Swedish Airbnb rental properties double in year

More than ten thousand Swedes are promoting their houses and apartments on Airbnb, double the number using the site a year ago. But reports suggest many are breaking housing association rules.

Swedish Airbnb rental properties double in year
Apartment buildings in central Stockholm. Photo: Helena Wahlman/TT

Airbnb, which offers locals the chance to rent out their homes or spare rooms to travellers visiting their city, says that almost twice as many Swedes are offering their properties online this summer compared to in 2014.

According to figures from the company released in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, more than 6000 Stockholm homes are now listed on the site. Just over 1000 Gothenburg properties and 600 spaces in Malmö are also being offered. Across Sweden, more than 10,000 homes are available for tourists.

But there are concerns that many people are breaking strict housing association rules by secretly sub-letting their rented properties, causing potential insurance hazards, upsetting neighbours and risking having their leases taken away.

Under Swedish law, residents with a first hand rental contract (an agreement with the owner of the building) are only supposed to sub-let their apartments under certain circumstances, such as because they are moving in with a partner or going away to study. The tenant co-operation board for the building (bostadsrättsföreningen) or the landlord is supposed to sign off any second hand lease.

Property lawyer Line Zandén told Dagens Nyheter that first-hand renters found to be promoting their apartments on Airbnb would almost certainly lose their contracts if discovered; bad news in cities such as Stockholm where in some areas there is a 20-year waiting list for this kind of rental lease.

But she said that the rules for Swedes owning condominiums in new apartment complexes were less clear.

While some buildings do allow owners to offer their homes as vacation rentals, paperwork listing the tenants’ names usually needs to be submitted to housing boards in advance, which can be tricky with Airbnb where many bookings are last-minute.

“By the time the board have had time to send out their documents, the tourists have long moved out,” explained Zandén.

Several campaign groups have called for tougher national rules to crack down on Airbnb use in Sweden in the wake of a number of high profile cases where apartments were severely damaged by customers and one incident in Stockholm which saw a property turned into a brothel in 2012.

But others – including Zandén – argue for a more liberal approach which would allow owners and tenant co-operation boards the chance to fully debate the use of properties for Airbnb rental and come up with their own interpretations of existing laws.

She suggested that this was a better approach than allowing some people to continue renting their homes in secret.

“The more tourists that pass through, the greater the risk that one or more of them does not take care of the apartment or property as they should,” she told Dagens Nyheter.

Airbnb, which operates in 190 countries, has already proved controversial in many of its core markets.

The government of Spain's Catalonia region fined the holiday apartment rental site €30,000 ($40,000) for what it described as a “serious” breach of local tourism laws in July 2014.

In France, hoteliers penned an open letter to their prime minister in February, urging him to even out the competition amid fears that too many customers were opting to stay in Airbnb apartments to avoid paying more expensive hotel prices.

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These are our readers’ top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Buying an apartment or house in Sweden can be a daunting process, but with rentals so hard to get, many foreigners end up taking the plunge. Here are the top tips from readers who have done it.

These are our readers' top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Get prepared! 

Most of the respondents to our survey stressed the importance of preparation. 

“Spend time on defining your requirements properly, including visits to different locations to narrow down your search,” advised Julian, a Brit living in Malmö. 

As well as working out your requirements, other participants argued, you should also get to grips with the way the bidding system works in Sweden, with one British woman recommending buyers “speak to professionals about the buying procedure”. One respondent went so far as to recommend hiring a buyers’ agent, something international employers sometimes provide for senior executives moving to Sweden. 

Elizabeth, a 26-year-old charity worker from South America, recommended that all buyers “learn to read a bostadsrättsförening årsredovisning”, the finance report for a cooperative housing block. (You can find The Local’s guide here.) 

Get to know the market 

Maja, an anthropologist from Hungary, said it was important to take time to get a feel for the market, suggesting buyers visit different areas to find the one that they like. 

“It will take 6-12 months easily,” she predicts. “Don’t rush. Visit the neighborhoods where you are thinking of buying.”
Others recommended spending time surfing Sweden’s two main housing websites, Hemnet and Booli, to get a better feel for how much different types of housing in different areas typically sell for, before starting to look seriously yourself, with one even recommending going to viewings before you have any intention of buying.  
“Start visiting houses and monitoring bids. That will give you a sense of the process,” recommends Shubham, 31, a software engineer from India.

