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Hot property: What you need to know about buying a home in Belgium
All about the money
First, examine your finances and talk to your bank. The costs are different for existing properties and new-builds: for an existing property you pay registration costs and with a new-build you pay VAT, or a combination of VAT and registration costs, which is higher. If you don’t already own a property and you buy something costing less than €500,000, you don’t pay registration tax on the first €175,000, unless you move out within five years of buying. When you buy an existing property there’s a deposit of 10%; with a new property it’s 5%.
Seek and you’ll find
You might find your new home via an estate agent, online, at a notary, or just by walking in the street. “You can register your criteria on a website and sign up with different real estate agencies, but it’s timeconsuming,” says Kristien Viaene, CEO of NOA estate agency. “Even if you register with ten agencies, you might still miss your dream property – say it belongs to an old lady who just puts a ‘for sale’ notice in her window. It can be frustrating.” Some buyers choose to hire a property hunter, who can look everywhere for properties that match their specifications.
If you’re already renting somewhere, think about what you like about the area and what you’d like to change, and why. “Is there a problem with commuting, do you spend too much time in traffic, is it a problem with the children’s school? If you want to move, visit the area you have in mind and get a feel for it,” Viaene advises. “Walk around the neighbourhood on different days, at different times, look out for noise, traffic and so on. Talk to the neighbours if you can and find out if there are problems in the neighbourhood. You can learn a lot like this.”
Professional photoshoots and home staging mean that what you see on a website might not be what you get when you actually see a property. So go and play detective. “You have to ask: Is the heating a new system or an old one, how are the roof and the wiring, are windows doubleglazed? Look out for humidity in the cellar or cracks in the wall. Ask the owner to peel back wallpaper or lift the carpet so you can see the state of the flooring. There might have been cosmetic work done recently, but if you look beyond that it could still be an old house with old wiring and an old roof. Get professional advice if you have the slightest doubts.”
Remember, if you’re buying an apartment, you’re also buying into the whole building. “The apartment itself might be nice and modern but the common parts of the building – the stairs, lift, hallway, facade, heating – might be old, with major costs upcoming for renovation that all the owners will have to pay,” says Viaene. “The current owner should provide reports from the last three years of meetings between the owners; read this carefully and you should get a good view of the property on a technical level.”
Shake on it
When you decide to buy a property, you need to come to an agreement with the seller on the price, conditions and moving date. This sales agreement, the compromis de vente, is legally binding, and this is the point at which you pay the 10% deposit. A notary will check there are no debts linked to the property and draw up the official deeds transferring ownership; the process takes three to four months on average.
This article first appeared in The Bulletin Summer 2018