From renting and buying a property, to building a new house, this helpful guide provides everything you need to know about housing in Belgium.
As with living in any country, you will need to work out whether it’s better for you to rent in Belgium or buy a Belgian property outright. According to the latest figures for 2017, rents in Belgium are at an almost historic low, and house prices have dropped by 0.5%. Housing in Belgium is relatively cheap compared to neighboring countries, but expats may experience high property transaction costs. And, if you’re set on renting, be prepared to deal with the quirks of the Belgian rental system.
This helpful guide includes the following:
- Overview of housing in Belgium
- The housing market in Belgium
- Housing laws and regulations in Belgium
- Buying or renting in Belgium?
- Renting in Belgium
- Buying a home in Belgium
- Mortgages in Belgium
- Useful Resources
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Overview of housing in Belgium
Belgium has a mixture of expats who own property outright, own property with a mortgage, rent privately, and rent at a subsidized rate, which is for those on lower incomes.
According to statistics from Europa, 40.3% of the Belgian population lives in semi-detached housing, which is the forth largest percentage in Europe. The OECD states that 33% of people in Belgium are property owners with outstanding mortgages. This is the most common tenure type in the country, and across many other English-speaking and Nordic countries.
Private renters account for a relatively small proportion of tenure types in Belgium, but this option tends to be popular with expats who may not want to deal with a foreign property market.
The housing market in Belgium
House prices in Belgium are not among the most expensive in Europe. Indeed, the housing markets in Switzerland, Ireland, and the UK are far pricier and outstrip the EU average.
Despite this fact, house prices in Belgium have been steadily on the rise over the past couple of years. The most recent statistics reveal a 2.6% increase in property prices the third quarter of 2018. However, these increases have been historically slow, with prices increasing by just 29% between 2009 and 2017.
The rental market, on the other hand, is described as being ‘subdued’, despite the fact that 60% of people in the country are renters. Rented properties account for 30% of housing stock, which is down from 33% in 1990.
Housing laws and regulations in Belgium
There are no restrictions to prevent foreigners from buying properties in Belgium, even if they are not a resident. If you want to rent, however, this should be easy as an expat. You will need to provide proof of your identity, your right to reside in Belgium (i.e. a Visa, if you need one), and evidence that you are financially solvent.
In Belgium social housing is provided for single people and families on lower incomes. Apartments, and sometimes houses, are offered with subsidised rents, but the number of available properties can vary widely between regions. To apply for social housing, you will need to go to a social housing association (French).
Rental laws in Belgium
Belgium has strong tenant’s rights, and it is difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant without good reason. Landlords must give tenants at least six months’ notice before asking them to move out. Their reasons must be either that they intend to occupy the property themselves, want to let a family member or friend live there, or want to undertake major works.
All tenants have the right to request an extension on their lease, and if their landlord refuses they can take them to a tribunal. What’s more, if a landlord sells their property, the new owner must respect any rental agreements that are already in place.
The tenants’ association (syndicats de locataires/ huurdersbond) provides advice and can act as a mediator on behalf of tenants in any cases of disputes or disagreements with landlords. If the dispute cannot be reconciled, the matter will go to the courts.
Tenants, on the other hand, have a lot of responsibilities too, and these should be outlined in the tenancy agreement. This can include expectations to maintain the property such as making repairs, clearing the gutters, painting, and so on. In return, most landlords are quite lenient when it comes to tenants making changes such as paint colour and other forms of decoration. It is a good idea to keep a record of what repairs you have made to the property and keep the receipts, as this could help make sure that you receive your deposit back when the time comes to vacate it.
It is important to be aware that landlords also have the right to withhold some or all of the tenant’s deposit if they feel the property has not been property maintained.
Property purchase and building laws in Belgium
If you want to build, renovate, or expand a property you own in Belgium, you will need to apply for a planning permit (French) from the municipality where the property is located. You will also need a permit to install one or more fixed structures on your land, demolish any of the property, or rebuild or transform the property. You must work with an architect if you are planning a new construction or any major changes, and it is their responsibility to apply for the planning permit.
