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Belgium is Europe in a nutshell, with 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Don't be fooled by its size, though, as Belgium offers something for everyone: over 200 museums, 300 art nouveau buildings in Brussels, 650 different styles of beer and 2,000 chocolate shops! Let yourself be captivated by the place surrealist painter Rene Magritte and art nouveau master Victor Horta call home: Belgium.

Above all, though, Belgium is a country of two distinct halves. Dutch-speaking Flanders (northern Belgium) has a flat, often monotonous landscape, but it is interspersed with fabulous historic cities. These lie close together and are conveniently interconnected by regular trains, making travel by public transport seamless.

In French-speaking Wallonia (southern Belgium), however, most attractions are contrastingly rural: caves, castles, bucolic valleys and outdoor activities. Staying in village inns and stringing together several minor countryside attractions can make for a truly delightful experience if you’re driving or have strong cycling legs.

11.3 million

Belgium has a temperate maritime climate influenced by the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with cool summers and moderate winters. Since the country is small there is little variation in climate from region to region, although the marine influences are less inland. Rainfall is distributed throughout the year with a dryer period from April to September.

Euro

Dutch, French, German

Yes. There are no restrictions in place to stop foreigners buying property in Belgium, even if they are non-resident.

While property in Belgium is cheap by UK standards, the various fees, charges and deposits associated with buying a house and securing a mortgage are likely to discourage all but the most determined buyers.

There’s no mortgage relief on income tax and, if you resell the property within five years, you’ll be hit with capital gains tax. The good news is that mortgages are fairly easy to secure, but don’t forget that total transfer fees will add 15 to 20 per cent to the price of a house, and there’s VAT at 21 per cent to reckon with if you buy a new home.

Houses for sale are advertised in newspapers and through estate agencies, or you can use the ‘sign hunting’ method, i.e. looking for ‘For Sale’ ( à vendre/te koop) signs on available properties. Listed prices are understood to be negotiable, and you normally make an offer that is somewhat below what you’re prepared to pay and ‘barter’ with the vendor according to how keen you are to buy and how eager he is to sell.

Having an estate agent to assist you with the process is usually sensible, even if you end up paying more than you would if you bought privately. Once a price is agreed, the buyer and the vendor sign a sales agreement ( compromis de vente), which is usually secured with a non-refundable deposit equal to 10 per cent of the purchase price. At this point, the buyer has four months in which to obtain the balance of the money (in most cases by securing a mortgage) before the sale is concluded.

In order to ‘buy time’, it’s sometimes possible to purchase an option on the property for a period, during which the vendor may not sell it to anyone else; if you back out of the deal, you forfeit the option payment, so you should negotiate as small a sum as the vendor will accept. The actual transfer or conveyance of the property must be done by a notary ( notaire/notaris), who charges a fixed fee of 1 to 4 per cent of the purchase price.

Generally, you must have a property surveyed, which will cost around €100, but your biggest expense will be the registration of the sale – a massive 12.5 per cent of the purchase price. It’s possible to buy a property at auction, in which case you may save money, but the notary fees are doubled and you have only one month in which to secure a mortgage and complete the transaction.

Total transfer fees will add 15 to 20 per cent to the price of a house, plus VAT at 21 per cent

The best route is to go with a Estate Agent and not direct with the landlord as they can assist you in negotiating the best contract. A Standard lease in Belgium runs for a period of nine years and is often referred to as a 3-6-9 lease. This is because the base rent can be increased only at the beginning of each 3-year period, and then only if written notice has been given.

Under the standard lease, you must give at least three months’ notice in writing in order to break or terminate the lease (usually six or nine months’ notice is required). If you break the lease within the first year, you must pay a penalty of three months’ rent. During the second year, the penalty is reduced to two months’ rent, and during the third year to one month’s rent. After the third year, there’s no penalty provided you’ve given adequate notice. After each three-year period, the landlord may eject you if he needs the property for his own or a close family member’s use, but he must give six months’ notice and pay you a large penalty (equal to nine months’ rent after three years and six months rent after six years).

If the landlord fails to give proper notice, he must pay you 18 months’ rent as a penalty. At the end of the nine-year lease period, the lease is automatically renewed for another nine years unless you or the landlord has given notice of an intention not to renew at least six months’ in advance by registered letter. Most landlords require a deposit of one to three months’ rent.

If possible, you should arrange to have this money held in an interest-bearing account, usually a blocked account that requires authorisation from both you and the landlord before the funds can be released. Some landlords will accept a bank guarantee for the amount of the deposit. You can arrange this through your bank, usually for a small annual fee. Beware of landlords who attempt to include a clause requiring you to return the property to ‘perfect’ condition rather than to the condition in which you received it.

If you agree to such a clause, you could be faced with major renovation costs to cover previous tenants’ wear and tear as well as your own. Note Most apartments and houses are rented unfurnished, although the kitchen ( cuisine/keuken) can vary as to how well equipped ( equipée/uitgerust) it is. A semi-equipped kitchen probably has a sink and some built-in cupboards, but not much more.

You’ll be expected to provide your own appliances or make arrangements with the prior tenant to buy theirs. ‘Equipped’ means that the basic appliances are included (cooker and probably a refrigerator, but not always), and ‘super-equipped’ indicates that the kitchen may have a dishwasher, microwave and/or other ‘luxury’ appliances, as well as all the basics.

The Agent is typically paid for by the Landlord