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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.

The old headquarters of the power company Vattenfall has been turned into rental apartments.
The old Stockholm headquarters of the power company Vattenfall has been turned into rental apartments. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

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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PROPERTY

Why are one fifth of Swedish properties selling for below asking price?

Across Sweden, almost one in five properties sold below asking price in the first two weeks of June - almost as many as in summer 2020, just months after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Why are one fifth of Swedish properties selling for below asking price?

The downturn on the property market in Sweden is perhaps becoming more and more clear, with one in five properties selling under asking price in the beginning of June.

Rising interest rates from the Swedish central bank alongside high inflation is starting to make its mark on apartment and house sales. It’s not just affecting prices, but also leading to a larger number of sellers having to sell for lower than asking price.

Across Sweden, the percentage of sellers selling under asking price in the first two weeks of June amounted to 19.2 percent, according to statistics from property site Hemnet. This is almost as many as in summer 2020 (20.6 percent), when the market was affected by uncertainty over the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a clear change,” Erik Holmberg, analyst at Hemnet, told TT newswire.

“The main factor is a market which is changing, and if we compare this to a year ago it’s a significant difference, where it’s become a buyer’s market.”

Record-high asking prices

Holmberg also said that in this type of situation, many who are looking to sell their home adopt a different strategy.

“We’ve seen record-high asking prices. Historically, it’s been the case that when the market becomes more cautious, there’s a tendency to put property on the market at a high asking price,” he said.

There are also clear regional differences. In inner-city Stockholm, where some of Sweden’s most expensive apartments per square metre are located, prices have dropped by almost exactly a fifth (20.1 percent). Last year prices in this area dropped by 4.7 percent, with a 12 percent drop in 2020 and a 9.9 percent drop in 2019.

Jakob Jakobssen, an estate agent at Widerlöv Stockholm, has almost 14 years’ experience in the property branch. He agreed that the situation has changed noticeably over the last six weeks.

“In general, I can say that buyers are more cautious and careful,” he told TT. “There’s a very low interest in advance viewings and very few properties are sold before viewing. Buyers want a more traditional viewing.”

Hard to match buyers with sellers

Another deciding factor is the fact that supply has increased drastically from the lower level seen around the beginning of the year until March. Now, the challenge is matching up buyers and sellers with each other.

“I’ve been an estate agent for a long time and been through downturns, like in autumn 2008 and in 2017, so I think I have the right tools to help buyers and sellers feel secure, but there are lots of newer colleagues in this branch who are having a hard time,” Jakobssen said.

“Maybe they started working when the market was on the up and they’re struggling to understand the situation the market is in right now.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, different kinds of properties were affected in different ways, with larger apartments selling better than smaller ones. However, this time it’s affecting all properties equally.

“With the effects we have now such as rising index rates, rising inflation and drops on the stock market, it’s affecting all kinds of apartments, whereas during the pandemic, it was affecting different types of apartment in different ways,” he said.

“This is hitting the whole property market hard.”

However, Jakobssen believes the situation will be different after the summer.

“I think there’ll be more sales in August-September than there are now, but at a lower level. Sellers will have learnt by then that there’s been an effect on the market.”

 

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