Buying my first apartment in Sweden: How we won the bidding war

Learn Swedish. Get a personnummer. Go cashless. Moving to a new country means going through a series of 'firsts'. The Local's reader Alexander de Nerée writes about some of the challenges, quirks and adventures he has faced since moving to Sweden.

Buying my first apartment in Sweden: How we won the bidding war
Buying an apartment in Sweden comes with a whole new series of challenges. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Buying! That’s the only way to find an apartment in Stockholm. If I had a krona for every time someone told me that, I could have used it for a cash deposit. That is not to say the advice was wrong. Rather than even trying to find a permanent rental, we decided to extend the lease on the temporary apartment we were staying in and dive right in.

Soon it became clear there are different personality types when it comes to looking for places on Swedish real estate site Hemnet: I am the boring “what will we be able to afford” type as my husband turned out to be the more aspirational Hemnetter: “Oh, look how we could live if we had 12 million to spare!”

Beautifully lit photos of apartments, all staged with the same furniture and art, tell you only so much. So, for weeks on Sundays we found ourselves shuffling on wet socks through, admittedly often very charming apartments, the purchase of which we were apparently going to be deciding on based on a ten-minute viewing.

If that was not stressful enough, the bidding per SMS would start right after. I quickly found out that the apartment you were already decorating in your mind, could easily be sold for a million and a half more than the asking price which was about, well, a million and a half more than you were able to afford. Being outbid at an auction, I was assured, is a quintessential Swedish experience. Think of it as part of your integration.

You can therefore imagine the surprise when one Monday night, after some listless bidding on a place we liked but seemed way too nice for us to win, our latest bid was top of the list. Never mind that we only saw the apartment once and together with 70 others: What if we put the sofa there?

On Tuesday morning the bidding and nail biting continued but at 5pm the agent told us to be at his office in two hours: we had won the bidding war! That did not leave much time to inform the bank that promised us the financing nor to do a frantic and unsuccessful Google search for “standard Swedish real estate purchase contract”.

So here I was, the trained lawyer signing a multitude of papers in a language I did not understand, to purchase an apartment in a country I had moved to less than six months ago. Apparently relying entirely on the agent representing the seller, telling me not to worry because “all documents are standard” and at the same time trusting that the person at the bank – who I had never met – would come through with a mortgage.

Walking back home from the agent’s office in a bit of a daze, we were already planning how we could upgrade the bathroom and install a tiled fireplace to increase the value of the property we had bought just a minute ago. We were integrating fast.

Alexander de Nerée moved to Stockholm with his husband in October 2020. Signing-up to move to a country they had never been to, in the middle of a global pandemic, was definitely a first for the couple. One of many more to come. Alexander writes for The Local about his “firsts” in Sweden.

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Salming: A sporting superstar who changed what it means to be Swedish

The death of ice hockey legend Börje Salming last week touched the nation, partly because he broke the mould for acceptable Swedish behaviour, says David Crouch.

Salming: A sporting superstar who changed what it means to be Swedish

The mood in the stadium was ugly that September night in 1976, as the USA and Sweden national teams prepared for battle in the world’s first truly international ice hockey tournament. The Toronto crowd booed the American national anthem and was indifferent to the Swedish one. 

Then a mean-looking Swede took to the ice and the entire stadium rose to its feet. The ovation continued for several minutes (you can watch it here). It is considered the greatest moment of all time in Swedish hockey.

The Swede in question was Börje Salming, a Swedish legend, who died last week from a cruel and terminal illness. It is no exaggeration to say that his death touched the nation, and beyond. How many Swedes can claim to have had an obituary in the New York Times

For Swedes, Salming was much more than an international sporting superstar. His rise to stardom in North America in the 1970s and 80s reflected a social transformation as Sweden moved away from the collective ideals of the folkhemmet (people’s home) towards a more individualistic, competitive and outward-looking society. 

Tributes to Salming describe how he blazed a trail for Swedish hockey players into the North American big time and challenged the stereotype of the “chicken Swede”, the soft European. But he also changed perceptions about acceptable behaviour. Without Salming, one could imagine that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the bad boy of Swedish football, might never have made his big break and left Rosengård. 

Salming was born in 1951 near the mining town of Kiruna in northern Sweden. His mother was Swedish while his father was a member of the indigenous Sami population. Salming’s Sami heritage made him a target of abuse, and he often endured racist anti-Sami slurs. In his memoirs, he attributes his toughness as an ice hockey player to his Sami heritage and the adversity he faced growing up.

Börje Salming wearing a traditional Sami kolt and Tiger Williams, one of his former teammates in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo Fredric Alm/TT

When Salming started to play professionally, the prevailing style of ice hockey was sossehockey (social democratic ice hockey), according to sports lecturer Tobias Stark from Linnaeus University. Sossehockey demanded that the team come first and no single player should stand out – an embodiment of the Jante law that celebrates modesty and uniformity over exceptional talent. Moreover, Salming was seen as lazy, troublesome, thuggish, and even un-Swedish.

But it was just these qualities that made him attractive to the Canadian scout who recruited him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1970s. They met in the locker room after Salming had been sent off for wiping out the referee.

In the NHL, he was an overnight sensation with his brave and combative style. After his first game, a Toronto Star reporter wrote: “Toronto is up 7–4, it is ten seconds left of the game. Then Salming throws himself to the ice and blocks a shot! Geez, this is the kind of player the Leafs need.”

He went on to play more than 1,000 games for the Maple Leafs and break all kinds of records for a defensive player. In 1996, he became the first Swede – indeed the first European – to be inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame. 

His reputation as a tough guy was enhanced in 1986 when an opponent stamped on his face, slicing it open with a wound that required 250 stitches. He was back on the ice two weeks later. 

Yet at first, Salming was scorned by the Swedish hockey establishment. They saw him as being seduced by money and joining the ranks of brutal American players with broken noses and no teeth. It took time for his achievements to be recognised back home, where he eventually became a national icon. 

After he stopped playing professionally in 1993, Salming became a successful entrepreneur with his own brand of clothing and cosmetics, and he wrote cookery books. He became a vocal spokesperson for Sami rights and the conservation of the wilderness, speaking out against mining in areas where reindeer-herding is a way of life. 

In August this year, it was announced that Salming had contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neuron disease. The seriousness of his condition was obvious at his last public appearances in Toronto and Stockholm in the weeks before his death. 

When the Toronto Maple Leafs played a game the day after Salming died, their players wore shirts with BORJE written in yellow on a blue maple leaf with a yellow crown, reflecting the colours of the Swedish flag – and a reminder of Salming’s nickname: The King.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.