Planning regulations are complex and often change. What’s more, each region has its own codes and regulations. Each municipality has its own Department of Territorial Planning which can provide you with more information.
Buying or renting in Belgium?
If you are trying to decide between renting or buying a property in Belgium, there are several pros and cons you should consider. Rental contracts tend to be fairly long term. This, coupled with the fact that tenants tend to have a lot of impact on how the property is maintained and decorated, means that renters get a lot of independence and security – and they don’t have to pay the mortgage.
While property prices are relatively low in Belgium, pricey transaction costs can make buying a property relatively expensive. This means that you will likely make a loss if you sell up after a short period of time. For this reason, it is only a good idea to buy a property if you intend to stay in Belgium for several years. You can find out more about this process in our guide to buying a property in Belgium.
While you are looking for your perfect property, it might also be helpful to know the Belgian housing terms.
Renting in Belgium
It is possible to rent both apartments and houses in Belgium. When finding a property to rent, there are two main options you can consider: going to an estate agent (agences immobilières/ makelaar), or using an on online property portal.
Some of the main property portals in Belgium include:
Applying for a property to rent tends to be less competitive than in other European countries. In fact, you often have the luxury of viewing the property twice before making a final decision. You will need to provide information on your identity, employment, and residency. You will also need to sign several copies of a formal written tenancy agreement, and your rental agreement needs to be registered.
Find out more in our guide to renting in Belgium.
Buying a home in Belgium
One of the most common ways to find Belgian properties for sale is to search online. Expatica’s property portal can also help you with your search.
Most properties that are up for sale will feature a bright orange sign in the window which says ‘à vendre/ te koop’. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep your eyes peeled when you are out and about. It may also be worth signing up with an estate agent, as they may be able to act as translators. They can also be helpful when it comes to getting to grips with the regulations and processes in Belgium, which can vary between the regions.
Process of buying a house
There is a lot of paperwork involved when buying a property in Belgium. This generally comes in three main stages:
- A commitment to buy (offre d’achat/ koopintenties): this ties the buyer to the sale, but still allows the seller to back out without a penalty. You may need to pay a small deposit or holding fee, which would be lost if you back out of the sale;
- The sale agreement (compromis de vente/ verkoopcompromis): this outlines the detail of the contract. You usually have to pay a deposit of around 10% of the purchase price. Then you have four months to provide the rest of the money, which is usually done via a mortgage;
- The notarized deed (acte notarié/ notariële akte): this transfers ownership of the property. It must be signed within four months of the sale agreement.
Costs of buying a house in Belgium
When it comes to buying a house in Belgium, the buyer pays the majority of costs. Some things, however, are payable by the seller.
As a buyer, you will need to pay around 11-15% of the purchase price, with fees including:
- Registration tax (on old properties only)
- VAT (only on properties less than two years old)
- Notary’s fee (0.2-4%)
- Cost of deed of sale (€800–1,000)
- Estate agent’s fee (0.2–0.6%).
You can find more detailed information on this in our guide to buying a property in Belgium.
Mortgages in Belgium
There are no restrictions on foreigners taking out mortgages in Belgium. Mortgages are usually available up to the age of 65 and you will need to show that the proposed mortgage repayments won’t exceed any more than 35% of your monthly income.
There are three main types of mortgages available: fixed-rate, variable rate, and combined rate. With a fixed-rate mortgage you will pay the same amount every month, protecting you against any interest rate changes. Variable rate mortgage rates change according to what is happening in the market. This means that you might pay different amounts each month, but they can work out cheaper. Finally, combined rate deals offer a reduced rate on other mortgages, but there are often additional caveats involved. This can include having to open a bank account with the lender in order to be eligible.
You might need to get a valuation survey completed before you are able to get a mortgage. This must be done by a surveyor who has been approved by the mortgage company.
To find out more, see our guide to mortgages in Belgium.