House Hunting in Belgium: A Restored Rectory on a Canal
A Majestic Four-Bedroom Villa in Bruges
$3.5 MILLION (3.3 MILLION EUROS)
This four-bedroom, four-bath home sits on a canal in the historic center of Bruges, the capital and largest city in the province of West Flanders, in northwestern Belgium. The upper floors look out on the Church of Our Lady, a medieval cathedral known for its exceptional artwork, including Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture.
Built in 1911 on about a tenth of an acre, the 5,790-square-foot attached brick house was originally a rectory. The current owners worked with an interior designer to redo the interiors, said Joke De Spiegelaere, a director-partner at Engel & Völkers Bruges, which has the listing.
“It’s not renovated like all the other houses in Bruges, with wooden floors, white walls, very heavy curtains,” she said. “Here, they used unusual colors and tiles, and they proportioned the spaces very well.”
The arched main entrance opens into a hallway with inlaid wood floors and wall sconce lighting. To the left are adjoining dining and living rooms with parquet floors, gas fireplaces and 11-foot ceilings. At the far end of the living room is a bay window overlooking the rear garden and the Bakkersrei canal. Floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets hang on two walls.
The dining room walls and ceiling are painted a glossy dark blue, set off to dramatic effect with recessed lighting. Floor-to-ceiling shelves with backlighting frame either side of the doorway to the living room.
The kitchen has black cabinetry, a marble-topped center island, a built-in grilling fireplace and a walk-in refrigerator. Glass doors along one wall open to a covered terrace with seating areas that steps down to the garden.
Two bedrooms and bathrooms, including the master suite, are on the floor above. The master has a large dressing room with black cabinetry similar to that in the kitchen and a leather-tile floor. The bath has marble floors, a soaking tub and a tunnellike walk-in shower tiled in shades of green and blue. A window on one wall of the shower looks out at the cathedral, Ms. De Spiegelaere said.
Two additional bedrooms and baths are on the attic level. The lower level is decorated as a Mexican-style bar, with stucco-like wall finishes, lounge seating, a fireplace and alcoves for storing wine and spirits.
The property does not include parking spaces beyond what is available on the street, Ms. De Spiegelaere said.
The Flemish port city of Bruges, with about 120,000 residents, is beloved by tourists as a well-preserved example of a medieval metropolis, known for its Gothic architecture, market squares and network of canals. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This property is in a popular tourist area, around the corner from a bus stop and about a 15-minute walk from Station Brugge, the city’s main railway station, Ms. De Spiegelaere said. A stone footbridge next to the property leads to a public park with several museums, including the Groeninge Museum, which has an extensive collection of Flemish and Belgian painting. Ostend-Bruges International Airport is about a 20-minute drive.
Housing is in high demand across Belgium, with prices and transactions rising steadily in recent years, according to Statbel, the Belgian statistics office.
The nationwide home price index in Belgium rose by 4 percent from the third quarter of 2018 to the third quarter of 2019, after rising 2.5 percent in the same period the year before. The median price for an attached or semidetached house was about 215,000 euros ($230,000) in the third quarter of 2019, and about 300,000 euros ($320,000) for a detached house, with homes in the Brussels-Capital Region commanding the highest prices.
Prices also have been rising in greater Bruges, including in the popular suburbs of Sint-Michiels and Sint-Andries, agents said. Last year, the average sale price for a home in the city and surrounding area was 296,413 euros ($318,000), according to Bart Van Opstal, a spokesman for Notaris.be, Belgium’s official notary organization. The average home price in Bruges was 288,000 euros ($310,000), a 6 percent increase over 2018, Mr. Van Opstal said, but prices in the historic city center can be significantly higher.
“The houses in the city center are always that little bit more sought-after than just outside,” said Dries Francois, the business manager and founder of Immo Francois.
Strict preservation rules prevent much in the way of new construction in Bruges, so most apartments are in old buildings that have been renovated, said Dries Craeye, an agent with Engel & Völkers. A newly renovated apartment of around 1,500 square feet goes for 500,000 to 600,000 euros ($540,000 to $645,000), he said. At the high end are renovated apartments twice that size with water views, which command closer to 2 million euros ($2.15 million), he said.
Properties along the canals tend to be the most expensive, although some buyers avoid the waterways, which serve as routes for tourist boats. “The tour guides don’t talk through a microphone now — the passengers all have headphones on — but you still hear the motors of the boats,” Ms. De Spiegelaere said.
Who Buys in Bruges
Foreigners make up about 10 to 15 percent of buyers in Bruges, Ms. De Spiegelaere said. Most are from the Netherlands and France.
Mr. Francois said he has also worked with buyers from Luxembourg and Britain.
Mr. Van Opstal noted that in Belgium, owning a home is much more popular than renting; the homeownership rate is around 75 percent.
There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Belgium.
One notary typically handles the transaction for both buyer and seller, acting as a neutral party, Mr. Van Opstal said, but buyers and sellers may use their own notaries if they prefer.
The seller is responsible for paying the agent’s commission of 3 percent.
Languages and Currency
Dutch, French, German; euro (1 euro = $1.07)
Taxes and Fees
The annual taxes on this property are 2,107 euros ($2,260).
Buyers in Bruges pay a 10 percent registration tax, which is reduced to 6 percent for first-time buyers of a primary residence, Mr. Van Opstal said. Notary fees generally total about 1 percent of the sale price.
Dries Craeye, Engel & Völkers, 011-32-492-86-96-74; engelvoelkers.com/en-be/belgium