This page has been written to explain in detail real estate in Belgium as well as the step-by-step process of buying a house. She can therefore guide you on the advantages and disadvantages of all the options in terms of acquiring an existing house or a building. But also on furnished apartments.
You should know that real estate prices in Belgium are undoubtedly lower than those in neighboring countries and the standard of living is high. In addition, Belgium is one of the six European countries considered to be tax havens. Indeed, many multinationals around the world have a branch in Belgium because the country’s tax system requires less taxes. Nevertheless, it is important to know the regulations and formalities of Belgian real estate, as they differ from one country to another. Being poorly informed about an investment such as buying a property could result in significant excess costs.
Owning a property in Belgium
Around 73% of residents in Belgium are owners, which means that only 27% are renters, according to 2018 statistics. This is slightly above the EU average of around 64.3%.
This is largely explained by the relative accessibility of Belgian properties, even in the wealthiest urban areas, as well as the availability of mortgage loans in Belgium.
Buying or renting a property, which should be preferred?
Whether you choose to buy or rent in Belgium depends largely on your personal situation. As in many other countries, there are pros and cons to considering both.
What options should you consider if you are considering buying a home?
The heritage you have
Buying a house in Belgium, although it is cheaper than in many other countries, still involves a much greater financial expense than renting. Few are able to buy a house. If this is not possible, you may need to rent, at least for the short term. Or consider borrowing from your bank.
The length of stay in the country
If you are moving to Belgium for a long period, or if you are retiring there, the purchase may indeed be profitable. However, if your move is short-lived or if you don’t know how long you’ll be staying, renting may be a better idea. The transaction costs of buying real estate in Belgium mean that reimbursement of costs can take a few years.
The differences between a rental and a real estate purchase
The differences between a rental and a real estate purchase Do you want a place that you can truly call your own, that you can make your own, and that gives you the freedom to renovate as you wish? So buying is surely a good option for you. However, this is an important commitment that you cannot walk away from if your circumstances change. If you prefer flexibility over decision making, it may be better to hire.
Long-term risks and opportunities
Buying your own home is generally seen as a smarter long-term move, but a lot of it depends on the real estate market. You can sell a property for a profit, but you can also go through a period of real estate collapse. Obviously, this situation is more than rare but we have known it all the same. Consult the forecasts of the Belgian real estate market before investing or, better yet, seek professional advice.
How to invest in real estate if you are an expatriate?
There are no restrictions to prevent foreigners from buying real estate in Belgium or taking out a Belgian mortgage, even if they are not residents.
However, different tax implications apply between resident and non-resident buyers in Belgium. It is preferable to be informed about Belgian visas for foreigners, as well as the applicable Belgian taxes as well as how to claim the Belgian tax status of non-resident.
It is important to note that those who rent their apartment, even temporarily on colocation sites like Airbnb, must declare any income on their Belgian tax return. Those who do not declare their rental income risk a fine of up to € 1,250 or a surcharge of 200%.
What is the state of the Belgian real estate market?
The Belgian real estate market is currently doing well, with prices rising 3.93% in the third quarter of 2019. Prices have remained stable or have increased since mid-2014. Prices are expected to continue to rise steadily, with growth of 2% in 2020 according to ING.
There have been regional variations in growth and house prices.
Here are the latter in the third quarter of 2019:
- the Brussels-Capital region saw housing prices increase by 5.46% to € 425,000 on avera
- Flanders saw its prices increase by 2.32% to € 265,000 on average;
- real estate prices in Wallonia increased by 6.06% to € 175,000 on average
According to Statbel, the most expensive municipality is Ixelles (in Brussels) with an average housing price of almost € 700,000. The cheapest is Viroinval (in Wallonia) with an average price of 95,000 €.
Regarding the types of properties, the average cost in Belgium is:
- € 219,000 for single or semi-detached houses;
- 360,000 € for villas, bungalows and country houses;
- 227,000 € for the apartments.
The average price of real estate per square meter in Belgium is 3,200 €, which places it 23rd out of 38 European countries.
Read our pages to find out where to live in Belgium, or in the districts of Brussels. for more information on property search locations.
