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PROPERTY

READERS REVEAL: Five tricks for winning the apartment hunt in Sweden

The best tips always come from those who've been there, done that. The Local's readers share their top tactics for successfully finding, viewing and buying your first apartment in Sweden.

READERS REVEAL: Five tricks for winning the apartment hunt in Sweden
Have you ever bought an apartment via text message? In Sweden, that's the bidding process for you. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

If you can skip the queue, skip the queue

The standard procedure for buying an apartment in Sweden is to spend hours on property listings site Hemnet, go to numerous viewings, and be outbid by other buyers in consecutive bidding wars, until you finally manage to get your hands on a new home.

But many properties get sold even before they are put up for a public viewing.

“Try to avoid the nail-biting bidding war altogether. You do this by being proactive and arranging a private viewing of the apartment with the mäklare (estate agent) as soon as the apartment comes onto the open market. Sign up for email alerts from Hemnet. Then if you really like the place, make a good offer based on a current valuation (Booli is a very good site for this and you can even check what the seller originally paid for their apartment) and then ask for the property to be taken off the market. You’ll have to sign an agreement to buy it almost immediately,” says Krystian Bellière, a Briton in Stockholm.

It’s also worth trying to establish a good rapport with the estate agent.

“If you lose the bidding for a place in an area you really like, you can let the agent know that you are very interested in the area and would like to be informed if a similar place becomes available. If you show genuine interest (genuine being the operative word here), the agent might arrange a pre-showing and could even lead to a deal with the seller without having to go through another bidding process,” says Ravi Senevirathne, who also lives in Stockholm.

Practice makes perfect

Get to grips with the process before you delve in head first. Read up on how viewings, bidding and signing contracts works in Sweden – you may even want to go to a few viewings even before you’re ready to buy anything, just to get accustomed to it and get a sense of what’s out there.

“Check Hemnet regularly to check similar houses that match your priorities for at least a month before you go out for viewings,” says Tamalika, an Indian in Helsingborg.

“Look around, visit as many apartments as you can, don’t settle too fast. Look for the reputation of the area too,” says Sandra from Indonesia, who lives in Gothenburg.

“Visit at least a couple of viewings casually before you get serious and most importantly don’t set your heart on one particular apartment even if it looks like your dream home. Follow a standard set of requirements that you have, for example ‘I need a 2:a [a two-room apartment] with a balcony that is 30 minutes from my workplace’. Just try to follow these requirements and be willing to compromise on a few of them,” says Ankit, who is from India and is based in Nacka, a Stockholm suburb.

Know your priorities – and your limits

On that last note above, it’s a good idea to decide in advance what you’re looking for, so you don’t fall head over heels with an apartment that doesn’t actually tick your essential boxes. Similarly, set a budget before you start bidding – it’s easy to get swept up in a fast process that takes place over text message and forget that you’re dealing with, well, real money.

“A lot of times, you’ll look at places with an asking price at the top of your budget but the final price will be out of your price range. To avoid disappointment, start lower with the expectation it’ll rise during bidding,” advises Sheena, an American in Stockholm.

“Don’t get into the emotional roller coaster of bidding on an apartment you are hesitant about. Find a place you actually want to buy, then contact the agent about the seller’s intentions, if they need to sell quickly and would accept a private offer, or if they expect a certain amount for the bidding,” suggests Vincent from Australia. “Avoid committing to bidding if you are hesitant. It is not worth it and even if you win the bid you may have reservations about signing the contract.”

Beware of hidden costs

If you’re buying an apartment in Sweden, it will likely be part of a bostadsrättsförening (BRF). This is the housing association that’s in charge of running the property, usually one or several blocks of apartments or rows of houses. Technically, you’re not actually buying the apartment itself – you’re buying the right to live in the property.

Each month, as well as your mortgage, you’ll pay fees to the BRF, which often cover maintenance of common areas like staircases, laundry room and plumbing. Check exactly what the monthly fee covers – it often includes water, heating, electricity and internet, but not always, and this could affect your total living costs in the future.

It is also worth looking into the finances of the BRF. If it has high debts, this leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy, which could force it to raise your monthly fee. The website Alla BRF offers information about each BRF and gives them a grade.

Do your research

Apart from trying to sell the property at as high a price as possible, the estate agent is meant to be impartial and protect both the seller’s and buyer’s interests. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do as much of your own research as possible. Check the surroundings to get a feel for the area, and make sure that the agent’s claims about things such as the BRF’s finances, the internet speed and so on actually hold up.

Remember not to rush things. If you want a second look at the apartment before moving in (or if you want to get a professional to do it for you), it is usually perfectly acceptable to ask for an inspection clause that lets you back out if any nasty faults are uncovered.

“Check every single piece of information regarding the apartment. Don’t get into buyer’s remorse. Do check the apartment before the stipulated handover well in advance. If you don’t understand Swedish or any legal things, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Sometimes, the bank could help you with lawyers,” says Shamik, an Indian who lives in Malmö.

“Do not fall into ‘apartment buying madness’ due to peer pressure and rush through the process. Don’t believe the broker’s words on the asking price of the apartment. Always research and match the price with the market price for apartments in that locality. Then you can know the so-to-say ‘base price’. After viewing and checking the apartment, you have the chance to evaluate if the asking price is fair and can decide,” says Stockholm-based Chaitanya, also from India.

Thanks to everyone who responded to our survey, including those whose responses we could not include here. We edited some responses for grammar and clarity. If you have a question about life in Sweden or a story you’d like to share, contact our editorial team at [email protected]

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RENTING

Five tricks Swedes use to avoid the long wait for rental apartments

The official waiting time for apartments in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö varies between three and eleven years. But Swedes have their own tricks for jumping the queue.

