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I’m building my own Swedish summer house – here’s what I’ve learned

Having a summer house is close to obligatory in Sweden. But with prices now sky-high anywhere near the big cities, it's out of many people's reach. So our reporter Richard Orange's Swedish wife Mia decided to build one herself, and he reluctantly agreed. Here's what happened.

I'm building my own Swedish summer house – here's what I've learned
The roof of Mia Orange and Richard Orange's house. Photo: Mia Orange

It took me about four years to work out what was going on. My Swedish wife kept sending me links to housing auctions featuring enormous tumble-down renovation projects in Värmland, abandoned farmhouses in Småland, or cabins in the wilds of northern Skåne.

At first, I thought she was fantasizing about abandoning our life in Malmö to grow our own vegetables and keep goats. I’d humour her, say a few encouraging things about the houses, then immediately forget about it. 

It was only when the first of our friends started to buy getaways an hour or two outside Malmö that I clicked that this was something normal, even expected, for Swedish families. 

At home in the UK, you generally don’t start thinking about a holiday house in Cornwall or Devon unless you’re very wealthy. In Sweden, it’s something less well-paid professionals, such as teachers, journalists, and academics, aim for too. It’s typically the next milestone after your children are in school. 

For my wife, it was also a passion project. While I can’t wire a plug (at least not without recourse to YouTube), she, like many Swedes, is practical. When we bought our flat, she put in the kitchen, installed new taps, basins and toilets, plastered the walls, and put in a new wooden floor, more-or-less single-handed (I did help). 

When she was studying, she worked part-time at a big out-of-town DIY store, and had long wanted to put her extensive knowledge of building materials and power tools to use.

She is also addicted to Husdrömmar (House Dreams) the SVT renovation programme where presenter Anne Lundberg and architect Gert Wingårdh visit a succession of Swedes embarking on perilous renovation or self-build projects, only to go wildly over budget, but somehow come out OK in the end. 

Anne Lundberg and Gert Wingårdh were part of the inspiration behind Mia Orange’s house project.

Initially, Mia fixated on a two-up, two-down brick house near a friend of ours’ summerhouse in Österlen, Skåne’s desirable southeastern corner, which she called the ruckel, or ‘ruin’. 

It had a hole in the roof through which water had been leaking for decades, rotting right through the ceiling of the ground floor, and then down through the floor to the cellar below. This was terrifying, so when she instead found two small adjoining plots of land for sale at a nearby area reserved for holiday cottages, it was such a relief I quickly agreed.

We are now coming up to our third summer working on the house, and it still feels like we’re barely halfway. We have a roof, walls, and windows, and Mia’s done the insulation. The aim is to be finished by the autumn, but I’m betting on one more summer.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far. 

Is it cheaper to build your own house? 

The plot we are building on cost 300,000 kronor, which is three times as much as cheaper plots in other parts of Skåne, but will hopefully pay off as we will end up with a house in an area otherwise outside our price range. 

The module house cost another 300,000 kronor, and I expect we will end up spending at least another 500,000 kronor on laying the concrete foundation, installing plumbing and electricity, and buying second-hand windows, stairs, doors, etc. 

So the cost quickly catches up with that of buying a house that’s already been built: for that amount of money, it is still just about possible to find a well-situated holiday house an hour from Malmö (although you might find you’d have to pay quite a bit for renovation and upkeep going forward). 

However, in the area where we’re building, holiday houses have in the last year been selling for two, even three, million kronor, so if the market holds up (a big if), our efforts will hopefully be worth something.  

Are there any other advantages to building your own house? 

If you’re got an interest in design and a big budget (or modest desires), you can of course build the house of your dreams.

Some of the more outlandish Husdrömmar episodes I can remember include a house with a tree growing through the middle, a house encased in a giant greenhouse, and a house constructed as a giant geodesic dome. 

You might be able to find a plot with a view over water, or down into a stunning valley which is better than any existing house you can find. 

Also, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s the ultimate DIY project. 

Is it a good idea to buy a plot in a holiday house area? 

Our plot is in a fritidshusområde, or ‘holiday house area’, with I think around 80 other holiday houses and cabins laid out along a network of small roads. The negative side is that, even though we are in the popular Österlen area, it feels a bit suburban. You are watched over by your neighbours, many of whom are retirees from Lund and Malmö, and have to be careful to limit the noise and mess you make. 

The positive aspect is that electricity and water supplies run right up to the border of the plot, there are potential playmates for our children, and a little community.

