As well as writing aricles like the one below for magazines like Plug-In Belgium and Internationals in Belgium, presenting a weekly radio programme for a local radio station in the Brussels Waterloo area with her Friday at 2.00 programme, Ginny Suter also acted as a relocation agent for a number of years.
Relocation is a word very much bandied about at the moment. You hear comments such as, "Everybody seems to be working in it, or having the service offered to them." Yet still the concept of relocation is not fully understood, and is often associated with real-estate rentals or sales.
Relocating masses, globally, is a modern syndrome. It originally began when companies in the United States transferred employees from one side of the country to another. As international business grew, so did the job transfers around the globe.
As exciting as this is, it has its negative sides: not knowing the country, the most suitable areas to live, the best school to send the children to, which documents you will need, how to replace the children's friends, how to replace your friends and family. And worst of all, how to cope in a foreign country with different languages. Finding out even simple information is tough, especially with many other immediate and pressing demands to be met. Being rendered dumb and feeling stupid is a pretty unrewarding feeling for uprooting.
The solution to solving this problem and many others has been found in Relocation Services. Hence the growth of the relocation industry which aims to assist companies and their transferees settle, being guided by people who know the country, the system and the problems. It is similar to housework: the more efficiently it is done, the easier it seems, and the less you appear to have done.
Shirley Conran explained this very well with a cartoon in her book, Superwoman, depicting a woman reading a book on the sofa and dipping into a box of chocolates while the kids blitzed the place, the dishes piled up in the sink and the pets had a field day. Replying to her surprised husband later that evening she said, "Well, darling, the only way to show you what I did all day was not to do it." You get the picture?
Getting the house in order in the quickest, most efficient way of enabling transferees to get on with their highly paid jobs - reassured that their wives and families are happily settled, and has been growingly appreciated over the years by International companies. Those who have moved without help know the time, money and headaches that could have been avoided, if only...........
What Relocation Services offer
Preparation - Prior to the move, contact with the family when advice is given. This includes information about accommodation types, residential areas and renting, along with lists of local and international schools, etc. An Introduction to Belgium through orientation tours and searches for short or long term furnished or unfurnished accommodation. Help with negotiations and complicated rental contracts, connections of electricity, water, telephone, and TV.
Assistance with the entrance inventory (etat de lieux/plaatsbeschrijving), insurance, removal arrangements, house decoration, furnishing, and curtains. Registration at the commune/ gemeente Once you have found your new home, you need to register with the local police at the town hall and begin the complicated process of applying for your identity card, certificate of residence (for customs clearance), driving licence, television licence, dog licence In some cases, this can involve translation of official papers.
Transportation - car rental, leasing, or purchase and contract formalities, importation, registration and insurance. And introductions to highway code and local maps.
Furniture rental - choices and leases
Leisure - sports clubs, tennis, squash, golf, riding schools, fitness and aerobics women's organisations, social clubs and cultural activities.
Information - on shopping, markets, travel agencies and places of worship. Languages - lists of language schools and private teachers.
Welcome Pack - containing local information, hints books and maps, local amenities, English speaking doctors and dentists, plumbers, handymen etc. Useful addresses and tel numbers.
Departure - landlord's notification, closing utilities, insurance and bank accounts change of address, removal arrangements, returning car registration plates, taxes and insurance reimbursements, final deregistration, accommodation final cleaning, departure inventory, bank guarantee release.
IMPORTANT AND USEFUL POINTS WHEN RELOCATING Once you have decided upon a home, you have to sign a contract with the owner. Recent changes in Belgian legislation governing unfurnished and furnished rented property created two different leases: the short-term lease for up to three years and the standard lease for nine years. For the duration of the lease, the landlord has the security of tenure except when the landlord chooses to cancel on the third or sixth year of the lease (and where the landlord has to pay a penalty), or when the owner or his immediate family wish to live in the property or when extensive repairs are necessary.
*the landlord can break the lease at the 3rd and 6th year, without himself or relatives living in the house, but in that case the landlord has to pay an indemnity (6 to 9 months) to the tenant, so this rarely happens.
Those anticipating a short stay in Belgium should try to obtain a lease which includes a diplomatic clause allowing them to escape the full rental financial penalties imposed if the lease is broken before the lease period is completed.
The sum of one month's rent is paid in advance, at the time of signing the contract, plus a bank guarantee or deposit equal to the sum of three months' rent, against any damages you might cause to the property.
