Flats for the Eurocrat: a Brussels bargain

IF YOU’RE moving to Brussels, it’s unlikely to be for the Belgian beer, the moules-frites and the chocolates. Most Britons relocate to the Belgian capital for work and join the 100,000-strong expat community of European Union workers, lobbyists and lawyers for at least a year or two.

While most expats tend to rent when they first arrive in Brussels, they are more likely to buy if their contracts get renewed or extended. And if you’re expecting to be living in Brussels for more than a couple of years, it can be worth getting on the city’s property ladder.

Besides Brussels’ high quality of life, you’ll get much more for your money than you would in many other European cities. According to Knight Frank research, in the second half of 2009, the average sales price per square metre for Woluwe-St-Pierre, one of Brussels’ most exclusive residential areas, was €3,399. This compares to an average of more than €6,000 for both Paris and London, says Savills.

The property market is also extremely stable and doesn’t suffer the peaks and troughs experienced in other cities. During the recession, the property market fell by only 1 per cent and has risen by 8 per cent over the past year.

And although income tax is high in Belgium, you get excellent services and there is no inheritance tax. “Property owners pay no capital gains tax (CGT) on residential property if held for more than five years and there is no CGT to pay on shareholder transactions,” says Eoghan Quinn, commercial manager for Thornsett Belgium. Thornsett already has three high-quality property developments in Brussels – Leopold Village, WoluwePark and Boniface Square – and another currently in the planning stages.

Prices in Thornsett’s Leopold Village, which is in the heart of Brussels’ European district, start at €350,000 for a two-bed apartment. Of the 108 apartments launched in May 2007, 65 have been sold while 43 are still up for sale. Around 60 per cent are owner-occupied while 40 per cent are investors.

The recently launched duplex and triplex penthouses (pictured) are priced from €750,000 excluding taxes. Of the six up for sale, two have already been bought while another two are under offer.

And should you be seconded overseas, the European institutions in the city guarantee strong rental demand with legislation in the landlord’s favour. Rents are also consumer price index-linked, which provides protection against rising interest rates. Investors at the Leopold Village are so far experiencing rental yields of between 5.5 and 6 per cent.

Whether you’re in Brussels for a few years or a few decades, buying makes sense.

NEED TO KNOW | BRUSSELS

Languages: Both Flemish and French is spoken but English is often used by European Union workers.

Transport: If you’re arriving in or leaving Brussels it will probably be by train. The high-speed Thalys takes you to Amsterdam in under two hours while the Eurostar gets you to Paris and London in 80 and 115 minutes respectively. The airport is about 10 minutes from the centre of the city.

Schools: The large expat community means that the education system caters for international students with English-speaking schools such as the International School of Brussels and St John’s International School.

Food & Drink: The city is well known for its pub scene and cafe culture. Les Brasseurs de la Grande-Place is one of the only working breweries left in Brussels and offers Belgian beer and food.