It was surprising that what was delivered from Piteå was little more than a pile of planks and beams. Photo: Mia Orange

Is it a good idea to buy a modular house? 

We bought a modular house from Lundqvist Trävaru, based in Piteå in the far north of Sweden. The advantage of this is that once you’ve ordered the house, you get architecture plans sent to you which make it relatively easy to apply for planning permission. If you designed your own house, you might have issues over whether the structure is stable.  

Lundqvist also have a very good online system to help you choose what dimensions you want, as well as instruction videos showing you how to erect the walls, put on the roof etc. 

On the other hand, when the container lorry arrived to deliver the house, I was surprised to discover that what they unloaded was more or less just a pile of planks and beams. The planks for the walls had been nailed together into 1.2m modules in Lundqvist’s factory, but that was about it. 

If I’m honest, I expected it to be a bit more like IKEA. I was expecting to receive more detailed instructions about how to put the parts together, perhaps with colour-coded packages telling you which pieces of wood are supposed to be used in which order. My wife managed to work it out, but it wasn’t easy. 

Mia Orange risking life astride the roof of her build project. Photo: Richard Orange

Should you get a professional to build it? 

For 200,000 kronor, we could have got Lundqvist to erect the house, paint it, put in the windows, and do the roof and gutters, which would have taken them a week, saved us about six months’ work, and probably meant a slightly better structure.

For us though, saving 200,000 kronor was easily worth a summer of hard labour. And for my wife, building the house herself was part of the point anyway.  

What about getting help from your friends and neighbours? 

We’ve been lucky in that the two people living in the houses across the road are local rather than people from Malmö or Lund with a holiday house, and they have been enormously helpful. One is a retired carpenter, and he has given Mia useful advice at every stage.

They’ve also helped us contact local plumbers, concrete and stone suppliers, and given other advice on materials. 

On the day we lifted up the roof beams, we had help from a small crowd of friends who helped guide the various parts into place and screw them down.

During the lull in the pandemic in early September, Mia’s mother came down from Uppsala and helped mount the front door.

One of the things I’ve learned as a foreigner is how generous Swedes can be with their time and advice when it comes to something practical like building a house. While general chit-chat and small talk is relatively rare, when the discussion gets on to subjects like guttering, they can talk for hours. 

Mia’s mother came down to help mount a door in September.

Should you get help online? 

My wife has become an obsessive member of the Byggahus (‘house-build’) website and forum, which is a sort of virtual version of the sharing of advice mentioned above. If you can read and write Swedish, it’s an invaluable place to discuss every element of a building project from how to get your permission to start building from the local municipality, to tricks for putting in windows. 

How tough is the bureaucracy? 

Before you can start building you need to apply for bygglov, or ‘building permission’ from the municipality, and if you are planning on doing any major landscaping, you also need to apply for marklov. You also need to secure a startbesked, before you start work.

It took us two or three attempts before we had supplied all the correct documentation to receive our bygglov, so it can be quite complicated, but still far from impossible. 

Once you have laid out the area where you are going to build your house you also need to get that measurement approved by the municipality.

You also need to employ an independent ‘kontrollansvarig‘, KA, who monitors your work at all the essential stages to make sure you’re not taking any dangerous shortcuts. 

The municipality also has to come out at different stages to check that you’ve done everything according to the plans and building regulations. 

Finally, when you’ve finished you need to get the municipality to inspect your work and issue a slutbesked before you are allowed to live in the structure. 

So all in all, there’s quite a lot to do. 

How hard is it? 

If you’d asked me in September, I would have said ‘surprisingly doable’, particularly if you have a practical partner. But the cruel reality is that while it looks like your house is almost finished once you’ve erected the walls and roof, you are actually not even a quarter of the way there. 

Moreover, as each of the many, many time-consuming jobs you have left make little real difference to the outward picture of the house, it is easy to feel like you’re going nowhere. 

Perhaps the hardest thing is that while our richer (or perhaps just more indebted) friends have for the last two summers been enjoying flitting between their summer houses and the beach, we’ve been spending our time heaving wood about while living in a cramped 1970s caravan. 

Member comments

  1. Wow. This is great. What becomes of the house, however, during most of the year when it is unoccupied. I’m thinking of from the US perspective. Not just security but things like burst pipes…?

