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HOUSING

Summer house: How to buy your own Swedish ‘sommarstuga’

Many people in Sweden have a summer house or 'sommarstuga' to escape to during their long holidays. And it might be easier than you think to get one of your own. There are a large number of summer residences on the property market, usually at much cheaper prices than standard houses, making it an affordable luxury for many.

Summer house: How to buy your own Swedish 'sommarstuga'
So you want to buy a Swedish summer house? Just follow these nine steps. Photo: Alexander Hall/imagebank.sweden.se

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, but 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 the 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.


Photo: Hasse Holmberg/SCANPIX/TT

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.


You could even buy your own island. Photo: Hasse Holmberg/SCANPIX/TT

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.


Being tucked up in your cabin miles from the city might sound like a romantic way to spend the winter. But without heating and water, perhaps not. Photo: Tore Meek/NTB scanpix/TT

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.


Will the whole family be happy there? Photo: Johan Willner/imagebank.sweden.se

THE LOCAL GUIDES:

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.


Photo: Vegard Grøtt/NTB scanpix/SCANPIX/TT

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.


Photo: Kristin Lidell/imagebank.sweden.se

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, and 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, or your plumbing could be shut off.


Will you still love the property after spending hours of your vacation time working on it? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

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 into a building site and later 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.


An idyllic view, until it’s replaced by dozens of office and apartment blocks. Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

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.

Member comments

  1. 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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For members

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.

Five tricks Swedes use to avoid the long wait for rental apartments

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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