The changing nature of the global jobs market has had a profound effect on the corporate relocation industry at the same time.
Sweden, which has always had a tightly regulated residential letting market, has seen the more traditional expat base change in recent years, and as a result companies have found themselves dealing with different situations in terms of property and policy.
The old system of the breadwinner getting a placement abroad and bringing the family over with them has steadily shifted in more recent times.
“Starting in 2012 on a smaller scale and more so in 2013, we noticed there were less families coming in, but a lot more being relocated from Sweden and renting out their houses,” said Sarah Foxen-Stjernswärd, of the letting agency Residensportalen.
This previously unseen scenario meant that for the first time, expats could negotiate on properties, with a larger market and plenty to choose from.
Houses would no longer leave the market in just one day, like in the past, and the demand for furnished apartments was growing in cities like Stockholm (pictured below).
“It was like a whole new world,” added Foxen-Stjernswärd.
Reasons for the change
The reasons for the shift in policy are numerous, but most often boil down to finance. For a company to relocate a family, it has traditionally involved them picking up the bill for an expensive move, often the rental of a new house and other incentives such as fee paying schools for children.
Looking to save on cost, companies began moving people for shorter time periods, often for less than a year and this different demographic changed both the demand and supply of housing.
Globalization too has played a role, with employees often from Asia increasingly filling roles that would have previously gone to other more highly paid workers.
Meanwhile, many international corporations have changed their mobility practices as well. Before it was commonplace that local HR worked with local relocation consultants that assisted their employees.
Today, it has shifted to companies buying such services on a global level with one worldwide partner that has global policies that impact the expats locally. The difficulty for companies like Residensportalen, is that it is hard to foresee trends
“We have a delayed reaction, but we do have a lot of metrics in place so that can see things fairly quickly,” said Foxen-Stjernswärd.
“We’ve been doing it for 10 years, so we can see pretty early if something’s not quite right with the supply of housing and new registrations, so we’re pretty quick to react to the data, but we can’t control it,” she added.
What Residensportalen offer
Her company, which was founded in 2003 under the name LET, rebranded in 2012 as Residensportalen to better reflect their presence on a national level, has diversified and adapted to suit a changing market and embraced new technology to better respond to new market conditions.
“We saw the changes in the financial markets around 2008/2009 and designed our business model as it is today,” said Foxen-Stjernswärd.
“Before that we only worked with companies, much of it with upscale housing. We realized we needed to shift our business model to adapt to the real world, so we designed a system that allowed companies that don’t have these plush relocation packages any more to find housing for their employees at a much lower cost,” she added.
This system matches suitable tenants to landlords in an online environment. The employee creates a search profile and gets e-mail alerts when something suitable becomes available.
“Basically we became a virtual relocation agent, as opposed to the old school policy of having someone escort you around at much greater cost,” said Foxen-Stjernswärd.
Reflecting the new system and model, Residensportalen was born.
The future: Remote viewings and Google Glasses
The possibilities do not end there. The company will be a beta explorer showing properties with recently acquired Google Glasses (below), and showings can be done virtually while the property searcher can view potential homes from the comfort of their desk continents away.
“Perhaps this is the future of mobility, enabling relocation choices while remaining immobile,” Foxen-Stjernswärd added .
Whether the current trend in mobility and relocation packages continues or not though, keeping up with the changes is vital for companies like Residensportalen.
Expats are more often offered local packages these days, which means specialists are dealing with clients on a more individual basis, while a change in the rental laws in Sweden has also had a marked affect in the marketplace.
“We see more people renting to private individuals, which is positive, because there has been an increase in supply. This evens the playing field a bit, especially for those who have come here and don’t have a company to pay for them,” said Foxen-Stjernswärd.
Meanwhile, other sectors too will have to adapt to cater for the changing market. With fewer families travelling to Sweden, international schools will see a fall in demand for places, while other service providers like container shippers and removal firms will also see an impact on their business.
One thing is certain though. The global financial picture will always have a knock on effect on corporate relocation policy, and how Residensportalen and others in the market adapt to keep up with those changes, using all the technology available to them, is likely to determine their ultimate success.
This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by Residensportalen