    1. Todd, in general, you turn off the water and empty the pipes when you leave the house for the winter, so burst pipes shouldn’t be a problem. The same is also true for electricity. You don’t leave things there that can’t stand the cold. If you have cold-sensitive stuff in the summer house, you can leave the electricity on and have the heating set on a few degrees above zero.

      Security-wise, neighbors are often glad to keep an eye on the house. It’s part of their own security as well to keep an eye out for burglars.

      🙂

  2. I had a summer cottage off the coast of of Sweden when I previously lived in the UK and found that a thermostat in range of a cheap security camera could monitor the property temp in the winter and keep a lookout for problems, it worked very well..it was also reassuring for security. I now live in Sweden and have a semi rural house without the need to get away to the quiet and wilds – I am a DIY fanatic & get great pleasure in creating from scratch – Swedes do tend to be very knowledgable and practical and as you say very helpful, I was building a jetty on my driveway and my neighbours took an interest and hay presto with their help we now have a floating jetty for launching the kayaks and paddle boards (replacing a dilapidated one). most houses in Sweden are wooden and so some DIY knowledge is a good thing to have. by coincidence my family and I took a little road trip last week to the Österlen area, its very nice & there’s some lovely beaches and countryside. good luck with your project Richard its certainly worthwhile.

  3. Hope it all works out for you. The last thing I ever felt was enticing was having a little home (especially without sewage or central water supply) in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. I’d probably go insane out there, but Swedes do love it.

  4. Oh this sounds so much fun!!! Lycka Till Richard och familj! I hope it fulfills all your Swedish sommar dreams.

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PROPERTY

COMPARE: Which Swedish banks give mortgages to foreigners?

Some Swedish banks are more likely to decline mortgage applications to foreigners without a permanent residence permit in Sweden. We asked 16 mortgage providers what their rules are on loaning to immigrants - here are their responses.

COMPARE: Which Swedish banks give mortgages to foreigners?

Mortgages or bolån in Sweden can be granted directly by banks, such as Swedbank, Danske Bank or Handelsbanken, or given out by other mortgage providers that are then used by multiple banks. The loan agency Borgo, for instance, is behind the mortgages given out by ICA Banken, Ikano Bank, Söderberg & Partners, Sparbanken Syd and Ålandsbanken.

This means that in some cases the banks themselves do not decide who to lend to, hiring out their mortgage service to another company.

The Local contacted 16 Swedish mortgage providers to ask whether non-Swedish citizens and people without a permanent residence permit can take out a mortgage with them. Here are the responses.

Nordea

Nordea – Sweden’s largest bank according to the Swedish Bankers’ Association – has some of the least strict regulations among the banks we contacted for immigrants in Sweden. The bank told The Local that prospective home buyers in Sweden may, in some cases, be able to buy a property before they’ve even moved to the country.

“If you live in or are planning to move to Sweden, you can take out a mortgage to buy a property in Sweden without a Swedish personnummer or a residence permit,” press officer Hugo Laigar said.

“Nordea offer individual advice and a decision will be made in each case,” he added. “The best thing to do is to get in touch to talk about the possibility of you taking out a mortgage with Nordea”.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Handelsbanken

Sweden’s second-largest bank, Handelsbanken, are also willing to lend to immigrants without permanent residency, Niklas Eklund, business development chief at Handelsbanken’s mortgage subsidiary, Statshypotek, told The Local.

“You don’t need to be a Swedish citizen or have permanent residency in Sweden to take out a loan with Handelsbanken,” he said, explaining that loans were based on “an individual assessment of your specific situation and your financial situation.”

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

A falu-red cottage in the Swedish countryside. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT

Do you need permanent residency? No

Swedbank

At Swedbank, “the short answer is no”, you don’t need to be a citizen or permanent resident of Sweden to take out a mortgage, press officer Ralf Bagner said.

“The longer answer,” he added, “is that the same customer information process applies, where the person taking out the mortgage must prove the origin of whichever funds they use to purchase the property, that they are over 18 years old, and must open an account and internet banking with us.”

It is possible to open an account with Swedbank without BankID or a Swedish personal number, although, according to their website, applicants must provide valid ID (foreign passports are accepted) as well as “some other document, such as a residency permit, work permit, extract from the Tax Agency or school attendance certificate”.

This means that it may be difficult to apply for a mortgage for a property in Sweden if you have not yet moved to the country, unless you already have your resident documents or work permit available.

