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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 in Sweden: How to ace the apartment viewing

Foreign tenants in Sweden often face stiff competition for apartments due to a housing shortage in the big cities and a queue system that benefits those who have lived in the country longer. Here are our tips for boosting your chances in the apartment hunt.

A Swedish apartment living room
A few compliments directed at the landlord's furnishing style won't go amiss. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Stand out in your ad

To secure a viewing, you will usually need either to respond to ads put up by landlords on sites like Blocket and Qasa, or to put up your own ad. Either way, make sure you’re making a good first impression.

Include any details that make you a desirable tenant, for example if you have a full-time job or stable income, are a non-smoker, and so on. Many sublets are from people renting out their own homes for a short period, for example if they work or study abroad, so it’s also a good idea to include a few details about you as a person, and show you’ve read the ad by referencing the neighbourhood or another detail. If you can, write in Swedish and have a Swedish speaker translate or check your template. Save your questions for the viewing itself; this initial contact is all about securing your viewing.

Get references ready

As well as proof of income or employment, many landlords in Sweden will ask for references from previous landlords. The housing process can move fast, so you’ll want to prepare these in advance, particularly since landlords in many countries will not be used to providing them.

If you’ve never rented before, consider asking a previous flatmate to provide a ‘character reference’, or you could ask your employer or university tutor if they can vouch for you. If you’ve been staying at a temporary accommodation such as an Airbnb or apartment hotel, you could also ask your host to write something. However, the really crucial thing is your proof of employment or another source of income.

Take off your shoes

Sweden is a shoes-off country when it comes to people’s homes, and this is particularly important in the autumn and winter. Your host may not always ask, but it’s expected that you remove your shoes on arrival — stamping slush into their floor will not make a good impression.

Check on the laundry room

Swedish laundry culture is a big thing. Some apartments have their own washing machines and dryers but if that’s not the case, find out where the tvättstuga (laundry room) is, usually either in a basement or outbuilding. Bear in mind that even a short outside walk could become a hassle on winter evenings.

Be positive

It’s nice to be nice, and it could also help you become the landlord’s top choice. As we mentioned, in many cases the people renting out second-hand apartments intend to return to live there after the rental, so if you’re complimentary about the apartment and their furnishings, it can help persuade them that you’re the right person to take care of their home.

Check the legality

The market may move fast, but you should still look out for scams or ‘black market’ rentals. A legitimate landlord will not have a problem proving their identity to you, and you can do your own research on websites like Hitta and Eniro where you can confirm their personal details. Of course, never hand over any money before viewing an apartment, making these checks and signing a contract, and never sign anything you don’t fully understand.

Find out why the landlord is subletting the place — do they own or rent it, and why is it available? This isn’t about being nosy, but it can affect whether and for how long they are able to sublet. For example, many housing associations have a rule that home-owners can only sublet for up to six months or a year if they are moving in with a partner, but for longer periods if they are working or studying in another location.

You should always ask to see the proof they’ve received to sublet. If your landlord hasn’t been appproved by the housing association to rent out their home, this could cause several problems for you as a tenant. Firstly, you may be unable to officially register at the address, making it hard to receive post and to be ‘in the system’ in Sweden. But if the housing association finds out about the unapproved sublet, you could also be forced to leave.  

If your landlord is renting the apartment on a first hand contract, they should be able to show you the calculation of the rental price. There are strict legal limits on how much they can charge, so check that you’re not being ripped off. Prices are also regulated if the landlord owns the property, but in that case they can base the amount on the current value — which in Sweden’s hot housing market means they can often legally charge a high rental price in the big cities.

Ask about upcoming renovations

One thing which can have a major impact on your quality of life, but which may not be obvious even from a thorough viewing of the property, is building work. Here there are two possibilities to keep in mind; works on the building itself, and in the local area.

You should be able to ask the landlord if any major renovations are planned for the building. The two which generally have the biggest impact are stambyte (replacement of pipes) which can leave you without running water for an extended period, and fasadrenovering (renovation of the outside of the building), which usually means the entire side of the building is covered up for a few months, blocking your natural light. As well as asking the landlord, you can check on the website of the housing association (BRF); you can find out which association an apartment belongs to by searching the website

Planned building work in the local area will likely be described on the website for your municipality, or you may see signs in the neighbourhood if it will be starting soon.

Follow up fast

Unfortunately the rental market in Sweden means the advantage often lies with the landlord. Don’t rush into an agreement before getting all your essential questions answered, but don’t delay once you see a place you like and are confident that it’s legitimate. It’s a good idea to contact the landlord as soon as you’ve decided their apartment is the one you want, and have your proof of income and references ready immediately — you may even want to bring paper copies to each viewing.