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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


OPINION: Why are a Swedish minister’s private bills anyone’s business but theirs?

In what strange world is being late in making a payment to the local council for sewage services a possible sacking offence for a government minister?

OPINION: Why are a Swedish minister's private bills anyone's business but theirs?

In mid-February, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper – the newspaper that broke the sex scandal story that saw the Nobel Literature Prize suspended for a year – published its latest scoop.

“Environment Minister Annika Strandhäll has had a missed payment sent to the National Debt Enforcement Agency, DN can reveal,” its editor, Peter Wolodarski, announced on Twitter.

The debt, 700 kronor ($75) for the installation of a “sludge separator” which should have been paid at the end of 2021, had grown to 1,350 kronor due to late payment charges.

After more than a decade in Sweden, I still find this idea – that the way a minister handles their private, personal finances should be a matter of public interest – utterly mystifying.

From my British perspective, and the perspective of, I suspect, many other foreigners living in Sweden, it’s her money. If she’s late with her bills, she will have to pay a fine. She will probably get a credit marking. That’s her business and no one else’s.

But Tobias Billström, the parliamentary leader of the leading opposition Moderate Party, was immediately out calling for her to be sacked, denouncing her as a slarvmaja, a woman of sloppy, disorderly habits.

“The Prime Minister cannot reasonably keep this slarvmaja – who has now received several chances and official warnings – in her government. Once is enough, twice is once too many,” he declared on Twitter.

So many Swedes then leapt onto Twitter to censure Strandhäll and boast about how they have never once had a debt sent to the enforcement agency, that Kronofogden, the Swedish name for the agency, ended up trending higher than Sweden’s Olympic gold in speed skating, the first in 34 years. 

The story started at the end of last year when Strandhäll was found to have had nine debts sent to the agency since 2018, as part of the investigation of incoming ministers’ finances that has become a Swedish journalistic tradition. 

Strandhäll is by no means the first politician to get into trouble for what people in other countries might see as private economic matters.

Cecilia Stegö Chilò lasted only ten days as Minister for Culture in the first government of Moderate leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, after it turned out she had not paid her TV licence for at least 16 years. Even Billström himself, who was appointed Migration Minister at the same time, got into hot water after it transpired he hadn’t paid for his TV licence either. He didn’t resign, of course (he’s a man). 

Then there’s the so-called Toblerone Affair which forced Mona Sahlin to withdraw her candidacy to be the next leader of the Social Democrats in 1996.

She had spent 53,174 kronor on private expenses on a government credit card, including the purchase of two Toblerone chocolates, something she claimed was an advance on salary that was standard practice among ministers at the time.

It also later emerged that she hadn’t paid for her TV licence and had 98 unpaid parking fines of which 32 had gone to the National Debt Enforcement Agency. She was later found to have committed no crime. 

Arguably, the much-publicised dispute between Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch and 82-year-old pensioner Esbjörn Bolin, who sold her his house and then tried to go back on the contract, is also a private matter, but this has not stopped it dogging Busch for two years. 

But with all the transgressions above (apart from perhaps Busch’s problems – at least until she formally admitted to defaming the seller’s legal counsel), you could argue there is some legitimate public interest. Not paying your TV licence was a crime, and both Chilò and Billström were withholding payment in protest. Sahlin was using public money to buy private goods. 

The Strandhäll case is unusually petty, even by Swedish standards. It is also rather cruel. 

The first batch of unpaid bills was from a period when she had been left to care singlehandedly for her children and stepchildren, who were at the time 12, 17, and 19, after her live-in partner, or sambo, took his own life.


The argument appears to be that someone who is bad at handling their own personal finances lacks the required qualities to be a minister.

“Why claim to be able to organise Sweden when you can’t even organise yourself?” tweeted Mattias Lindberg, a columnist for the right-wing web newspaper Bulletin. 

This is an argument that might hold water when choosing an accountant or perhaps a lawyer, but for a politician, does it really wash? What counts for a minister is communication skills, vision, leadership.   

There’s something cultural behind it: a shame in not paying your debts, or failing to properly manage your household. 

In Britain, government ministers used to have to resign if they were discovered being unfaithful to their partners, something which is also arguably a private matter. Per Albin Hansson, who built Sweden’s Social Democratic state as Prime Minister between 1932 and 1946, supported and lived between two separate families and joked to journalists that “they accuse me of being a Mormon”. 

If that says something about British attitudes to sex, the Strandhäll scandal says something about Swedish attitudes to debt. 

Personal debt seems to be peculiarly morally loaded. Skuld, after all, means both “debt” and “sin”.

Perhaps there’s some connection to Sweden’s Lutheran heritage, or perhaps it’s a throwback to the Sweden of the 19th century and before, when poverty was widespread and those who didn’t pay their debts were thrown into a debtor’s prison? 

Either way, for a foreigner it’s one of those instances when, just as you think you understand how the country works, you realise you don’t at all.