What are the costs of buying a Belgian property?
In Belgium, the buyer and the seller share the costs of buying a property. However, the buyer will pay the majority of the costs, around 11-15% of the purchase price. The seller pays around 3-5%. Buying a new property is more expensive for the buyer with a total charge of around 22% for new construction, due to the different tax rates that apply.
The costs that you will have to foresee:
Registration tax (properties over 2 years old)
The registration tax is payable by the buyer, it varies by region. In Flanders, it is 6% (reduced by 7% in 2020) for a family house in which you move in within 2 years or a property on which you carry out radical renovations. For other properties, it is 10%. There is an exemption on the first 80,000 € on purchases below a certain amount. In Brussels and Wallonia, the rate is 10%. For Brussels, there is an exemption on the first 175,000 € when buying a house or an apartment. In Wallonia, there is an exemption on the first 20,000 € and the rate is 6% when buying small properties.
VAT (properties less than 2 years old),
VAT is a 21% charge that is levied as a registration tax.
Notary fees are between 0.2% and 4%, but on average around 1.6%, depending on the purchase value. You can obtain an estimate of the amount to be paid in notary fees on the website of the Royal Belgian Federation of Notaries.
It is possible to pay to have the property appraised to ensure that you are not paying above the asking price. It costs around € 200 plus VAT. Some mortgage lenders may insist on this point.
If you take out a mortgage in Belgium, you will have to pay administrative costs as well as interest. The exact costs depend on your lender and the type of loan you are taking out.
You may need to purchase building insurance, especially if you are applying for a mortgage. Content assurance is also available.
Real estate agent fees
Most of the fees are usually paid by the seller and are around 3-5% of the property fee. If you are using an agent to find a property, expect to pay between $ 200 and $ 1,000.
Mortgage allows you to pay less taxes
Indeed, having a mortgage allows you to pay less taxes. Tax breaks are available to many homeowners with a mortgage. The exact amount depends on several factors; these include the initial setting up of your loan, the number of children you have and the amount of interest owed.
However, this is somewhat offset by an annual tax on the estimated rental value of your Belgian property (even if it is owner-occupied) of between 1.25 and 2.5%. See our guide to taxes in Belgium for more information.
How to finance your real estate purchase in Belgium?
With a mortgage
Loans based on the mortgage of the property are possible for those who buy a house in Belgium, residents and expatriates. Fixed and variable rate mortgages are available for periods of 10 to 25 years typically, with tax breaks available.
The amount you can borrow will depend on your financial situation and your circumstances. You will need to pay a minimum deposit of 10%. Lenders may insist on certain requirements, such as a professional appraisal or building insurance.
How to get help?
Each region has its own assistance system to help people buy housing in Belgium:
Flanders recently abandoned its housing bonus program which offered 40% tax deductions on mortgages in exchange for a reduction in registration fees from 7% to 6%;
Wallonia implemented a new Check Habitat system in 2016, offering mortgage tax credits to low-income people;
Brussels replaced the mortgage tax reductions in 2017 with the exemption of € 175,000 on the registration tax.
How to find a property in Belgium?
Properties for sale are known to have negotiable prices, and the idea is to bid slightly below your ideal price. Most properties for sale will have a separate orange sign in the window that says “for sale / te koop”, so be careful walking around.
There are different ways to search for real estate in Belgium. These include:
Online real estate portals
There are many websites where you can search for Belgian real estate, including Immoweb, Logic-Immo, Zimmo and Century 21;
Real estate agents
Many expats choose to hire an agent when purchasing a property. Agents charge a fee, but provide a range of services and know the market;
They provide a more comprehensive service that includes personalized searches for clients, although the fees are generally higher;
You may be able to find properties for sale through expat forums or local groups. This will save you on agency fees, but you will still need to pay a notary to process the transaction.
Is it necessary to hire a real estate agent?
Real estate agents in Belgium can help you find suitable real estate to buy and can also provide other services such as property tours, help you understand the ins and outs of your contract and sometimes even act as a translators.
