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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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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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