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PROPERTY

How to buy an apartment in Sweden, step by step

Buying a property abroad can be daunting, but in Sweden the apartment-buying process often moves fast and has fewer additional fees than in many countries, making it an appealing option compared to the precarious rental market. We've outlined the steps you need to take and the pitfalls to look out for in this guide for potential buyers.

How to buy an apartment in Sweden, step by step
How to get your dream Swedish apartment in six steps. Photo: Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

1. Decide if buying is right for you and set your budget

Historically, buying property has been a good investment in Sweden but it is an investment that carries risk. 

Whether or not you should buy depends on a range of factors including how long you expect to stay in Sweden, whether or not you have access to a stable first-hand rental contract, your budget, and of course your personal preference. And new arrivals may find it harder to buy; although there are no rules stopping non-residents from buying, it can be hard to get a mortgage without a history of income in Sweden. We’ve outlined the pros and cons in detail in the following article:

If you decide buying is the route for you, you’ll want to begin researching properties available in your preferred area to decide on your budget and which features are must-haves. 

2. Get a loan promise

Once you know how much the properties you are interested in cost and how much you think you can afford, it’s time to talk to the bank. 

A loan promise (lånelöfte) isn’t a necessity when you attend viewings, but because the market tends to move fast it is generally a good idea to speak to your bank before you start the process. Make sure to shop around and speak to different banks, as some may offer better deals, although you don’t have to take out a mortgage with the one that gives you a loan promise.

When you buy a house in Sweden, you’ll usually need to pay a minimum of 15 percent of the total price as a deposit (kontantinsats), so the remaining amount will be covered by the mortgage. You’ll pay back a certain amount each month over a fixed length of time, often 25 or 50 years. If your deposit is less than 15 percent, then your mortgage will be split into two different loans, including one that covers the cost up to 15 percent of the total price which will typically have a higher interest rate and a shorter term. 

Find out more about how the system works and how to choose your mortgage wisely in this article:

3. Go to viewings

Now the fun part begins as you can start your search in earnest. Most apartments in Sweden are advertised on property site Hemnet, but you can also speak directly to estate agents. Researching as early as possible will help you get a feel for typical prices per square metre, and what type of place and location you can afford.

Once you have found a few places that pique your interest, it’s time to start going to viewings. Usually these take place on Sunday afternoons and Monday or Tuesday evenings, with two initial viewings per apartment, but this may vary. Viewings are often just 30 minutes long and as a buyer, you cannot later claim compensation for any flaws in the property that you could reasonably be expected to have identified at the viewing, so use the time wisely. You should be on the lookout for things like damp, mould or pests, but also whether the layout suits your lifestyle and whether any renovations are needed. The more viewings you go to, the more you will get a feel for exactly what you want from your Swedish home.

A tip: it’s sometimes possible to skip the bidding process (see step 7) if you can arrange a pre-viewing and put in the right offer before anyone else is given a chance to see the apartment. You can do this either by contacting estate agents directly and sharing your requirements (many agents will advertise apartments before they go on the market described as kommande försäljningar or “upcoming sales”), or by acting fast and asking for an early showing as soon as an apartment you like is published on Hemnet (usually Fridays).

People viewing an apartment in Sweden. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

4. Analyse the association’s finances

Doing your homework on the housing association (bostadsrättsföreningen) and its finances and making sure they are in good shape is at least as important as a careful viewing of the actual apartment, possibly even more so. You can find most of the information you need in its annual reports (årsredovisningar), which will usually be available online as well as in paper copies at the viewings.

Key things to look for include the level of debts the association has; any planned renovations and how much money has been set aside to pay for them; income sources; and how vulnerable the association would be to future changes in the interest rate. These figures can seem intimidating, especially in a second language, but we have explained how to make these calculations in the article below:

5. Start bidding

When you know you want to bid on an apartment, let the estate agent know, and they will tell you when you can put in an offer. 

You might get lucky and be the only bidder, but in the larger cities it’s more common that there will be a bidding war, carried out over text. Once the first bid is made, everyone who’s expressed interest is notified of each following bid via a group text message, and they can raise the price by responding to the text with their own offer.

Bids aren’t legally binding, so you have a small window of time to change your mind or look into anything that’s worrying you without any liability, but once you’ve won a bidding war, it will usually only be a day or two before you need to sign contracts.

In Sweden, bidding is usually done by text message. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

6. Write the contract

Once all bidders but one have dropped out, the winner is invited to sign contracts, and this often takes place the very same day. 

This is when you commit to buying the apartment, signing a transfer of ownership agreement (överlåtelseavtal) and agreeing to pay the agreed amount, usually beginning with a ten percent deposit (handpenning) within one week. Until this agreement is signed, it’s possible for someone else to outbid you by putting in a new offer, and it’s also possible for you to back out or even change your own offer. Once these agreements are signed, however, you cannot back out and would be liable to pay compensation if you do (typically this would cover the cost of putting the property back on the market, plus any difference in price between what you agree to pay and what the property eventually sells for). 

The överlåtelseavtal will be conditional on your acceptance into the bostadsrättsföreningen. Once that happens, you (and your bank, assuming you have a mortgage) pay the rest of the money for the purchase and take over ownership of the apartment on the move-in date (tillträdesdag) agreed with the seller.

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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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