Think about your expectations
While house prices have soared in Sweden’s cities over the past decade, the same is not the case in all rural areas, something some respondents thought buyers should take advantage of. “To buy a house at a lesser price, look at areas as far from urban areas as is possible for you and your family,” wrote Simon, a 61-year-old living in rural Sweden. 
Julian warned bidders against areas and types of homes that “will attract tens of ‘barnfamiljer’ (families with children), meaning “bidding wars will result”, pushing up the price. 
On the other hand, one respondent warned people to “avoid buying apartments in vulnerable areas, even though prices will be lower there”. 
An Italian buyer recommended looking at newly built apartments coming up for sale. 
Get a mortgage offer before your first serious viewing 
Getting a lånelöfte, literally “loan promise”, can be tricky for foreigners in Sweden, as our recent survey of banks’ policies showed. 
Shubham warned against applying for a loan promise from multiple banks, arguing that this can affect your credit rating if your finances are not otherwise good. He suggested using an umbrella site like Ordna Bolån and Lånekoll, although he warned that the payment they take from the ultimate mortgage provider might ultimately be taken from borrowers.  
Get to know the estate agents, but don’t necessarily trust them 
Gaurav, a sales manager based in Stockholm, recommended getting to know local estate agents in the area where you are planning to buy, as they might be able to direct you towards owners who are in a hurry to sell. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties,” he argued. 
Maja, from Hungary, warned, however, against believing that the estate agent is on the buyer’s side. 
“You cannot really make friends with them, they work for commission and they will also try to raise the selling price,” she said. “It’s how they present you to the seller that matters. Seem like a serious buyer.” 

Should you try to make an offer before bidding starts? 
Morgan, a 33-year-old marketing manager from France, said it was worth studying the kommande (coming soon) section on Hemnet and Booli to spot houses and flats before they are formally put on the market. “Be alert. Book an appointment asap and get a private visit to reduce competition. If the apartment is what you’re looking for, make a reasonable offer with a condition to sign the contract in the next 24 hours,” he recommends. “You will cut the bidding frenzy and save money.”
Gaurav also recommended getting a private viewing and making an offer while the property was still off the market, as did Julian. 
“If you are lucky, you might find owners who are in a hurry to sell,” Julian said. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties.” 
But other foreigners warned against bidding before a property is publicly put up for sale on housing websites, arguing that estate agents used this as a way of getting higher prices than they would expect to get at auction.  
“You are essentially negotiating directly with the owner, without finding out the actual market price via bidding,” argued a 31-year-old Indian business analyst. “Usually this will work only for an apartment not in top condition.” 
What to watch out for in the bidding process 
Morgan advised buyers to take what estate agents say about rival bidders with a pinch of salt. 
“Estate agents will play the competition card. Don’t fall for their trick and keep a cool head. Ask yourself if it really worth it before increasing a bid,” he wrote. 
In Sweden, it is possible to make a hidden bid, which is not disclosed to other bidders. One Indian software developer warned that estate agents would often claim that there was such a bid to pressure you. 
“The hidden bids are really confusing as you don’t know the bid placed,” he said. “It’s a trap to get higher bids. “
A 21-year-old Romanian agreed it was important to watch out for estate agents who try to rush or panic you. 
“[Look out for] those that try to rush you into it by saying stuff like ‘this will be gone by Monday, the owner wants to sell fast’, or if they don’t want to include a two-week period to have the property inspected as a clause in the contract,” she said. 
Maja recommended choosing an estate agency that required all bidders to supply their personal number, with all bids made public, “because other agencies might cheat that price rise”. 
“Don’t be the first bidder,” she added. “Keep your cool, and if the agent calls or messages, just hold on. There is no official end to the bidding. Only when you sign the contract. So the best game is to seem very serious but not stupid. You have a budget, and try to sign the contract the same day or the next if you are the highest bidder.” 
Is now a good time to buy? 
The respondents were, predictably, divided. 
“It’s risky for both sellers and buyers,” said Carl, a Swede who recently returned home from China. “The market seems to correlate pretty well with central banks raising interest rates. If that’s the case, then it’s still a sellers’ market since central bank [Riksbank] will continue to increase interest rates until 2024.” 
“It’s difficult to predict anything at the moment,” agreed Gaurav. “Prices should fall a bit but that’s not happening in all the areas. Avoid buying or selling if you can for a few months.” 
“I see there is no difference in buying in total cost. You can get a property at a lower price but end up paying more in interest and the price is the same in five to ten years,” said one Indian software engineer. “Buying is still better than renting.”