The first is a rental agency, which charges you a fee to find properties meeting your specific requirements (i.e. essentially doing your ‘sign hunting’ for you). There’s no central rental listing service in Belgium, so rental agents generally scour newspapers and other listings, then match up what they’ve found with the preferences of their clients.
If you’re registered with a rental agency, you’ll receive a list of addresses and phone numbers so that you can set up your own appointments to see the units. When you find a suitable place, you’re on your own as far as negotiating a lease is concerned. The rental agency fee may entitle you to a certain number of referrals or to unlimited referrals over a set period of time, usually around six months. A few agencies will continue to provide you with listings until you’ve signed a lease.
The second sort of agency is an estate agent (agence immobilière/immokantoor), who will charge the property owner a commission on the rental of an apartment and, in some cases, may perform some or all of the property management duties for the owner. If you’re dealing with an estate agent, you shouldn’t have to pay any fee. The estate agent will contact the owner and set up appointments for you to see the property and many will actually drive you to the appointment (saving you a considerable amount of money in taxi fares).
You can also expect an estate agent to help by providing detailed information about a property and negotiating a lease or explaining standard lease terms and clauses. Owners often list their vacant properties with several estate agents and pay the fee only to the one who arranges the lease. As a potential tenant, you may (and probably should) contact as many estate agents as you can. Be careful, however, to keep track of which properties you’ve already seen. If a second agent shows you a property you’re thinking of renting, you could be setting the landlord up for a fee argument, in which case he may simply refuse to rent you the property at all!
This article is an extract from Living and Working in in Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg from Survival Books.