House Hunting in Belgium: A Beaux-Arts Mansion for Under $2 Million

Low inventory has kept home values high in the northern Belgian city of Antwerp, even as residents migrate to greener pastures.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

A Four-Bedroom Townhouse in Central Antwerp

$1.9 MILLION (1.56 MILLION EUROS)

Designed by the Belgian architects Alfred Portielje and Jan De Braey in 1926, this four-bedroom Beaux-Arts mansion in Central Antwerp, Belgium, was originally part of Residence Sans Souci, a luxury apartment complex next door.

Sans Souci’s owners sold off the mansion in 2007 to its current owners, a Dutch couple. The wife, a now-retired interior designer, took a whimsical approach to redecorating the four-story, 4,760-square-foot home. “She changed the walls every five years so she wouldn’t get bored,” said Matthias Vertommen of Sotheby’s International Realty Belgium, the listing agent. “Because of her background, the home has also been immaculately maintained.”

A grand marble-accented foyer makes up the home’s entire first level. “Without a ground floor, the home wouldn’t be easy for a family with small kids, but the owners fell in love with the entrance hall,” Mr. Vertommen said. “It’s quite big, with original mosaic tile floors, high ceilings and a huge wooden staircase.” Most recently, the owners painted the foyer walls black and white, coating the staircase in glossy black to match.

Image

Designed by the Belgian architects Alfred Portielje and Jan De Braey in 1926, the four-story house was originally part of Residence Sans Souci, a luxury apartment complex next door. Sans Souci’s owners sold off the mansion in 2007 to its current owners. Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

The staircase ascends to living spaces on the second floor. A long, loft-like living room boasts original herringbone parquet floors illuminated by floor-to-ceiling windows. In the room’s current color scheme, vertical zebra stripes contrast with plush divans in hot pink and tangerine. A decorative fireplace, painted black, serves as an etagere. (The home’s furnishings are not included in the sale.)

The living room opens to a dining room, where a peek-a-boo window overlooks the home’s second staircase. The dining room connects to a sleek, narrow kitchen, recently updated and outfitted in black, with a granite-topped sink and diamond-patterned tiles on the floors. One of the home’s two terraces is accessible through a walkout from the kitchen. At about 1,300 square feet, the terrace “faces the back of the house, overlooks trees, and feels completely private,” Mr. Vertommen said. The second floor also features a library and TV room brightened by a wall of windows.

One floor up, the main bedroom suite has a dressing room with custom closets, in glossy black, taking up an entire wall. The windowed bathroom, in brick-like white tile, includes a standalone shower and tub.

A second bedroom has an en suite bath with a walkout to the home’s second terrace, which measures about 805 square feet. On the home’s top floor, the owners converted a bedroom to an office; a finished attic could become a fourth bedroom, Mr. Vertommen said.

The house, which includes a deeded parking spot in a private lot behind the building, is steps from Harmonie Park, a four-acre green space distinguished by its lute-shaped monument to the 19th-century Belgian composer Peter Benoit. “It’s an ideal location,” Mr. Vertommen said. “You’re near public transport and schools, with bakeries, shops and supermarkets nearby. But it’s a five-minute drive to Antwerp’s ring road, with easy access out of the city.” A tram line runs in front of the house along Belgielei street.

The leafy central neighborhood is “a classic historical city center from the 19th century, with a mix of townhouses and apartments,” said Leslie de Ruiter, managing partner of R365 Christie’s International Real Estate. Antwerp, the capital of Antwerp province in the northern Flemish Region, is Belgium’s most populous city.

Image

A grand marble-accented foyer makes up the home’s entire first level.Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

Image

The foyer has original mosaic tile floors, high ceilings and a winding wood staircase.Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

Market Overview

Lack of supply has become the most pressing challenge in Antwerp’s housing market. “We’re facing a critical shortage of inventory,” Mr. de Ruiter said. “We need new developments. We need new houses. But not enough is happening.”

Construction of houses is rare in central Antwerp, where the residential stock consists mostly of historic townhomes and small apartments. A “long, frustrating” permit process also discourages builders, Mr. de Ruiter said.

Some large-scale new apartment projects, like the mixed-use Antwerp Nieuw Zuid complex on the Scheldt river, will bring some relief in the form of thousands of apartment units over the coming decade. However, said Jeff Cavens, director of Triple Living, Nieuw Zuid’s developer, “Price increases and a small supply have made it very difficult to buy, especially for young people. This issue is very of the moment.”

In 2020, the median price for a home in Antwerp rose to 280,000 euros ($342,000) from 264,250 euros ($322,500) in 2019, according to StatBel, the Belgian government’s statistics bureau. That’s well above the national median price of 216,500 euros ($264,000) for an attached or semidetached house. By contrast, the average home price in the neighboring Netherlands reached a record 365,000 euros at the end of 2020, according to a February report by realty firm Cushman Wakefield.

