For many expats living in Belgium it is a dream to own a property. The Belgian government, banks and estate agents make this dream possible for those with the cash.
In the last few years there have been some changes to real estate market regulation which make owning a house or an apartment more expensive. In Flanders almost every home buyer has to pay the ‘woonbonus’. This means that as a buyer you get back around € 3000,- from the tax authorities when buying a home. Apparently this was done because living in an apartment makes your life less expensive (we all know that statement is untrue). It’s no surprise that renting an apartment costs € 1200-1400 per month now on average, up from € 800-900 in 2008.
If you really want to own a house or an apartment in Belgium (https://www.bluehomes.com/Immobilien-Belgien/B/de/debut.html), and not be restricted by the rental laws (which we will discuss later), you need to start looking at least 18 months before you want to move. Because of the recent crisis, many expats are leaving Belgium again, which means that there is plenty of stock on the market right now. This also means that prices have decreased significantly. A decent sized 3 bedroom flat can be had for € 180,- per m² or less – compared with € 250-300 in 2006-7. Buying a small one bedroom apartment is even possible for around € 80,- per m² !
You won’t get this price if you wait till summer/autumn. The majority of property that comes onto the market then will be snapped up by cash buyers.
If you are not cash rich, do not despair. This does mean however that you should have your financial ducks in line – don’t think that it’s possible to get a mortgage after having been here for only 2 years. Because the ‘Belgian system’ is so different from other countries, it can take up to 5 years before you are eligible for a Belgian bank loan.
Belgian banks offer two types of mortgages: rent-a-till-buy and permanent mortgages
Rent-a-till-buy (ook wel afbetalingskrediet genoemd) is the most popular form of financing. Basically you borrow money from the bank which will be repaid when you sell your property. All costs associated with this transaction are paid by the seller. The bank only lends up to 70% of the real value of the house or apartment, so you need to have enough cash to cover all out-of-pocket expenses.
The other form is a permanent mortgage (ook wel geschreven hypothecaire lening). Because your are borrowing 100%, you have to have saved an amount equal to 20% of the price for which you want to buy a home before applying for a loan. This type of loan offers slightly lower interest rates than rent-a-till-buy loans but it still has relatively high monthly repayments.
Permanent mortgages are popular with expats who stay in Belgium for the long term
If you buy a home, more than likely you will also need to take out insurance to cover damage due to floods or house fires. Your bank will normally arrange this for you.
Concerning rental prices, three years ago there was still some space on the market where landlords could ask higher prices (up to € 1500,- per month for decent sized one bedroom apartment) but that is no longer the case. Now monthly rent prices are generally between € 880,- (appartement in rijhuis, Deurne/Antwerp City) and € 1200,- (duo appartementen en eengezinswoningen).
There are quite a few websites where you can find an apartment to rent. You can also try discussing your requirements with the real estate agents; they will normally deal with both renting out/selling property and managing rentals, so this should get you started on your apartment hunt in Belgium!