Additionally for those planning on moving to Sweden, he said Swedbank placed “somewhat higher requirements on credit checks” on this group, “as we don’t have the same possibility to carry out a credit check on the applicant via UC [Sweden’s largest credit check agency], for example.”

“In addition to this, we always ask for references from the customers’ bank in the country where they are a resident,” Bagner said.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Danske Bank

Although originally a Danish bank, Danske Bank is also active in Sweden, offering mortgages and banking services in the country.

According to communications officer Natalie Rudarp, it “is difficult to get a loan approved without a permanent residence permit and work permit”.

“In line with current guidelines, as a bank we need to be sure that the customer can repay the loan, which is difficult if the customer only has a temporary residence permit.”

However, applicants “don’t need to be Swedish citizens”, Rudarp said.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? Yes, perhaps also a work permit

Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

SBAB

Stare-owned SBAB Bank is one of Sweden’s most popular mortgage providers, which is understandable given its history: SBAB was originally set up in the 80s to handle the finances for state mortgages.

SBAB “do not have any requirement for citizenship but you must be registered in the Swedish population register,” press officer Erik Bukowski told The Local.

He said that lenders also needed to demonstrate “a stable income and no records of non-payment.”

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Borgo (ICA Banken, Ikano Bank, Söderberg & Partners, Sparbanken Syd och Ålandsbanken)

Borgo is a mortgage institute used by five Swedish banks: ICA Bank, Ikano Bank, Söderberg & Partners, Sparbanken Syd and Ålandsbanken.

Borgo confirmed to The Local in a phone conversation that those applying for mortgages with them do not need to be Swedish citizens, but do need to have a personal number and a permanent residence permit.

This means that mortgage applicants with these five banks must have permanent residency for their mortgages to be approved.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? Yes

Landshypotek Bank

Landshypotek Bank offer mortgages for houses or summer houses in Sweden (not bostadsrättsföreningar, so apartments and most terraced houses are not eligible).

According to press officer Jonas Feinberg, Landshypotek offers mortgages to those who are “over 18 and registered in the Swedish population register, have income in Swedish kronor and have a private property (such as a detached house or summer house) which can be used as security for the loan”.

“When you apply for a mortgage, we carry out the usual credit check. If you, or the person you apply with, has a record of non-payment, we will not be able to approve your application,” Feinberg added.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT/

Skandia

Skandia Bank “does not have any requirements for Swedish citizenship or permanent residency,” press officer Jonatan Ohlin told The Local.

According to its website, applicants must be “over 18 years old and registered in the Swedish population register.”

“You also need a guaranteed base salary from a permanent position, lifelong pension or declared income from self-employment. We do not count incomes such as bonuses, commission or supplements received for working evenings or weekends which are not guaranteed.”

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Hypoteket

Hypoteket is not a bank, rather a bostadskreditinstitut, literally a “property credit institute”, meaning it only offers mortgages and no other banking services.

At Hypoteket, prospective mortgage applicants need “BankID and therefore also a Swedish personal number,” CMO Patrik Fjelkegård told The Local.

“You also need your income to be in Swedish kronor”.

“When you apply, we take an automatic UC credit check. There, we get an overview, and if there are any issues we may need more information like a certificate from your employer, payslips, or an estate agents’ valuation, for example.”

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Länsförsäkringar

Länsförsäkringar offers private banking and mortgages in Sweden. According to communications officer Ola Kallemur, Länsförsäkringar has “no requirement for Swedish citizenship or permanent residency in order to take out a mortgage”.

Do you have to be a Swedish citizen? No

Do you need permanent residency? No

Stabelo

Stabelo, a digital mortgage provider, had not yet responded to our emails at the time of publication, but we will update this article as soon as we receive a response.

SEB

SEB, Sweden’s third-largest bank, had not yet responded to our emails at the time of publication, but we will update this article as soon as we receive a response.

 

Vocabulary

Tillsvidareanställning - permanent position of employment

Betalningsanmärkning - record of non-payment

OB-tillägg - supplementary pay due to working outside of normal working hours

Kreditgivare - loan provider

Bolån (occasionally hypotekslån) - mortgage

Folkbokförd - registered in the Swedish population register

Arbetsgivarintyg - employer certificate (a certificate provided by your employer detailing your position, salary and how long you have worked in that role)

Lönespecifikationer - payslips

This information was correct as of August 2022. This is not financial advice, and we strongly encourage those considering taking out a mortgage in Sweden to do their own research before approaching a mortgage provider for a loan.

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