Five tricks Swedes use to avoid the long wait for rental apartments

There’s no requirement for landlords or renters to use the queuing systems run by the municipalities in the big cities, but most of the big ones do, the intention being to reduce corruption and increase fairness in the rental market. 

The Stockholm Housing Agency, or bostadsförmedlingen, has a queue between seven and eleven years long. Boplats Gothenburg has an average wait of 6.4 years, and Boplats Syd in Malmö has an average waiting time of nearly three years.

According to Kristina Wahlgren, a journalist at Hem & Hyra, Sweden’s leading rental property magazine, the system puts foreigners and recent arrivals to Sweden at a significant disadvantage. 

“It’s extremely difficult if you are from another country. You don’t have any contacts, and it’s quite difficult to understand if you haven’t grown up in this culture,” she says of the system. “There are some quite subtle aspects, and there’s vänskapskorruption [giving special advantage to friends]. ” 

Listen to a discussion about Swedish queue systems on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Obviously, the biggest advantage faced by locals in Sweden is that they normally joined the queue the moment they turned 17, so by the time they’re looking for an apartment as a young adult, they’re already near the front. 

But even for new arrivals in Sweden, it’s possible to wait a much shorter time if you know the tricks, says Wahlgren, who has been nominated for Sweden’s Guldspaden journalism prize for an investigation into how Malmö finds housing for homeless people. 

Kristina Wahlgren, a reporter for the Hem & Hyra newspaper. Photo: Hem & Hyra

1.  Apply for more expensive new-build apartments to start off with 

If you’ve got a good enough salary, and are willing to pay high rent for your first few years in Sweden, this can make it easier to get an apartment, as there is less competition for more expensive, new-build apartments, Wahlgren says.

“If you’re willing to pay high rent, then you can get an apartment within a couple of months [in Malmö]. If you want a cheaper apartment, it can take years. So it’s quite a big difference.”

2. Rather than wait for your perfect apartment, take what’s available and then swap 

The rules recently got a little stricter, but it’s still relatively easy to swap between apartments once you have a first-hand contract. There’s even a website, Lägenhetsbyte, which acts as an interface. 

This means, if you use the method above, and decide to rent a more expensive new-build apartment with a shorter queue, you can then downgrade to a cheaper apartment with someone who is after somewhere newer and swankier.

Rental queues are also shorter in less desirable areas of Sweden’s cities. For example, the waiting list in Norra Hissingen in Gothenburg is only five years, half what it is in Majorna. It can be quicker to make do with living in a relatively dreary area, and then swap with somewhere better, than to insist from the start on an apartment in your dream location. 

“If you can’t wait for the right department, just take the one that you get, then you can keep on looking and when you do have a lease, you can change the lease with someone else,” Wahlgren says. 

To change apartment, you need to have a so-called “acceptable reason”, such as needing a bigger or smaller apartment. With any luck, your landlord should accept the swap. If they refuse you can challenge their decision at your local hyresnämnden or “rental tribunal”.  

3. Use the tricks for contacting landlords directly  

Landlords in Sweden are not required to use the municipal rental queues to find their tenants, and if a suitable tenant presents themselves just as an apartment becomes free, they may prefer to take someone they know.

This is particularly the case with the smaller, private landlords. It’s possible to find lists of private landlords online, such as here. But Wahlgren recommends putting in a bit of legwork.

“One way to find who owns an apartment block, is to just go around and check on the buildings for the names of the landlords, and look in the stairwells for the number of the landlord’s agent.” 

Once you have the number, you have to ring both regularly, at least once a month, and also strategically. 

“It’s important to call at the right time,” Wahlgren says. “Because normally apartment rentals end at the turn of the month, so that’s when you’re going to call. You don’t call on the 15th, you call on the 31st or the 1st of the month.”

4. Exploit all the friends and contacts that you have 

When someone hands in their notice on a rental agreement, they may try to shorten their notice by finding a replacement for the landlord, or they might find a replacement simply as a favour. This is why it’s important to ask your friends and work colleagues if they know of any apartments becoming free. 

“If they use the municipal queue, they have to follow the rules. This way, they can choose their own tenants,” Wahlgren says of the appeal of this to landlords. “If you’re a nice person, you might be able to just talk your way into an apartment.” 

5. Be a student 

“If you’re a student, there are special housing companies in the university cities, different foundations that rent out apartments,” Wahlgren says. But then you have to study.” 

Illegal ways of getting an apartment

All of these ways of getting a rental apartment are legal, but there are some ways of getting a rental apartment more quickly which are not.

1. Paying a fee

You may also find landlords or intermediaries on websites such as Blocket, who ask for a one-off payment to jump a rental queue, or get a rental apartment. This is illegal. “You can lose your money, you can lose the apartment, and in the worst case, you can go to prison,” warns Wahlgren.

2. Getting an illegal subtenancy 

It’s perfectly legal to rent out your rental apartment to someone else for a period, if you have a valid reason for doing so and your landlord agrees. But such is the pressure to get housing that a market has sprung up in illegal subletting. Before signing a contract for a sublet, make sure that the landlord who owns the property has agreed to it. 

3. Bribing someone running the queue 

There have been cases of people working for municipalities logging into the housing queue and altering it, either as a favour to their friends, or for money. This is fairly rare, and in the unlikely event that someone offers to do this for you, it’s best to decline. 

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