When purchasing or selling a commercial property one of the first things to establish is whether VAT will be applied to the price of the property. Land and buildings are generally exempt from VAT, but 'new' commercial property (i.e. less than three years old) will have VAT applied. Otherwise VAT should only be charged on the sale of a commercial property where the seller has previously elected to apply VAT to the property. This election is known as the 'option to tax'.
There are circumstances where the option to tax may be disapplied by the seller, such as where the purchaser is going to use the building solely for charitable purposes or the building will be converted into residential use. If there is any question that VAT should not be applied to the sale, the seller must ask the purchaser for written confirmation of the intended use of the building.
When the purchaser plans to convert the building to residential use it must provide the seller with a VAT certificate (form VAT1614D) to confirm their intentions for the building. In other circumstances a written instruction from the purchaser should be sufficient.
Where VAT is applied to the price of the building, the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) charge will inevitably be higher, as SDLT is charged on the gross consideration paid, including the VAT charged. If you are planning to purchase a commercial property, or sell one, ask us to check the VAT implications before the price is agreed.