Property in Belgium: The pitfalls
We asked some expats what their experiences were about buying and renting property in Belgium. And a few were very hot under the collar...
Renting or buying property in any country has certain bureaucracies that can be frustrating to overcome. However, when you add a new country, culture and language into the mix, things can get a lot more complicated. How have experienced expats fared when buying or renting Belgian property?
Property in Belgium: the pitfalls
To risk repeating the deposit gripe, we rented from a big property development/rentals company but total criminals. The heating didn't work for the whole 18 months we were there and they did sweet FA about it. But when we were leaving, knowing they would charge us for some minor damage our cat had done to the wall paint, we spent ages repainting a whole wall ourselves. But, because they could see a difference, they still charged us 700 euros to re-do it!! Infuriating! My thoughts on buying – it costs a fortune in tax and takes a bloody long time compared to the UK. I haven't met anyone who has actually ever been pleased with their notaire. And things to watch out for - if you buy a place with a tenant in already, beware as it can take a year at least to get the tenant out while you are paying for the mortgage and still renting wherever you were before. And, when you buy it is YOUR responsibility to check whether previous owners have had all the planning permission they needed for works carried out. Clearly this is not the responsibility of the notaires to whom you pay so much money. You have to go to the commune yourself and ask for the plans. – Melanie
Buying is pretty easy, although the stamp tax is an outrageous 12.5 percent. Giving EUR 20,000 to the Belgian government really stuck in my throat. When buying make sure you get the full Acte de Base (deeds) of the property and enough time to go through it carefully, as well as previous heating and electricity bills for the apartment and the building. You might also be asked for a sweetener (a brown envelope containing cash to be handed over at the Notary's office in a ridiculous cloak and dagger scenario). I refused, but upped my offer a bit. It means you'll pay tax on the higher price but the real price you pay will be recorded on the Acte de Base so any profit you make when you sell it will be accurate. – Barbara
Etat des lieux is the big one – after 9 years renting I was charged EUR 2600 and I had my own expert. Wear and tear does not seem to exist. The landlord just assumes that the deposit is his... and most of the time he is right!!! I even got charged for screws missing in door hinges that were never there to start with!! Scary!! – Lizzy G
Judging by the rants seen on some websites, the most common theme is getting the deposit back from scrounging landlords/ladies who keep the money by inventing or exaggerating the 'damage', many people believe there is no such thing as 'wear and tear' in Belgium, its damage full stop. Personally I had no real problems at all. (well, maybe once). – Andy Whittle
Can't say too much really. Pam and I have been very lucky this time – good landlord, no rent rises, etc. I have – as Andy above has – heard terrible things about what utter trivialities landlords will keep one's entire deposit for. – Colin
Renting here is less dramatic than in Paris where you have to prepare a comprehensive file before you can even consider renting a place (except maybe for short term furnished apartments). In Dubai or Sweden, for example, you even have to pay ahead a full year of rent!!! In a way, Belgium is quite fair in comparison to these places and as far as price is considered, it is also very competitive: what can you get indeed in London or Paris for the same price as what you get here? As far as buying is concerned, taxes are indeed awfully high but posted prices are still lower than in most capital cities! And what a location in the heart if Europe!!! Whether you give your money to the state or an owner, it doesn't really make a difference for your wallet but it is true that you shouldn't forget to add the taxes to the advertised price to avoid later surprises. – Geoffroy
Actually, we have rented three times here and the landlords have been from good to excellent. We were ripped off royally in France a couple of times, the second time because the huissier was in collusion with the owner (owners represent more reliable income). Here, it has all been laid out by law - the état de lieu, the deposit etc. One landlord did come on a bit strong at the end, but backed off when we stood firm. A second even waived a penalty fee for leaving within two years. The third even more extraordinarily allowed us to move in before we had put down the deposit. In both houses we left, we handed over EUR 250 in repairs, which was reasonable. Some friends were only charged EUR 50 when they left their apartment. However, some other friends had a hell of a time because the place was rotten with damp and the owner not only refused to do anything about it but applied massive penalties too. Whatever the law dictates, it is down to individual people in the end. Now, if you want to start talking Electrabel... – Tim
What expats have to say
Meanwhile the expatica forums are busy with house talk…
I am not an expert, but my opinion is that the Belgian housing market is much more stable than those in either the US or the UK. We have not seen the huge housing bubble here, though prices have fallen somewhat recently. My guess is that as the recession bites harder over the next 6-9 months, we'll see prices fall a bit further before they slowly start to recover towards the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. With the high taxes on house purchase in Belgium, any buys have to be for the long term, or you will not recover your costs. If you're in it for the long term, then it may be better in 6-9 months time, but my guess it would not be disastrous to buy now. The interest offered by banks is decreasing right now. – Ajp
Regarding who should purchase a house in Beglium, I do believe if you borrow the money from the bank, you gotta to have long term plan in this country regardless it's Belgium or not as you have to pay off in 20 or 30 years. – xy_marshal
I have heard of problems selling houses recently – it seems the communes have the right to block a sale to a non-local person (someone already living or working in the commune). This is a potential disaster to resale value. In my commune (Bertem) this law was brought in on Sept 25th, retroactive to Sept 1st, and applying just to selected areas of the commune - but potentially expandable commune-wide. – Jezz Cunningham
I have to say, having lived in Belgium since 1990, rented 3 places and now own a house for the last 9 years, that I very much did the right thing. I also learned that like a lot of things in life, to buy or not depends on many factors, that you would probably not write in this kind of forum. You do need to speak to some one professional to work out your residential status, tax status, deposit potential and then look at the corresponding funding options. Once you have this information – you can make the right choice for your circumstances. – Chalks
If you're having similar problems with landlords, notaires etc, contact one of our experts for advice.
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