-Sellum Development Co Ltd, Mecca Investments Limited signed a promise of sale with Tas-Sellum Development Co Ltd on the 8th June 2005. The promise of sale itself was signed in relation to the purchase of Apartment 23, in Block 9, at Tas-Sellum, Mellieħa where a deposit of €28,185.42 was paid for the purchase of a €121,000 apartment. A mere two years later, Mecca Investments Ltd changed its name to Brands International Ltd.

Despite the fact that the “konvenju” had been made, Tas-Sellum Development Co Ltd never contacted Brands International Ltd to conclude the sale, thus lapsing the promise of sale.

In December 2012, in an effort to regain the money paid, Brands International Ltd sent a judicial letter asking to be reimbursed the deposit they had paid seven years previously. This follow up request was also ignored and it was at this point that Brands International Ltd filed a civil suit demanding the return of the deposit paid with interest.


Since Tas-Sellum Developers did not uphold their right to call on the buyers to complete the purchase, they had no legal right to hold on to the deposit.

Since Tas-Sellum Developers did not uphold their right to call on the buyers to complete the purchase, they had no legal right to hold on to the deposit.


The First Hall of the Civil Court ordered Tas-Sellum Development Co. Ltd to reimburse Brands International Ltd the sum of €28,185.42, together with interest, dating from 8 June 2005 till the actual date of payment, after presiding judge Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti ruled that since Tas-Sellum Developers did not uphold their right to call on the buyers to complete the purchase, they had no legal right to hold on to the deposit effected specifically for a sale which had never taken place.

In the end, the buyer was reimbursed to the tune of €28,185.42, as well as the interest from 2005 until the date of payment.

What is a valid reason at law to reimburse a deposit?

In another case last year, Gerit Company Ltd (buyer) vs A.M. Developments Ltd (seller), the deposit was paid back even though the buyer was unable to find the necessary funds to conclude the sale and therefore it had a ‘valid reason at law’.

The two parties drew up a promise of sale agreement for the purchase of a property in Ħal Qormi. A deposit of €23,293 was paid ‘on account of the price’ of the immovable property.

When the phrase ‘on account of’ is mentioned in the contract, it means the sum paid is a deposit on the final sum to be paid when finalising of the sale. Both parties are obliged to appear on the final contract and if any of the signatories don’t, it might be justified only so long as there’s a valid reason at law.

The promise of sale expired and both buyer and seller called upon each other. However, the sale fell through and the case was taken to the First Hall Civil Court. The main issue was whether there was a valid reason at law for the buyer not to appear on the final deed of sale.

This came in the form of a warrant personally issued by the director’s spouse from the buying company. This prohibited financing the sale and the sale fell through and the buyer was not responsible. This was justified as a valid reason at law and all parties had to go back to the status quo ante.

Drawing up a promise of sale in Malta

Promises of sale in Malta, though commonplace, can also be a pitfall for inexperienced parties. That is why a good notary is needed; so as to act in the best interest of the parties while navigating the quagmires of the law.

Veronica Mizzi Young is a Notary Public who specialises in the transfer of property and promise of sale in Malta. She has great expertise in acting on behalf of both the buyer and the seller. You can call upon Veronica at her office in Rabat, where she would gladly offer you a helping hand and personalised legal assistance, or contact her here.