Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

House Hunting in … Belgium

House Hunting in … Belgium

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017 - 07:45
Andy Haslam for The New York Times

This three-story house with a red-tile roof is in the Zoute neighborhood of Knokke-Heist, a West Flanders municipality near the border of Holland. Like most of the homes in this tony section of the North Sea resort, it has a white-painted brick facade. Wide sandy beaches, restaurants and shops are a quick walk away.

Greenery-filled window boxes, gray shutters with bird-shaped cutouts and Juliette balconies embellish the exterior of the house, which has six bedrooms and three and a half baths and was built in 2008 on a quarter-acre lot on a private, tree-lined lane. A gray brick path leads past a rose garden to a portico shading the front door of this 3,563-square-foot residence, said Maxime Van Bockrijck, a sales agent with Cambier-De Nil, which has the listing.

The foyer, which has a powder room and a central quarter-turn staircase, leads to the living and dining rooms, which have wood floors, walls of windows and doors opening to south-facing patios and the garden. There is a fireplace in the living room.

Wood planks cover many of the interior walls “in typical seashore style,” said Stéphanie Cambier, an owner at Cambier-De Nil.

The kitchen has a gray tile floor, a center island with a natural stone slab countertop, gas cooktop, grill, breakfast bar, white lacquered wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. A mudroom and hallway link the kitchen with a two-car attached garage.

The master bedroom is on the second level, with two balconies, a closet and dressing room and an en-suite bath with a double vanity, a tub and a separate shower. Three other bedrooms, one with a loft and each with a Juliette balcony, share a bath.

On the third level, two bedrooms with sloped walls and dormer windows share a bathroom that has a tub with a stone surround, a double vanity with a stone counter and a separate shower and private toilet.

In the basement is a lap pool with a swim current, a shower and a toilet, and a storage area. There are laundry rooms on the first and second levels.

Families pedal surreys and children ride go-karts on Knokke’s “digue,” a seven-and-a-half-mile esplanade lined with cafes, bars and galleries that winds through the neighborhoods of Duinbergen, Heist, Albertstrand and Zoute. Knokke has about 200 restaurants, a handful of which have Michelin stars. A third of a mile from the house, one block from the beach, is the high-end Kustlaan shopping street, which counts Hermès and Diane von Furstenberg among its designer boutiques.

Knokke, where the population swells from 30,000 in winter to 250,000 on summer weekends, is an hour’s drive or train ride from Antwerp, an hour-and-a-half from Brussels and 20 minutes from the more touristy town of Bruges.


Sales are vibrant in Knokke, the most expensive resort town on the Flemish coast and one of the priciest areas in Belgium. Zoute is “the most exclusive and expensive part of Knokke,” Mr. Van Bockrijck said.

“The market is very strong,” said Stefaan Geerebaert, the manager of Immo Brown Knokke Zoute real estate agency, adding that Knokke has seen a sales volume increase of more than 15 percent over last year.

There were 180 houses and 500 apartments on the market in Knokke as of Nov. 7, according to the real estate site In the walkable “golden triangle” area of Zoute, spacious two- and three-bedroom apartments start at 1.5 million euros (or about $1.7 million), Ms. Cambier said, and villas run from 2 million to about 4 or 5 million euros (or from about $2.3 million to $5.8 million).

According to Statistics Belgium, a government office, the mean price for a villa or bungalow in Knokke was 1,216,764 euros (or about $1.4 million) in 2016, compared to 349,827 euros (or about $406,000) for all of Belgium. Apartments were also pricier in Knokke, with a mean of 496,075 euros (about $576,000), compared to 221,401 euros (about $257,000) for Belgium overall.

Following the 2008 global economic downturn, “the market was frozen for a couple of months” at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, Ms. Cambier said. “Sellers didn’t want to sell, and buyers didn’t want to pay the price.”

Apartments with ocean views dipped 10 percent in price and big villas went down 15 to 20 percent, she said, while transactions remained difficult for two years.

For the last four years, however, prices have been “going up,” Ms. Cambier said, and the past year saw a record number of sales on the coast, with most close to the asking price — or, as Ms. Cambier put it, the selling discount was “not more than three percent in 70 percent of the deals.”


Belgians make up the largest number of buyers, but the area is seeing an increasing number of buyers from France, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany as well, said An Willemyns, a manager and broker at Dirk Willemyns, a real estate agency. Families who buy in Knokke have often previously vacationed or rented there, she said.


There are no restrictions on foreign buyers. Buyers and sellers must both be represented by a notary whose fees depend on the purchase price; on a 3 million euro house, the buyer’s fee would run about 6,000 euros, or about $7,000. There is also a 10 percent registration tax, Mr. Geerebaert said.

A 21 percent value-added tax is charged on properties less than two years old.

Belgian law requires that an energy certificate stating the property’s energy consumption level be delivered to the buyer.


Annual property taxes on this house are about 2,580 euros (or $3,000) a year, Mr. Van Bockrijck said. Houses used as a second residence have an additional “holiday house” tax of 700 to 750 euros a year, or about $810 to $870, Ms. Willemyns said.


Dutch, French, English; euro (1 euro = $1.16)

The New York Times

Editor Picks