Buying a property in Belgium
Property for sale in Belgium tends to be cheaper than nearby countries but home-buyers should be aware of the high property transaction costs and market rules before buying a Belgian property.
Whether you're moving to Belgium or looking for an investment or buy-toproperty, you might be tempted by properties for sale in Belgium: Belgium's standard of living is high and Belgian property prices are relatively lower than neighbouring countries and other European capital cities. However, high property transaction costs can offset any short-term benefits, so it's important to be aware of the Belgian housing market quirks and regulations before buying a Belgian property.
As a foreigner, your dream home in Belgium might feel like it is hedged about with a thick bramble of bureaucracy. However, the seemingly endless contracts and red tape can be defeated, as many expats have discovered. Here Expatica explains how foreigners can cut through the process of buying a property in Belgium.
Throughout this article, terms are given in both French and Flemish (Dutch) languages.
Should you rent or buy property in Belgium?
Belgian tenants have strong rights, and most expats choose to rent at least initially, especially those planning a short-term stay. Belgium's typically long-term rental agreements (up to nine years or more) give tenants the ability to decorate and improve properties, adding certain perks to renting a house in Belgium. But if you're planning an extended stay of more than five years, you may find security and savings in buying Belgian property.
The property market in Brussels and around Belgium have been a picture of stability in recent years, registering small but consistent price increases between 2013 and 2015. Growth has not been evenly spread, however, where Brussels registered some 5 percent growth in 2014 compared to just 0.9 percent in Flanders and 1.6 percent in Wallonia. Home ownership is common in Belgium, where some three quarters of Belgian residents own their own home. Read about where to live in Belgium or Brussels.
Although impossible to predict what the market will do long-term, those planning an extended stay, typically five years or more, may find owning their own Belgian home worthwhile. Anyone considering an investment of less than five years should consider Belgium's capital gains tax of 16.5 percent on properties sold within five years of purchase.
Can foreigners buy property in Belgium?
There are no restrictions to stop foreigners buying property in Belgium, even if they are non-resident, although different tax implications apply between resident and non-resident buyers in Belgium. You can read about Belgium's visa and permits for foreigners, as well as applicable Belgian taxes and how to claim non-resident Belgian tax status.
Find Belgian property for sale
Listed properties for sale are known to have negotiable prices, and the idea is to make an offer slightly below your ideal price.
Most properties for sale will have a distinct orange sign in the window saying 'à vendre/ te koop', so keep a look out when walking about. Searching online is a popular way to find Belgian property for sale, and we've listed some major property portals below, although hiring a real estate agent can provide certain key advantages.
Estate agents may be willing to act as translators and help you understand the ins and outs of your contracts, which can be useful when regulations and processes vary between Belgium's regions. Try to hire an agent who acts on your behalf, not the seller's. Costs to buy Belgian property through an agent range anywhere between EUR 250–1000, or more if extensive services are required.
If you're looking at buy-to-let investments, the Belgian goverment provides a tool to calculate an estimated rental price for your property.
Online property portals:
Buying a property in Belgium
Brush up on your terminology, or find a good interpreter, because you'll be reading and signing a lot of documents. The paperwork tends to come in three phases:
- A commitment to buy (offre d'achat/ koopintenties), which is often requested by agents but not essential. It ties the buyer to the sale but allows the seller to back out without penalty. It is common to put down a small deposit or holding fee, which you will lose if you back out of the sale.
- The sale agreement (compromis de vente/ verkoopcompromis), which outlines the details of the contract. At this point you will usually need to pay a deposit of aroun 10 percent of the purchase price, after which you have four months to pay the remaining balance (usually via a mortgages).
- The notarised deed (acte notarié/ notariële akte), which transfers ownership of the property. This must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.
Tip: It's important to include appropriate exit clauses, for example, one that dissolves the agreement without penalty if you are unable to secure a mortgage or if a structural survey reveals significant damage.
Legal requirements for your Belgian contracts
In Belgium most contracts must be written in Dutch or French, and it is a legal requirement that the signer fully understands the contract. This means that you have the right to bring a translator and have each clause explained in your own language.
If you're looking for translation to English or German, you will probably be able to find a real estate agent or notary who speaks your language fluently. For other languages, you may need to hire a translator and pay the translator's fees yourself.
Both buyer and seller must be represented by a notary. Their fees are fixed by the state as a percentage of the property purchase price. The house sale must also be registered at the registry office within four months of the purchase being complete, at which time registration fees are due.
Finance your Belgian property: deposits and mortgages
The deposit or down payment is usually 10 percent of the property purchase price. It must be paid into an escrow account or held by a notary, and must not be paid directly to the buyer or their agent.
Both fixed and variable rate mortgages are available in Belgium. Loans are typically fixed for a period of at least 10 years or more, as this provides a tax advantage in Belgium.
Your mortgage provider will usually insist that a professional valuation of the property is undertaken, which costs around EUR 100, but note that this is not a structural survey. The valuer will focus on estimating the value of the property and may overlook or not notify you of significant structural issues. Residential surveyors are uncommon but architects in Belgium provide a similar service.
Costs of buying Belgian property
In Belgium the costs of buying a property are split between the buyer and seller, although the buyer will pay the majority of the costs, around 11–15 percent of the purchase price, and the seller around 3–5 percent. Buying a new property is more expensive for the buyer with total fees rising to around 22 percent for new-builds, due to different applicable tax rates.
The fees typically paid by the buyer break down as follows:
- Registration tax (old properties only) – 10 percent (Flanders) or 12.5 percent (elsewhere);
- VAT at 21 percent (new properties only) – Value Added Tax is charged on properties less than two years old.
- Notary's fee – 0.2 percent to 4 percent, a fee fixed by law that depends on the purchase value;
- Cost of deed of sale: EUR 800–1,000;
- Real estate agent's fee: 0.2–0.6 percent.
Why are new Belgian properties subject to extra charges?
VAT is charged on any Belgian property that is less that two years old, even if it has been lived in before. A property's age is up when it reaches the second 31 December after it was first inhabited. This means that if a property was moved into any time in 2013 it will count as 'new' until 1 January 2016.
Although VAT is payable if the property is classed as new, the buyer does not have to pay registration tax, which is only applicable to properties older than two years.
Lower registration tax
All Belgian properties have an assigned value called a revenu cadastral/kadastral inkomen. While this typically relates to the rental value of the property in 1975, it's easier to treat it as an arbitrarily assigned score. If you are buying a low scoring property, ie. one with a or revenu cadastral/kadastral inkomen below a fixed amount, then registration tax is reduced to halved to 5 percent (Flanders) or 6 percent (elsewhere) when buying a Belgian property. These reductions do not apply in the Brussels region.
For families with up to two children, the score is just EUR 740. Properties in this range are generally unsuitable, being in rural or undesirable locations, small, badly maintained or unmodernised. However, the score rises with each extra child reaching up to EUR 1,045 for families with seven children; it may be an option worth investigating for larger families.
Tax deductions for buying Belgian property
A tax break of up to EUR 2,000 is available for home owners with a mortgage. The exact amount depends on several factors including when your loan was initially set up, the number of children you have and the amount of interest due.
However, this is balanced somewhat 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 percent. The modern rental value is calculated by multiplying the 1975 value, the revenu cadastral/ kadastral inkomen, by a standard figure set by the government.
Find a home in Belgium using Expatica's house search.
Need advice? Post your question on Expatica's free Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.