Leuven offers a great quality of life making it a very popular place to live. This results in a competitive housing market for all types of properties, whether you're looking to rent or to buy. To help you increase your chances of finding your new home, we spoke to some local real estate agencies to get their insights and we also learned from recent home-hunters on what helped them the most.
The home-hunting summary checklist:
- Don't loose faith and look at Leuven & beyond
- Do your homework, set expectations and prioritize
- Set your budget for rent (don’t forget to count the gemeenschappelijke kosten / common costs) and utilities
- Prepare your tenant profile
- Get yourself up to speed on contract types and requirements (blocked account, insurance,...)
- Search online and offline, use your network and get the word out that you are searching for a rental property
- Be quick and pro-active, use personalised e-mails instead of the "contact me" button, call to follow-up
Tip #1: If at first you don't succeed.... look at Leuven & beyond
We will get straight to it with tip #1: Don’t loose faith in the search, because everyone will find a place in the end, it just might take longer than you expected, require some effort and you may end up perfectly happy in a place outside of your initial search parameters.
A few things on the local housing market our recent home-hunters wished they had known beforehand:
- Demand for housing is quite seasonal: close to the start of the academic year, a lot of people are looking for similar housing at the same time
- Start looking a bit earlier than strictly necessary, just to get familiar with the market
- Look at Leuven & beyond!
Ask any international what they like about Leuven and you'll likely hear that it's so bikeable. Public transport is also abundantly available, and trains have the benefit of not getting stuck in traffic. There are train stations with a direct connection to Leuven (all under 10 minutes!) in Heverlee, Oud-Heverlee, Herent, Veltem, Wijgmaal, Wezemaal and Vertrijk. If you don't feel like walking the last stretch, you can easily leave a bike at the Leuven train station, or take a bus. Take out the map of Leuven and you'll notice that some of the neighboring communes are actually closer by than some parts of Leuven, making them equally attractive (and often cheaper) but easily overlooked by home-hunters.
Tip # 2: Do your homework, set expectations and prioritize
In order to find what you want, you need to know what you want and especially you need to know which criteria are must-have's, and which criteria are rather a nice-to-have. It's a very fast moving market, so if you're put on the spot to either take a flat or to potentially leave it to the person visting 5 minutes later, you better have made up your mind on whether you really need that walk-in shower or not. Also, and this may seem logical but our conversations and experience have shown that it really isn't: make sure you are in agreement about the priorities with everybody who is moving with you.
- Location and proximity to facilities: school, public transport, work, shops …
- Type of accommodation: an apartment or a house with a garden, furnished or unfurnished,... In the city center of Leuven row houses are very common, meaning that you share walls with your neighbours but you have all levels of the house for private use
- How long do you want to rent? There are short and long term contracts available. Read more about the types of contracts here.
- Budget - keep in mind that apartments usually come with additional expenses not included in the rent, the so-called gemeenschappelijke kosten or shared communal costs. These are for shared spaces in a building such as hallways, elevators, etc. In addition you need to consider the cost of utilities (heating, electricity, water and these may fluctuate), the rental guarantee/deposit and insurance.
- Already be on the lookout for a bank and insurance company. You’ll need to set up a rental guarantee and get the required insurance at some point, so better be prepared.
Note on utilities: Previous years have shown that energy prices can fluctuate, and that can have a significant impact on monthly costs. You can choose to pay a monthly or quarterly advance for your energy bill meaning that you can prepay on a monthly basis toward your bill (at the end of the billing year if you over pay you will receive some money back, or the opposite… The final bill is generally annual, unless you end the contract with a certain supplier, then you will pay out at the end of the contact. It’s always a good idea to check annually if you are still with the best provider. Struggling about which energy provider to choose? Read our article on choosing an energy supplier for some tips.
Tip # 3: Set your budget for rent and other costs
Of course, it depends. As we mentioned in the previous tip, an appartment usually comes with additional communal costs, a house doesn't. But just considering the rent and to give you some idea of what is realistic, we have asked several real estate offices to provide us with some guidance.
Disclaimer: prices evolve. This list dates from May 2023 and is only to give you a general idea of the housing market and gives by no means the exact and only pricing points
Our parameters were: a reasonable flat within the Leuven Ring + 1 km further. EPC: A, B or C
- Studio to 1-bedroom apartment : 650 – 900 EURO/month
- Apartment with 2 bedrooms : 850 – 1,300 EURO/month
- Apartment with 3 bedrooms : 1,200 - up EURO/month
Expect to pay more if you want a flat with new/modern interior and appliances. Please also note that a private parking place, terrace, garage or a garden will make the price go up. Another price scale can be found on numbeo.
Check (with the owner or real estate agency) what is exactly included in the communal costs. If the heating system is shared (still often the case in older buildings) an advance for your private use may already be included. You can read more on costs and how to choose an energy provider here.
Tip # 4: Prepare your tenant profile
A significant proportion of the rental housing market in Leuven is done through real estate offices. Usually they work with a first come, first serve mindset, meaning you will need to be quick in your application. To increase your chances of making the short list, it helps that you have a well-prepared application file containing all the information landlords typically want to see.
