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Buying Property

Belgium - Buying Property

There are no restrictions on the purchase of Belgian property by foreign owners, even if they are non-residents, so if you are in the right financial position it would be possible to buy your new home before relocating to Belgium. Properties can be purchased directly from an owner, but many people prefer to engage the services of an estate agent to show them round a range of appropriate homes offered for sale and to act as an intermediary party through the purchasing process.

More than 7 in 10 Belgians own their own home, which is quite high by European standards, so if you are hoping to rent your Belgian property out at some point in the future you will have to carefully consider popular locations for rent before you buy.

Property in Brussels is cheaper than many other capitals in the north of Europe, but expats tend to prefer to live in the more expensive areas of the city; the European district is especially popular despite the cost. Partly this is because expat average incomes are higher than the average wages of native Belgian residents so they can afford to live in a more expensive district, but also expats in Brussels are reputed to live and socialise together to the general exclusion of friendships with local people which means they cluster in the same neighbourhoods.

Consisting of over 100,000 people, the EU expat community makes up 10% of the entire population of Brussels; in 2013 the president of the European liaison office presented the findings of a survey which suggested expats find Brussels dirty and unsafe (especially for women), and that the community lived as a bubble with little friendship with other residents. But the expats also reported that they felt Brussels was a pleasant place in which to live. A property purchase in an area of Brussels popular with expats is probably a sound investment, at least for the medium term.

Fixed and variable rate mortgages are available, and loans typically last for 10 years. Homeowners with a mortgage are eligible for a tax break of up to €2,000, although a number of circumstances determine an individual owner’s allowance. There are a wide variety of financial institutions that offer mortgages in Belgium, so it is best to shop around to find the product which is right for you.

The estate agency (or real estate) profession in Belgium became regulated by Royal Decree in 1993, and the regulatory framework was updated following a review in 2013. It is the individual (self-employed) estate agents who are regulated and officially registered - and are therefore members of the IPI or BIV - and not the agencies through which they may attract business.

Belgium introduced regulation of the profession to enhance consumer protection and facilitate improvement across different domains of regulatory control, such as prevention of fraud, energy efficiency certification, rental legislation, anti-discrimination policy, anti-money laundering policy, etc. Estate agents are involved in a broad range of complex activities and often collect the mandatory information (soil certificate, energy performance certificate etc) required for the sales file. They must hold professional liability insurance, including a security deposit, and insurance to protect money and other valuables held for third parties.

Anyone who wishes to become a registered estate agent must show they have received a good standard of education, with a minimum of a bachelor’s or master’s diploma (level 6) usually required. They take a competence test, and must complete a one year training period. Ongoing training is mandatory. Despite the level of regulation, Belgium has over 9,000 registered estate agents working across the country, with many more working in a support capacity for the industry.

If you are unhappy with the service you receive from an estate agent in Belgium, especially if you believe they have broken the regulatory codes of practice, then a complaint can be made to IPI/BIV. This can lead to a caution, reprimand, temporary suspension or deregistration from the profession.

Whilst there are no fixed rates determined by the regulatory body or industry because it is illegal to do so under European legislation, in practice the normal fee charged for selling a property is 3%; this may be higher for properties of low value. The seller will only sign a contract with one estate agent to act on their behalf, so no others will be able to advertise the property unless the contract with the first agent is terminated.

Once you have found a property you wish to purchase, you may be asked to put an offer to buy in writing. This ties the buyer to the purchase, though the seller can still leave at this point. Like all contractual documents, it must be written in French or Dutch and be understood by all the parties even if a translator’s services are required.

If the sale proceeds both parties sign a contract known as a “compromis de vente” or “verkoopcompromis”. This legally requires you to purchase the property as long as the seller acts in good faith, and you will normally be asked to deposit 10% of the purchase price into a client (or escrow) account.

If you are buying the property with a mortgage, the lender will usually ask for a valuation survey to be carried out; this will be mandatory and at your own expense. It is not the same as a structural survey, although a valuation survey does check the main points of the property are sound so that the value will be maintained in the foreseeable future.

Once the solicitors have completed all processes on behalf of the parties, the deeds will be signed and you can move into the property. Within four months of the deeds being signed, they must be lodged with the local registry, along with payment of the registration tax.

The buyer will be required to pay a range of significant costs through this process. 0.2%-0.6% will be paid to the estate agent, with a further 0.2%-4% due to the solicitor handling the purchase. The registration tax is 10% in Flanders and 12% in the rest of the country, although properties less than two years old will attract VAT of 21% instead of the registration tax.

Solicitors in Belgium will be registered with a regulatory body according to their location of practice and language. Solicitors in Antwerp will be registered with the Orde van Advocaten Antwerpen. A Flemish solicitor, or ‘advocaat’, in Brussels, will be registered with the Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten bij de Balie te Brussel. A Walloon ‘avocat’ in Brussels will be registered with the Ordre Francais des Avocats au Barreau de Bruxelles.

Solicitors charge for their services in respect of property purchases according to the value of the purchase, under fixed rates set by the local region. In common with many other European countries, rates are determined by the proximity of the solicitor’s firm to the law courts and by the professional level of the person undertaking the work; for house sales a percentage rate is normal. You should have received all information relating to charges in a clear written format before you sign the contract with the solicitor allowing them to work on your behalf.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office have compiled a list of lawyers based in Belgium, as prepared by the British Consulate in Brussels. Whilst the list is short, it provides a starting point as the firms listed have experience of working on behalf of expat clients.

Chambers and Partners also provide a list of law firms based in Belgium.

Once you own your new property, you will be responsible for paying the annual property tax due on the property; even if the property is let out to tenants you remain legally responsible for paying the property tax. It is charged on a calendar year basis (1st January to 31st December) each year.

The amount charged for property tax is complicated to calculate, as it involves the regional tax rate with provincial and district additions, and each district defines its own percentages.

Under some circumstances the property tax charges can be reduced, should you meet the qualifying circumstances. These include a 10% reduction for a disabled person, a reduction for a ‘small’ dwelling subject to a number of conditions, and a regionally specific reduction for those with children in the household. Deductions also exist for energy saving new build homes which meet strict criteria.

Once you have registered to vote with your local municipality, it becomes compulsory to vote in each election. Whilst this may act as a deterrent for some to register, it can also be seen as an opportunity to have some input into your new community.

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