The local property market
Belgians enjoy a high standard of living, 75% of the population own property. Property prices in Belgium are generally lower than in other western European countries. Although Brussels (the most popular destination for expats) is the most expensive area, it is still cheaper to buy property than in many European capitals.
As an expat, there is nothing stopping you from joining the trend. Belgium places no restrictions on a foreigner’s right to buy property. You can even purchase property as a non-resident.
If you are thinking this all seems too good to be true, you are not completely wrong. Buying property in Belgium is rather bureaucratic and there is a lot of red tape to navigate. With good research and/or help from experts there will be nothing stopping you from joining the Belgian property ladder.
To buy or not to buy
Despite the low prices in Belgium, it may not always be in your best interests to buy property. The major deciding factor is how long you are planning to reside in Belgium for. If planning to stay less than 5 years, it may be cheaper to rent when taking into account the purchase taxes and the fact there is an additional 16.5% capital gains tax on property sales within 5 years of purchase. However, there are many advantages to owning your own home, including some tax rebates.
It is highly recommended that you hire an estate agent when buying property. They can not only help you find the right house and ensure you get the best deal, but they can also guide you through all the red tape.
This will cost €250-1,000 but it will be worth it. Estate agents in Belgium are registered and regulated as individuals for maximum customer protection, and it always pays to have an expert on your side.
The legal process
Once you have found your ideal new home, it is customary to place an offer that is lower than the asking price and then negotiate.
After a price has been decided, you may be asked to sign a ‘commitment to buy contract’ (offre d’achat/koopintenties). This is not obligatory and serves to tie the buyer to the sale. However, the seller still has the right to back out of the deal if wanted.
If all goes well, a ‘contract of sale’ (compromis de vente/verkoopcompromis) will be signed by both parties. Once this is signed, you are legally required to go through with the purchase unless the seller acts in bad faith. The contract will include a deposit of 10% of the agreed selling price that will be lost if you, as the buyer, back out of the deal.
Both parties must have a notary to represent them. They will be responsible for drawing up the ‘notarised deeds’ (acte notarié/notariële akte) that transfers the ownership of the property to the new owner. After the purchase, you have 4 months to register the deeds at your local registry office (along with your ‘registration fee’).
By law, any contracts and deeds signed need to be written in either French or Dutch and must be fully understood by both buyer and seller. If you are unsure, you may need to hire a translator (bear in mind your estate agent or notary may be able to translate for you).
There are a few different fees involved in the purchasing of property in Belgium. The most common is the ‘registration fee’ required at your local registry office 4 months after purchase. This is set at 12.5% of the selling price, except in Flanders where it is 10%. However, there are exceptions.
Firstly, if you have purchased a new property (one that has been occupied for less than 2 years) you do not need to pay this fee. Instead you are required to pay VAT at 21% of the selling price.
Secondly, every property in Belgium is given a ‘cadastral revenue/cadastral income’ (revenu cadastral/kadastraal inkomen). If your purchased property has a cadastral income lower than 745 euros, the registration fee is reduced to 5% in the Flemish region and 6% in the Walloon region. However, this reduction is not applicable in Brussels.