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.