Before the end of a lease, a tenant is obliged to give his landlord three months` written notice (sent by registered mail) of his intention to leave the property. Otherwise, the tenant is presumed to have tacitly renewed the lease.
Should the tenant break the lease, financial penalties are imposed which amount to three months' rent in the first year, two months' in the second year and one month in the third.
During a tenancy, the tenant is responsible for the routine maintenance of the property's installation, (for example the central heating furnace). All major repairs necessary to the fabric of the building, or its installations, are the responsibility of the landlord.
When entering a property it is customary to conduct an etat des lieux/plaatsbeschrijving, a detailed house inspection and written report on the condition of the property, by an 'Expert', ensuring that all defects are precisely recorded on the document.. The costs around BEF25,000 -BEF30,000 - depending of the size of the property. For lower priced houses or apartments, this cost can be avoided by having a house inspection direct with the owner, but it is not recommended for more expensive places. The objective is to avoid problems over who is responsible for repair charges when you leave.
The Experts' fees can be divided between the landlord and the tenant if they agree on the same expert. You must make sure that he is objective and not in favour of the landlord. At least three copies are made. The expert keeps one copy, one copy is kept by the landlord and the others by the tenant. Make sure you keep yours safely for the out going inspection. At the time of entry, along with the etat des lieux the electric /water meters must be read.
Tenants must insure the property against fire and also insure their contents as part of the tenant's liability insurance. Tenants are also obliged to have the central heating furnace serviced and have chimneys swept annually. Failure to do this will invalidate their fire insurance.
Once you move in you must register at the town hall. This will involve three visits, a visit from the police and the acquisition of your temporary, then permanent, ID card. Shortly after moving in you will receive your copy of the 'etat des lieux/ingaande plaatsbeschrijving' -inventory (see above). You have a few weeks to check the report with the Expert. You are expected to leave the property in the same condition as when you took it.
At the end of your stay in Belgium, the Etat des Lieux de Sortie/Uitgaande Plaatsbeschrijving is made and the two reports are compared. 'Fair wear and tear' in a rented house is not clearly recognised under Belgian law and the 'damages' can be costly. It is recommend that you ask your 'expert' to inspect your house before the final Etat des lieux to give his opinion on how best to minimise any damages. This pre-check is usually a free service.
Modifications to the property
If you wish to make any alterations during your tenancy, such as redecorating a room in a different colour, removing wallpaper, or erecting a fence in the garden, remember to first ask your landlord, in writing, if this is acceptable to him. If you do not ask, or he does not give his agreement and you still go ahead, you will be expected to return the room or garden to its original state or pay for it to be done.
Reminders If you have oil heating (mazout), remember to have the tank filled well before it becomes empty to avoid not only loss of heat and hot water, but costly repairs due to sediment running into the system. Better still, arrange delivery on a contractual basis. This might be slightly more expensive but far less costly than running the tank dry!
Central heating boilers, water heaters, chimneys and water softeners should all be serviced/cleaned once a year for insurance purposes. On departure you must produce a valid, current certificate for each of them, at inventory time.
Calcification is a big problem in some areas here due to the hard water. Check the water filter outlet on your washing machine regularly and clear it of any calcium (often a cause of flooding and consequently expensive plumbing bills). Decalcify shower heads and taps with either vinegar or one of the decalcifying brand products (détartante/ontkalker)found in supermarkets. If the drains become blocked or the water is slow to run away, use a product such as Destop (déboucher/ontstoppen) to clear the pipes.
Water softeners need filling with salt regularly. The name of the salt crystals supplier is usually written on the machine. Once ordered, the bags of salt are delivered within the week.
Dishwashers also need salt regularly, along with washing and rinsing liquid. These can be bought at any supermarket.
Gutters and drainpipes must be cleaned every year (this is mentioned in the lease).
*The tenant is responsible for the entire width of the pavement in front of the house. Snow and falling leaves must be cleared.
Vignettes/Zelfklevers (stickers) are issued by your health insurance company to enable a discount at pharmacies when purchasing necessary medication.
©Ginny Suter - April 1998
Original article appearing in "Internationals in Belgium" Dick Suter was an editor of the magazine and contributor and Ginny Suter was a regular contributor in the late 1990's and 2000's - The magazine had a circulation of 10,000 Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date and email addresses have been removed.
Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives