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Reinfeldt under fire over housing comments

Sweden's prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has courted criticism from some quarters for suggesting that Stockholm's rental housing market is not performing as smoothly as it could.

Reinfeldt under fire over housing comments

Reinfeldt waded in to the notoriously partisan issue of housing regulation in general and the situation in Stockholm in particular in an interview published in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily on Monday.

“Everyone who’s been near Stockholm’s inner city knows that the concept of secure-tenure rental apartments (hyresrätter) just doesn’t work there,” Reinfeldt told the newspaper.

Reinfeldt went on to point out that there is a thriving market in black market rental contracts and that there was little point to secure-tenure apartments in the inner-city as they almost never came onto the market for new potential tenants.

But the prime minister’s comments were not welcomed by all parties with an interest in the housing market.

Barbro Engman, the long-term chair of the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen), used her blog on Tuesday morning to chasten the PM that “he does not decide how we should live”.

“If one is to consider if the rental market works or not depends on the ambitions that one has,” Engman wrote, criticising those who argue that a free market in rental apartments would alleviate all problems.

Housing minister Stefan Attefall of the Christian Democrats argued in response to Reinfeldt’s comments that secure-tenure apartments are needed in Stockholm’s inner-city.

“He describes a problem. But the secure-tenure apartment is needed and has its place. And the government is working to strengthen the standing of the secure-tenure apartment,” he said to DN.

Attefall pointed out that an adjustment to greater differentiation of rents levied for apartments in areas in demand to those in the suburbs is underway.

“But the new system does not mean market rents,” Attefall pointed out.

Gustav Fridolin of the Green Party described Reinfeldt’s comments as “Kafka-esque”, arguing that the problems with a black market are no reason for not acting.

“It is important to build more,” Fridolin said, pointing out that the problem is not unique to Stockholm’s inner-city.

The debate has emerged following a series of articles in DN which highlighted the growing social divisions in Stockholm that come as a result of the city’s difficult housing market.

According to DN, people with higher incomes occupy an increasingly large percentage of downtown Stockholm’s housing stock, thereby undermining one of the key arguments used in the system’s defence.

Stockholm’s system of apportioning rental apartments thought secure-tenure rental contracts was developed as a way to guarantee all residents the ability to find housing even in more desirable neighbourhoods.

However, as demand to live in Stockholm’s city centre has increased, the system currently doesn’t function as originally intended, resulting in artificially low rents for inner-city flats and providing incentive for tenants who hold contracts not to relinquish them.

According to Hans Lind, a real estate professor with the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the key problem Sweden faces is that owners of tenant-owner apartments (bostadsrätter) can’t sublet their properties at market-based rents, a problem to which Reinfeldt also drew attention.

“If a rental market means having floating rents, then market-based rents are a pre-condition. If you look elsewhere in the world, there is a market for sublets in the downtown areas of major cities,” Lind explained to news agency TT.

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PROPERTY

How do I prep my apartment for sale in Sweden?

Here's the first part of The Local's new property series from reporter Becky Waterton, who is currently going through the process of selling her apartment: how do I prep my property for sale?

How do I prep my apartment for sale in Sweden?

Choosing to sell your house or apartment is a big step – when is the best time to sell? What should the asking price be? How do I choose an estate agent?

You’ve done all that, so what’s next? It’s time to prepare yourself – and your apartment – for the upcoming move. But how do you make sure your apartment stands out?

Your estate agent will want to take photos of your apartment as soon as possible for property sites Hemnet and Booli, as well as their own website. However, this isn’t just a case of a photographer coming round to your apartment the next day – you will need to carefully style your apartment beyond recognition first.

Some estate agents offer a styling service as part of their fee (arvode). Some include it as an add-on, which can cost anywhere from 1,500 kronor to 5,000 depending on the estate agent. If you don’t fancy paying that amount, you may be able to get your estate agent to give you some tips on what to do, or you can do it yourself. Here’s a rough guide if you choose the latter route.

Light and airy

Swedes love light. Therefore, you want your apartment to look as light and airy as possible. Nothing on your kitchen or bathroom countertops is allowed to stay – apart from a small (expensive) bottle of hand soap.

The one exception to this rule appears to be if you have a colourful mixer – like a KitchenAid, or a bowl filled with a random selection of fruits and vegetables.

You should also, if possible, make sure photos of your property are taken in summertime (even if you’re not planning on selling for months). This is so your apartment is bright and sunny in photos, rather than dark and grey like the Swedish weather for most of the year.

If in doubt, get a plant. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

If you get kvällssol (evening sun), try to time the photos so they’re taken at the same time. If possible, time your flat viewings for a sunny evening, too, to show off the opportunities your apartment offers.

Avoid anything which could give away the date at which pictures were taken, though. If a keen-eyed potential buyer looking at your flat in October spots that your calendar is from July in your photos, it will just make them suspicious as to why your flat has been on the market for so long.

If possible, you want to get rid of as much furniture as possible without the room feeling empty. If that means getting rid of your work-from-home setup to dedicate half of your living room to a large monstera plant until the flat is sold, so be it. (I may be speaking from personal experience here.)

Spots of colour

Swedes love neutral colours. Most apartments have white walls, wooden floors, and furniture in varying shades of grey, white, brown or black. However, too many neutral colours together looks boring, so you need to break up the neutral palette with pictures, blankets, pillows and plants in varying colours.

For some reason, no one is allowed to see your bedding. I presume this is seen as incredibly private to Swedes, who will do everything they can not to intrude on your personal space (which admittedly, is quite difficult when they are touring your house full of all your personal belongings and deciding whether it’s nice enough for them to buy).

Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

This means that you need to put a throw on your bed, which goes all the way down to the floor. While you’re at it, scatter some colourful cushions on your bed, too, as the throw is probably white, like your walls, and you don’t want it to look boring.

If you have plants, use them. Put them on your bedside table, your windowsills, even in your bathroom (yes, this also applies if your bathroom has no windows, meaning the plants would die if left there for too long – it’s just for photos and flat viewings). 

Assume people have no imagination

It may seem obvious to you that people will be able to imagine themselves living in your apartment, but this doesn’t mean it is. You need to make your flat feel luxurious, even if it seems borderline ridiculous that you would ever have nothing but a bowl of lemons and a perfectly-dishevelled dishtowel on your kitchen countertops.

Similarly, if you live in one of Sweden’s big cities and are lucky enough to have a balcony, you must decorate it with some sort of attractive blanket (in, you guessed it, a neutral colour), a bowl of berries, a bottle of champagne and two glasses. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never used your balcony for anything other than storing drinks in winter, people must be shown the opportunities your balcony can bring. Swedes love to spend time in the open air, so show them that this is possible.

In a similar vein, if you have a garden, it must contain a barbecue. Barbecuing is a favourite Swedish pastime in summer, so show prospective buyers that yes, they can also have the pleasure of barbecuing in the garden, if they buy your property.

Get rid of everything which suggests someone lives there

Okay, almost everything. Leave nothing but a pair of shoes and two jackets on your clothes rack in the hallway. People need to be shown that someone lives there, in a way which is generic enough that they can imagine living there themselves.

Remove everything from your bathroom which isn’t attached to the wall. Don’t even show prospective buyers that you use soap.

Take down any family photos or photos of people. Privacy-focussed Swedes don’t want to be rudely reminded of the fact that someone actually lives in this apartment they are considering purchasing.

Oil, vinegar, salt and pepper are only allowed in your kitchen if they are expensive brands which you have never opened and bought specifically for photos. Your desk must have nothing but a computer on it.

Books are no longer for reading, they’re for putting plants on top of. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Your books are no longer for reading, they are decorative items. This means removing the vast majority and instead displaying them in a few carefully-composed piles on your bookshelves, preferably colour-coordinated.

Your coffee table is nothing but a surface on which to display a lit candle and a bunch of flowers. 

The one exception to this rule is your kitchen table. Cover it with a tablecloth, set out a couple of attractive mugs or champagne glasses, a candle and a bunch of flowers to make it look like you regularly have romantic candlelit dates in your kitchen. Like I said, it needs to feel luxurious.

By the end of this process, the goal is to make you feel like you live in an IKEA catalogue.

There’s a bonus, too. By the time you’re finished, so many of your personal belongings will be hidden away in boxes that it will take you half the time to pack when it’s finally time for you to move house.

One final tip…

If you’re not sure how to style your apartment, have a look at what others have done. Look at estate agents’ websites, as well as Hemnet and Booli for inspiration.

And if you want some ideas on what not to do, have a look at Instagram account @hemnetknarkarna for a collection of some of Sweden’s weirdest property ads.

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