If you do decide to use a real estate agent or real estate hunter, be sure to shop around and find one that will provide you with a fixed price rather than an hourly rate. Also get clarification on the services they will provide (with a cost breakdown if possible).
You can expect to pay somewhere between $ 250 and $ 1,000 to buy a property through an agent. Property hunters may charge more for additional services.
The Professional Institute of Real Estate Agents (IPI) is the regulatory body for real estate agents in Belgium. You can search the website for authorized agents or verify that an agent you plan to use is licensed.
How to make a success of the property visits?
How you view a property in Belgium will depend on the method you choose to find a property. If you go through an agency or a real estate hunter, they will usually be available to accompany you on the visits.
When viewing, be sure to thoroughly investigate the property. It’s a good idea to make a list of things you want to check along with a list of questions to ask the agent or owner.
Things to keep in mind may include:
- Check for structural damage or moisture (don’t forget to check the exterior of the building as well;
- Make sure that the rooms are large enough and that there is sufficient storage space;
- What are the noise levels and is the building sufficiently soundproofed ?
- The condition of the plumbing and heating – run the faucets to check the water pressure and ask if the pipes are insulated;
- The quality of the local area – check the amenities, public safety levels, the beauty of the surroundings, etc.
Some real estate agents and real estate websites now offer remote online tours using webcams. These can be very helpful in getting a feel for the location if you are abroad, but it is advisable to make at least one in-person visit if possible. If not, try sending a friend or colleague to check it out.
How does the purchasing process work?
Make an offer
If you find accommodation in Belgium that you want to buy, you will usually be asked to make a formal offer in writing. As in many other countries, the custom in Belgium is to negotiate the price. This means that you can bid below the asking price (usually 5-15% below the asking price). The seller will then accept or reject your offer.
If you go through an agent to buy a property, they may be able to help you by providing you with a template or writing an offer on your behalf.
After the seller accepts your offer, you may be asked to sign a “commitment to buy” contract. This legally binds the buyer to the sale, although the seller can still opt out at this point.
Choose a notary
You will need a notary to represent you during the process of buying your home. Notaries are responsible for drafting notarial deeds (notarial deed / notarial akte in Flemish) which transfer legal ownership of the property.
Belgian notaries can provide you with the required legal representation, but you can also choose to hire a lawyer in Belgium. Notaries must belong to the National Chamber of Notaries (National Chamber of Notaries / Nationale Kamer van notarissen / Königliche Föderation des belgischen Notare). Lawyers are regulated either by the Flemish Bar Order (French-speaking and German-speaking Bar Association) or by the French-speaking and German-speaking Bar Association (Orde van Vlaamse balies).
You can find a Belgian notary on the Notaire website.
When do you need real estate expertise?
If you take out a Belgian mortgage, your lender may require a real estate appraisal. Even if this is not the case, having the property inspected is a wise decision as it helps to point out any defects and ensure that the building has been properly assessed.
If the real estate appraisal identifies major flaws which reduce the value of the property, you are entitled to reduce your initial offer accordingly.
The cost of a real estate appraisal is around € 200 plus VAT. Your mortgage lender or real estate agent may be able to provide you with a land surveyor. You can also find English speaking surveyors in Belgium through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
How does the signing of the deed of sale take place?
In Belgium, most acts must be drawn up in Dutch (verkoopcompromis) or in French (sales agreement); it is a legal requirement that the signatory fully understands the contract. This means that you have the right to hire a translator and have each clause explained in your own language.
If you are looking for an English or German translation, you should be able to find a real estate agent or notary who is fluent in your language. For other languages, you may need to hire a translator and pay the translator’s fees yourself.
Once the contract is signed, both parties are linked to the sale. The seller cannot go back even if he receives a higher bid.
Real estate sales contracts in Belgium must contain at least:
- The identity and capacity of all buyers and sellers;
- A clear description of the property, its condition and area;
- Price agreed with details of deposit payment;
- The date of signature and the deadline for signing the title deeds (four months from the date of sale);
- The rental conditions, if the property is purchased for rental or will be rented;
- Clauses or conditions relating to construction or renovation work;
- Details of building insurance agreements
Once the contracts are signed, you must register the sale of the house at the registrar within four months of finalizing the purchase; after this period, the registration fee is due.
