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Swedish holiday homes: How to buy the summer house of your dreams

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Swedish holiday homes: How to buy the summer house of your dreams
Are you ready for a Swedish summer house? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Many people in Sweden have a summer house or "sommarstuga" to escape to during their long holidays. Getting one of your own can be easier than you think – and thanks to the weak krona, it's surprisingly affordable if you're paying in a stronger foreign currency.

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Sommarstuga can literally be translated as "summer house" or "summer cabin/cottage", but in reality these can range from impressive multi-storey buildings to tiny basic cabins without running water. Both ends of the spectrum have their appeal, but as with any property investment there's a lot to think about and it doesn't necessarily work the same way as in other countries.

Looking for and buying a summer house might be slightly easier if you're based in Sweden because you have time to look around, but non-residents are able to own property in the country too, without restrictions. 

1. Work out your budget

Summer houses can be surprisingly cheap in Sweden. But don't get excited too fast. It's not just the property you're buying, you'll also need to factor in the costs of keeping it up and running. That means running costs such as electricity, water, heating, rubbish collection, insurance, any tolls, travel costs to and from the stuga, plus other upfront costs such as mortgage and title deeds.

You might also need to think about furniture, gardening equipment (a lawnmower and barbecue, perhaps), plus any refurbishment or repair costs. Basically, you need to make sure not only that you can afford to buy the property (in other words, the deposit and mortgage), but also to stay there long-term.

To find out how much you can afford, speak to your bank manager about how much you'd be allowed to borrow for a mortgage. You can also shop around by speaking to different banks, as the exact numbers may vary.

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2. Think about location

The chance to escape city life is a big part of the appeal of a summer house, so think about where you'd like to be, and don't ignore practical considerations.

A wooden cottage on the coast might be the dream, but if you're miles inland, do you really want a summer house far away from your main residence? Having a water view often means the price soars, and the same goes for summer houses within easy reach of Sweden's major cities, so it's good to work out what sacrifices you're willing to make and which criteria are deal-breakers for you.

Do you need to be close to a train or bus station, a small village, or perhaps extended family? Is it important to be able to get to the property within a few hours of leaving your home or work? Do you have a hobby such as fishing or cross country skiing to factor in? And if you're looking at an island or archipelago property and don't have a private boat, check ferry routes very carefully.

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3. Do you want to live in it year-round?

It's absolutely crucial to understand what kind of property you're buying. Some people choose to buy a traditional summer house to use as their main residence, partly because of significantly lower prices. Others plan to rent out their summer house when they're not using it. Or you might be excited about the prospect of a house in the mountains for autumn hikes and winter sports.

But not all summer houses are appropriate for year-round use. Some summer houses only have running water available during the summer (sommarvatten), and the same goes for rubbish collection. Others might not have sufficient insulation to be habitable in the winter months.

4. Viewings and practice runs

Renting a summer house and going to viewings of the properties on the market are two ways of getting a feel for exactly what you want. You might find yourself changing some of the criteria you decided on in Step 1, or perhaps even deciding that you'd rather spend your summers renting a cabin and having time to enjoy it rather than renovating a sommarstuga of your own. 

By spending some time living the summer house lifestyle, you can work out which aspects of that life you're willing to compromise on and which you definitely aren't. And at viewings, you'll get an accurate idea of exactly what's available in your budget and chosen area.

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5. Time it right

If you've already spent time living in Sweden, you'll be aware of the stereotype that Swedes tend to plan ahead and that behaviours and habits change season to season. This also applies to the property market.

Typically, most summer houses come on the market around April, and the peak time for searching is June. But you can still look at other times of the year; the choices might be fewer, but you might be able to snap up a good deal when fewer people are looking, especially since someone who's chosen to sell out of season might be willing to accept a lower price for a fast sale.

6. What condition is it in?

A Swedish summer house could be anything from a luxury multiple-bedroom property to a small cabin, and there are vast differences in how these properties are equipped. Towards the simple and traditional end of the scale, don't count on running water or an indoor toilet.

There's been a trend in recent years towards summer houses that are well-equipped and habitable even in winter, so these are certainly available, though often at higher prices. Meanwhile, some properties might have been neglected over the years, leaving lots of work to be done.

Working out what's right for you means being honest with yourself about how much renovation and upkeep you're going to be willing to do. Extra work also means spending more money, although make sure you look into the ROT tax deduction that's available for work carried out on private properties – this also applies to summer houses.

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7. Ask the experts 

Once you've found a property that's caught your eye, you'll need to have a property survey carried out. This covers things like the building's foundations, walls, and roof, as well as looking at plumbing and a fireplace if applicable. You as the buyer have the responsibility to have this arranged (look for an independent surveyor), and you won't be covered for any problems you discover after the purchase, so it's in your interest to make sure it's done right.

The electricity should be independently checked by a professional. Electricity in older summer houses may not be up to the same standards as in bigger towns, so you need to check if you can have multiple appliances running at the same time.

Many houses also have their own well or water source, and if that's the case, the water quality is another thing to have checked by an expert. You should also find out if there are any limits on water consumption. And on the subject of drains, check the details with the municipality's environmental and health department and make sure the necessary permits are in place, otherwise this can be another unexpected added cost. In the worst case, your plumbing could be shut off.

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8. Building plans and permissions

Sweden is growing. If you're looking for a taste of wilderness and nature, do some research into any planned building works in the area which might make your escape to nature less appealing. You can usually check this with the municipality, who might warn you that your idyllic meadow view will soon be transformed, first into a building site, and later into a set of apartment blocks.

At the same time, it's important to check that any building work that's previously been carried out on your summer house has been done with the right permissions (bygglov). That applies both to any extensions and any separate buildings. Otherwise, these could be unsafe, and you as the new owner could face the consequences, which could be as severe as seeing your out-house demolished. If you have plans to extend the property or add an out-house or similar, you should also check if you would have the right to do so. The same goes for any other significant projects you'd like to carry out, such as installing an indoor toilet.

9. Bidding and buying

Once you've gone through all of the above steps and checks and decided that you've found your dream summer home, it's time to go through the process of actually purchasing it. This process is the same as when you buy a regular property, and starts with placing an offer or bid, usually via the estate agent, reacting to any counter-offers, and waiting to find out if your bid is accepted. 

These bids aren't legally binding. Only when you've signed the contract is the property truly, legally yours.

Article published in 2019 and updated in 2023

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tony.green 2022/04/08 17:22
If you're buying a cottage way out in the country, it is important to check if the land on which the cottage stands is freehold and included in the price, or whether the land is leasehold (arrendetomt). Out in the countryside, it is very possible that a cottage stands on land belonging to, say, a local farmer or other landowner, with whom you will sign a lease for the land and pay an annual rent (arrendeavgift), although the actual cottage itself is yours. Apart from the land-rental cost, this could also restrict what you might like to do with the land, like build a small extension to the cottage or cut down a couple of big trees etc, depending on how well you get on with the landowner. There's quite a lot of useful info out there if you google with arrendetomt fritidshus.

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