We advise that you to prepare a ‘huurdersprofiel’ (tenant profile) so that the potential landlords (and real estate agencies) know who you are. The ‘huurdersprofiel’ is a website where you find questions related to yourself, your family, and your rental scope. You can use this website in English, French, or Dutch and you can download your profile in PDF as well. You can also draft your own version if you prefer a different format of course.
One of the important factors which will help the landlord get a feel of how stable you are financially is the proof of income. In this section it is best to upload 3 of the latest payment slips. It's certainly not obligatory and you may not feel comfortable adding this information but without it you reduce the success rate of your search significantly.
Our research also indicates that there is an unwritten rule stating that the financial risk is considered too high whenever the rent exceeds 1/3 of the total income. If you are not able to offer a payment slip, it is worthwhile to consider adding a declaration from your previous landlord (or a guarantor) that you are a trustworthy tenant who pays their rent on time and in full. You can also add a statement from your Belgian employer with some details on your work contract.
When you complete your tenant profile via the link above, the information will be transformed into a PDF file which you can download and send out together with other supporting documents to potential future landlords (and real estate offices).
Tip # 5: Get yourself up to speed on contract types and requirements
A lot of information is already available online on the types of contracts, the rental quarantee, the insurance, the ingoing inspection.... so we will not repeat it here.
The recommendation of our panel of home-hunters was to not read it all at once but rather to spread it out over some days. It doesn't hurt to be on the look-out for a bank (for the rental quarantee) and an insurance company (often the same bank - prices are usually comparable) so you can set things in motion immediately when you find your perfect property.
- Article on permanent housing including summarized info on contracts
- The housing page of the KU Leuven contains a wealth of information
- Renting is a regional competence, so it's the Flemish housing code that is valid for the Leuven region. The renting and letting page of the Flemish government is very informative (source is in Dutch but translates well, we used Google Translate in Chrome).
Tip # 6: Search online and offline, use your network and social media
You're all prepared now, time to get to work!
The best way to find a flat or house is to
- search online platform, Zimmo, Immoweb, Immoscoop,... They all give the option to receive e-mail alerts when new properties are added, we highly recommend that you use this feature. Speed is everything!
- register for the newsletters/e-mail alerts of the real estate agencies, usually these go out first
- offline: walk/bike the streets and watch out for posters "te huur"
- use your network and social media (for example dedicated Facebook groups)
- tell anybody who wants to hear it that you're looking for a place to live
Tip # 7: Be quick and pro-active
If you have found yourself an interesting accommodation, be pro-active (without spamming): online platforms usually have a “contact me” button, but it’s generally better to send a personalised email requesting a visit and to follow-up with a quick call to the real estate agency. It could make a world of difference! Generally calling in English won't be problem and it never hurts to try. On the day of your visit, bring a copy of your tenant profile with you or have it ready to send by e-mail.
Want to go one step further? You can always pay the real estate offices a visit to explain to them your expectations and offer them your ‘huurdersprofiel’. They will show you at that moment what they have to offer and they can include you in their mailing list for new rental opportunities. As an FYI: in Belgium real estate companies are contracted (and paid) by the landlords/owners. If you're looking for organisations to do a home search for you, and by that we mean search the market and to visits for or with you, you need to contact a relocation office (paying service), not a real estate office (although there are exceptions of course). The sectoral federation of relocations agents has an online member's list.
Still lost? Come and see us at the International House Leuven. We can't do a home search in your place, but you're always welcome to ask us questions about housing in the Leuven region.
We are very grateful to the people who helped us compile all of the information above and who spoke to us repeatedly and at lenght about housing in Leuven. We reached out to the sector and thank the offices who came forward spontaneously and helped us better understand the local housing market and gave us an insight in how they do their work. Thank you very much (in alphabetical order):
- BMV Vastgoed
- Century 21 skyline
- Living Stone
You will find a list with recognized agencies on http://www.biv.be/de-vastgoedm... (Dutch or French only).
Helpful Dutch & other vocabulary you may come across:
- immo = refers to real estate agencies
- huurdersprofiel = tenant profile
- huren/te huur = to rent
- kopen/te koop = to buy
- gemeenschappelijke kosten = shared costs between tenants of the same building (i.e. electricity for and cleaning of hallways, elevator maintenance, …)
- EPC = energy label (A being the most energy efficient and F being the least)
- (on)gemeubeld = (un)furnished
- kot = student room
- domiciliëren verplicht = mandatory that you register as a permanent resident
Suppliers, channels, & other tools
- www.zimmo.be (Dutch only)
- Real estate offices who participated in the research for this article: BMV Vastgoed, Century 21 skyline, Connect-immo, Homies, Immo3000, In2go, Living Stone
- www.notaris.be/verkopen-kopen-... (partly in English)
- On www.huurschatter.be (Dutch only) you can estimate if the rental price is a fair price.
- www.woninghuur.vlaanderen (Dutch only)
- www.mijnhuurprofiel.be/profiel (also in English)
Internationals who are planning to move to Leuven or who have just arrived and want to rent an apartment or a house in the region.