“Though prices are increasing in Antwerp, it’s modest compared to other European capitals,” Mr. Cavens said.

Image

At the top of the stairs, the floors have original herringbone parquet floors, large built-in mirrors and a skylight. Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

While the coronavirus pandemic spurred some Antwerp residents to flee to the suburbs or rural areas, “we definitely did not see a panic, and relatively few people made the Hamptons decision,” said Mr. de Ruiter, referring to permanent moves by some affluent New Yorkers to Long Island enclaves. “Belgian people are more laid back. The attitude was, ‘Let’s sit this out and see what happens.'” The city’s property market remained resilient as a result, he said.

According to StatBel, the pandemic “had a limited impact on the number of property transactions” in 2020, with the reduced sales volume “offset by a strong fourth quarter.” In Antwerp, transactions fell year over year from 3,502 homes sold in 2019 to 2,422 in 2020. As Covid restrictions recede, 2021 has been busy for brokers. First-quarter 2021 home sales increased by 14.7 percent in Antwerp and 11.2 percent nationally, according to notaris.be, the association of Belgian notaries.

Demand for gardens and outdoor terraces has been the pandemic’s most significant effect on Antwerp’s property market, said Mr. Vertommen, the listing agent. “No matter how much money they have, everyone is looking to upgrade their primary residence to include some outdoor space,” he said. “Before the pandemic, it was parking spaces. Now, it’s gardens or terraces.”

Who Buys in Antwerp

Antwerp’s property market is “80 percent local and Belgian buyers,” Mr. de Ruiter said. Foreign buyers mostly come from the Netherlands, drawn by the shared language and lower housing prices. North American buyers are “incidental,” Mr. de Ruiter said.

Frederic van Bleek, the executive director of Engel & Volkers Antwerp, said he has seen an increase in purchases by expatriate Belgians returning home after the pandemic. “They’re looking for security, and they want to buy their main house in the city,” he said.

Mr. Vertommen, the listing agent, said that while most of his foreign buyers are Dutch, he has sold to Israeli, Lebanese and German clients, who are often connected to Antwerp’s diamond industry.

Stephane Verbeeck, president of the Union Professionnelle du Secteur Immobilier, Belgium’s professional real estate association, said more foreign investors are discovering Antwerp. “For the first time, we’re seeing investors and equity firms coming into the market to buy residential property,” drawn by relatively low prices and infrastructure investments by Antwerp’s government. “The primary buyer is the guy who owns five or six apartments, and wants more,” he said.

Image

A living room is illuminated by floor-to-ceiling windows, with a mirrored wall on one end. Vertical zebra stripes contrast with plush divans in hot pink and tangerine. Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

Buying Basics

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Belgium, said Gregory Goossens, a partner at Taxpatria, an Antwerp tax-advisory firm that serves foreigners moving to Belgium. Foreigners can obtain a mortgage from Belgian banks, which generally ask for a 20- or 30-percent down payment. “But as a foreigner, with no credit history, it may be more difficult to get a loan because you have no relationship with the bank,” he said.

Notaries, who are government-appointed and work at fixed rates averaging around 1 percent of the total purchase price, play a key role in property sales, said Bart van Opstal, spokesman for notaris.be, the official site of Belgian notaries. “The notary checks more than 100 controls to make sure the transaction is secure, including debts on the property, rights of first refusal on the sale, even whether the electricity is OK,” said Mr. van Opstal, who is a notary with Vander Heyde, van Opstal, & van Tieghem in Oostende.

While lawyers don’t generally take a role in residential transactions, “nonresidents should consult a lawyer about inheritance taxes and any income tax obligations” around rental property, said Saskia Lust, who heads the private wealth practice at Loyens & Loeff, a Brussels law firm.

Websites

Business in Antwerp: businessinantwerp.eu

Visit Antwerp: visitantwerpen.be

City of Antwerp: antwerpen.be

Languages and Currency

Dutch; euro (1 euro = $1.22)

Image

Just outside the kitchen, the dining area has large mirror, transparent furniture and a nonfunctional fireplace. Credit…Antwerp Sotheby’s International Realty

Taxes and Fees

Real estate commissions and notary fees in Belgium range from 3 to 5 percent, and are paid by the seller, according to Mr. de Ruiter of Christie’s.

Mr. Goossens of Taxpatria said most buyers pay a transfer tax of 6 percent, which the Flanders regional government reduced from 10 percent two years ago for qualifying purchasers. (Land remains subject to a 10 percent transfer tax.) For the lower rate, “you must establish your main residency at the property” by registering with the municipal government within three years of purchase, he said. Mortgages incur an additional notary fee, and a 1 percent transfer tax on the value of the loan. Houses and apartments less than two years old incur a 21 percent value-added tax on the construction price.

Property taxes on this home are 3,600 euros ($4,400), Mr. Vertommen said.

Contact

Matthias Vertommen, Belgium Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-32-470-818-722, sothebysrealty.be

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

Leave a Reply