A Renovated Rowhouse in Antwerp
$1.5 MILLION (1.35 MILLION EUROS)
This four-bedroom townhouse is on a tree-lined avenue in the upscale neighborhood of Markgrave, about two miles south of the historic center of Antwerp, Belgium.
Built in 1912 and renovated in phases through 2017, the 4,300-square-foot house has a mansard roof, terraces in the front and back, and a brick-walled backyard adjacent to a public park. Though it is four stories tall, the house actually has seven split levels, with rooms in the front and back separated by half levels and a staircase in the center of the house running between them.
“They don’t build it like that anymore,” said Henriette Siersema, the managing director of Sotheby’s International Realty in Antwerp, which has the listing.
Past the small front garden and a black front door is a long entrance hall with Belgian bluestone floors that stretches to the rear of the house. To the right are the living room, a sitting room with a chandelier and the dining room, all with oak parquet floors. The living room is entered through large, wood-framed glass doors, with built-in bookshelves on either side of a fireplace, the original ornamental plaster ceiling and a front-facing bay window.
The kitchen, behind the sitting room and dining room, has a La Cornue range, Belgian bluestone counters, a breakfast nook and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a patio and the brick-walled backyard. A half bathroom is under the stairs, as is a door leading to the basement, where there is storage and laundry.
Between the ground floor and second story is a TV room with high ceilings and glass doors that open onto a large terrace, with stairs leading down to the kitchen patio. There are four bedrooms on the upper floors. Of these, two could serve as the master suite, Ms. Siersema said. The top floor has an office that shares a bathroom with the fourth bedroom.
A parking space in a nearby building, about two minutes away on foot, is available to rent. A small park is around the corner, and two public trams run on tracks in front of the house, with the nearest stop five minutes away and the city center about 15 minutes from there. Antwerp, a city of about 500,000 on the Scheldt river, is known for its Renaissance architecture, cobblestone streets and cultural treasures like the Rubens House, the 16th-century former home and studio of the painter Peter Paul Rubens. Antwerp International Airport is about 10 minutes away by car. The Belgian capital of Brussels, and its international airport, are about 25 miles south.
The area around Antwerp, the largest city in the Flemish Region of Belgium, had a very active residential real estate market in 2018 and the beginning of 2019, with transaction volume growing by 7 percent between the end of 2018 and the first quarter of this year, according to a report by Belgium’s national notary organization.
Antwerp’s housing market is in the midst of several changes — some possibly temporary, others systemic — that are creating increased supply and demand, according to agents and market analysis. Low interest rates in Belgium (and Europe) have made borrowing more affordable, attracting investors. Those rates, which have discouraged saving money in the bank, have also generated increased interest in real estate investment.
Migration to the region and low unemployment have created additional demand, and developers have rushed to meet it. In the past few years, there has been a housing construction boom across Belgium, and especially in Antwerp, where new apartment units have gone up throughout the city, agents said.
These factors have combined to create a shift in who buys (and rents) homes, said Sam Bordon, a senior manager in Deloitte Belgium’s real estate department.
“Typically the market was very owner-occupier oriented — families buying houses for their own use,” he said. “We see now, more and more, especially in inner-city locations, a lot of the new-build apartments are being sold to investors as well.”
With more investment sales, rentals are becoming a larger share of the housing market. “Antwerp was traditionally not a rental market, but that has been changing,” Ms. Siersema said.
Housing prices in Antwerp have increased unevenly in the last three years, with new apartments commanding higher prices, but older properties in unrenovated buildings remaining stable, although those properties often require upgrades, said Hilde Couturier, the managing director of Metropolitan Real Estate, in Antwerp.
A small two-bedroom apartment might sell for 250,000 to 270,000 euros ($280,000 to $302,000) in an older, unrenovated building and require 50,000 euros ($56,000) to bring it into compliance with Belgian and European energy-efficiency regulations, while new energy-efficient, two-bedroom apartments might sell for 350,000 to 400,000 euros ($392,000 to $448,000), Ms. Couturier said. Many of the new buildings are high-rises, taller than the old standard of five or six floors, she added.
Those who would once have held onto property outside the city center after retirement are now often choosing to sell and then buy smaller, easier-to-maintain homes in the center, Ms. Couturier and Ms. Siersema said.
“Sometimes they move in, and other times they rent them out initially,” Ms. Couturier said, noting that younger buyers, between 25 and 30, are being priced out of the market and increasingly need help from family to buy a first home.
“The gap is getting really big between the rich and the poor,” Ms. Couturier said.
At the luxury end, prices vary widely based on size and location, Ms. Siersema said. A luxury renovated apartment in a prime location could go for 4,000 to 8,000 euros a square meter ($415 to $830 a square foot). In new developments, prices are 6,000 to 12,000 euros a square meter (about $625 to $1,250 a square foot), although the higher figure would be for something “exceptional” on the harbor, she said.
Who Buys in Antwerp
Most buyers of luxury properties in Antwerp are Belgian, Ms. Couturier said. Foreigners tend to have temporary work assignments, so they rent.
Many buyers in Antwerp, and across Belgium, are from the Netherlands, as Dutch is the most commonly spoken language. Ms. Siersema said that about 25 to 30 percent of her agency’s buyers in Antwerp are foreign, most of them from the Netherlands, Israel, Lebanon, India, Germany and the United States. Although some 40 percent of Belgians speak French, most French buyers prefer Brussels to Antwerp, she said.
Transactions in Belgium are handled by notaries, said Pablo De Doncker, a notary in Brussels. The fees, which include what would be considered title insurance in the United States, are set by the government, he said. Buyers also pay a registration tax of 10 percent of the sale price in Flanders (reduced to 7 percent for first-time buyers) and document and administrative fees.
The buyer and seller can choose to share a notary, Ms. Couturier said, but usually they each hire their own. Buyers also pay a 21 percent value-added tax on property that is less than two years old, or sold on plan; the tax is levied on the value of building only, not on the land (Buyers can find calculated fees here.)
Languages and Currency
Dutch, French, German; euro (1 euro = $1.12)
Taxes and Fees
The annual property tax on this home is 2,880 euros ($3,225), Ms. Siersema said.
Henriette Siersema, Sotheby’s International Realty, 011-32-3647-3072; sothebysrealty.be