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PROPERTY

How does Sweden’s housing queue work, and is it worth joining?

Finding a place to live is simultaneously one of the most important steps for newcomers to Sweden and one of the most complex to get to grips with. Sweden's housing queues provide access to rental homes, where the monthly price is capped, but is it worth joining the queue, and will you ever reach the front?

How does Sweden's housing queue work, and is it worth joining?
Is joining one of Sweden's many housing queues a good way to find your home? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Why does Sweden have a housing queue?

The housing queue, or really ‘queues’ since there are many across the country, is exactly what it sounds like: a queue for housing. The longer you are in the queue, the more points you accumulate, which you can use to get priority for renting an apartment.

The benefits of these ‘first-hand’ rentals are numerous. As well as the capped rent, tenants usually have the option to stay in the home for life, in comparison to private rentals which are strictly regulated and often have a maximum limit of one or two years.

The first queue was set up in the early 20th century, and the system was expanded during the First World War due to disruption on the housing market, when the government passed legislation that said all towns over 5,000 residents should operate a queue system.

The goal is to increase security for people who cannot or choose not to buy their homes, by giving them a stable place to live at stable prices. Unfortunately, a rising population combined with stagnation in construction of affordable construction means that the queues for the apartments have grown long in many places. 

What different kinds of queues are there?

Some queues are run by municipalities, and others by private companies, which however have to agree to certain conditions including the rent cap.

In some cases you pay a yearly fee to keep your place in the queue (this is especially common in the most sought-after locations) while others are free.

You should also be aware of some housing queues that are for specific groups, including students, young people (often defined as being under 27), and pensioners.

To find housing agencies (bostadsförmedlingar) in your area, you could search online or check your municipality’s website.

How long will it take to get an apartment through the queue?

This depends mostly on where in the country you are and what kind of queue you join, as that determines the level of competition for each apartment.

In some places, you will be eligible for apartments as they become available, whereas in Stockholm it can take more than ten years to be able to get a first-hand contract. A less densely populated area doesn’t necessarily mean a shorter queue time as it also depends on the interest in living there and availability of housing; on the island of Gotland, the main housing queue had an average waiting time of 13 years as of summer 2020.

How does it work?

Once you have joined the queue, you can search for available apartments on the housing agency’s website, and register your interest in any you like the look of.

Then the company that owns the housing will choose some applicants to attend a viewing, and will then check your eligibility. For example, you usually need proof of your annual income (to show you can afford to pay rent and bills), references from previous landlords, and you may need a credit check. They will also check that you don’t already have a first-hand apartment.

How can I boost my chances of getting an apartment through the queue?

You gain ‘points’ based on how long you have been in the queue, which means more properties are available to you, so the sooner you sign up, the greater your chance of being allocated a place.

You can also boost your chances by joining multiple queues, or being clever about the ones you join. For example, the queues in Stockholm are the longest in the country, so by joining queues in neighbouring municipalities if you’re prepared to commute, you might increase your chances.

Beyond that, it’s crucial to monitor the sites regularly and carefully, because you might get an apartment by being quick. This is especially true if you can be active at times when other people are less likely to be looking, such as during summer holidays.

What are my other options?

Unless you are ready to buy property in Sweden, you will likely need to sublet, called second-hand renting in Sweden, either from someone who rents via the housing queue or from someone who owns their home.

The other alternative is to find a private landlord who rents outside the housing queue. Some landlords allocate apartments based on time of application (first come, first served or först till kvarn in Swedish) or through a lottery.

So, should I join the queue?

There’s no right or wrong answer, as it depends on factors like how long you want to live in Sweden, whether you can afford to buy property or feel confident finding a reasonably priced sublet, and how long the queue times in your area are.

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PROPERTY

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.  
 
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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.”

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