What is the deposit?
At the same time as the signing of the contracts, you will have to pay the deposit. This is usually 10% of the asking price and is paid into a client or escrow account. If you take out a Belgian mortgage, the lender will usually make the necessary arrangements to achieve this.
The deposit serves as collateral and you will lose it if you renounce the sale at a late stage.
When is the sale finalized?
Once you’ve signed the contracts and paid the deposit, you should get the keys to your house.
You are now the legal owner and will be responsible for paying bills and municipal taxes on the property.
Remember to register the notarial deeds with your local registry office (along with payment of the registration fee). This must be done within 4 months of signing the contracts.
Ownership, what does that include?
Do I need to take out home insurance?
Home insurance is not compulsory in Belgium, but you may find that mortgage companies have it compulsory. If so, you may need to provide details about insurance coverage before you can take out a mortgage.
While insuring your property is not a legal requirement, building and contents insurance are good considerations to protect your investment and property.
What are the owner’s charges?
If you own your own home in Belgium, you are responsible for sorting out the electricity, gas, telephone, television and Internet connections. It’s a good idea to consider all of these options before you settle in to avoid unnecessary delays.
To find out more about how to do this, see our guides for setting up public services in Belgium and telecommunications in Belgium.
How to buy land in order to build a property?
Rather than buying an off-plan house or a furnished apartment, some choose to build their own property. They buy land and hire an architect and then a construction company.
In this case, certain costs specific to this type of project must be considered:
- You will have to pay the registration tax on the land, the notary fees, the insurance premiums and the invoices of the land surveyors, energy surveys and stability surveys;
- When you build a new house in Belgium, you have to pay a reservation fee (5%) to secure your plot; but this 5% is deducted from the outstanding amount.
Pros and Cons of Buying a New Home
Buying a new home in Belgium is common, especially in highly desirable areas such as Brussels where developments are often booked even before construction has started.
The advantages are that you have the guarantee that everything is new without the stress of having to manage the project of building a house yourself, which you would if you bought a lot.
In addition, many developers in Belgium use sustainable building practices which ensure that new homes are energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
The downside is that the transaction costs are higher than on older properties. You will pay 21% VAT rather than the lower registration tax on the building, although the land price is taxed according to regional registration tax rates.
Developers (or their real estate agents) usually start marketing properties as soon as building permits have been granted. When you visit a marketing office, in addition to being able to visit a sample exhibit at home, you should be able to view 3D images and models of the development.
Compared to some other countries in Europe, Belgium offers strong protections to new home buyers in the event of a problem, with fines for home builders who do not complete construction on schedule.
How to sell my property in Belgium?
Most properties in Belgium are sold through real estate agents, who charge between 3 and 5% of the property price.
You can also sell real estate in Belgium privately by advertising online or elsewhere. This will save you on agency fees, but you will need to hire a notary to act on your behalf when exchanging contracts.
In conclusion: what are the main points to remember when buying a house in Belgium?
- Make sure you understand the property taxes you will need to pay. This is a large percentage of overall costs and will vary by region and whether the home is new construction or an older property.
- Be sure to budget for these, especially if you are buying a property as an investment, as you will be liable for capital gains tax if you sell within the first 5 years.
- Research the market thoroughly to understand regional variations rather than just looking at the national picture. Prices can sometimes increase in certain areas (eg Brussels) while decreasing overall over the same period. It is worth considering spending time renting in an area before committing to buying.
- Make sure you are satisfied before you accept the purchase. In Belgium, you are often asked to sign a “commitment to purchase contract” when making an offer. This legally binds you to the sale, unlike countries like the UK where you can opt out at any time before final contracts are signed.
- Consider investing in an internal investigation before committing to it. Your mortgage lender may require an appraisal investigation, but this will only point out any major damage or defect. If you are buying an older property, it might be worth paying the few hundred dollars for a full structural survey.
- Make sure that the appropriate exit clauses are included in any agreement. For example, the one who resolves the deal without penalty if you are unable to secure a mortgage or if a structural investigation reveals significant damage.