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PROPERTY

READERS REVEAL: Five tricks for winning the apartment hunt in Sweden

The best tips always come from those who've been there, done that. The Local's readers share their top tactics for successfully finding, viewing and buying your first apartment in Sweden.

READERS REVEAL: Five tricks for winning the apartment hunt in Sweden
Have you ever bought an apartment via text message? In Sweden, that's the bidding process for you. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

If you can skip the queue, skip the queue

The standard procedure for buying an apartment in Sweden is to spend hours on property listings site Hemnet, go to numerous viewings, and be outbid by other buyers in consecutive bidding wars, until you finally manage to get your hands on a new home.

But many properties get sold even before they are put up for a public viewing.

“Try to avoid the nail-biting bidding war altogether. You do this by being proactive and arranging a private viewing of the apartment with the mäklare (estate agent) as soon as the apartment comes onto the open market. Sign up for email alerts from Hemnet. Then if you really like the place, make a good offer based on a current valuation (Booli is a very good site for this and you can even check what the seller originally paid for their apartment) and then ask for the property to be taken off the market. You’ll have to sign an agreement to buy it almost immediately,” says Krystian Bellière, a Briton in Stockholm.

It’s also worth trying to establish a good rapport with the estate agent.

“If you lose the bidding for a place in an area you really like, you can let the agent know that you are very interested in the area and would like to be informed if a similar place becomes available. If you show genuine interest (genuine being the operative word here), the agent might arrange a pre-showing and could even lead to a deal with the seller without having to go through another bidding process,” says Ravi Senevirathne, who also lives in Stockholm.

Practice makes perfect

Get to grips with the process before you delve in head first. Read up on how viewings, bidding and signing contracts works in Sweden – you may even want to go to a few viewings even before you’re ready to buy anything, just to get accustomed to it and get a sense of what’s out there.

“Check Hemnet regularly to check similar houses that match your priorities for at least a month before you go out for viewings,” says Tamalika, an Indian in Helsingborg.

“Look around, visit as many apartments as you can, don’t settle too fast. Look for the reputation of the area too,” says Sandra from Indonesia, who lives in Gothenburg.

“Visit at least a couple of viewings casually before you get serious and most importantly don’t set your heart on one particular apartment even if it looks like your dream home. Follow a standard set of requirements that you have, for example ‘I need a 2:a [a two-room apartment] with a balcony that is 30 minutes from my workplace’. Just try to follow these requirements and be willing to compromise on a few of them,” says Ankit, who is from India and is based in Nacka, a Stockholm suburb.

Know your priorities – and your limits

On that last note above, it’s a good idea to decide in advance what you’re looking for, so you don’t fall head over heels with an apartment that doesn’t actually tick your essential boxes. Similarly, set a budget before you start bidding – it’s easy to get swept up in a fast process that takes place over text message and forget that you’re dealing with, well, real money.

“A lot of times, you’ll look at places with an asking price at the top of your budget but the final price will be out of your price range. To avoid disappointment, start lower with the expectation it’ll rise during bidding,” advises Sheena, an American in Stockholm.

“Don’t get into the emotional roller coaster of bidding on an apartment you are hesitant about. Find a place you actually want to buy, then contact the agent about the seller’s intentions, if they need to sell quickly and would accept a private offer, or if they expect a certain amount for the bidding,” suggests Vincent from Australia. “Avoid committing to bidding if you are hesitant. It is not worth it and even if you win the bid you may have reservations about signing the contract.”

Beware of hidden costs

If you’re buying an apartment in Sweden, it will likely be part of a bostadsrättsförening (BRF). This is the housing association that’s in charge of running the property, usually one or several blocks of apartments or rows of houses. Technically, you’re not actually buying the apartment itself – you’re buying the right to live in the property.

Each month, as well as your mortgage, you’ll pay fees to the BRF, which often cover maintenance of common areas like staircases, laundry room and plumbing. Check exactly what the monthly fee covers – it often includes water, heating, electricity and internet, but not always, and this could affect your total living costs in the future.

It is also worth looking into the finances of the BRF. If it has high debts, this leaves it vulnerable to fluctuations in the economy, which could force it to raise your monthly fee. The website Alla BRF offers information about each BRF and gives them a grade.

Do your research

Apart from trying to sell the property at as high a price as possible, the estate agent is meant to be impartial and protect both the seller’s and buyer’s interests. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do as much of your own research as possible. Check the surroundings to get a feel for the area, and make sure that the agent’s claims about things such as the BRF’s finances, the internet speed and so on actually hold up.

Remember not to rush things. If you want a second look at the apartment before moving in (or if you want to get a professional to do it for you), it is usually perfectly acceptable to ask for an inspection clause that lets you back out if any nasty faults are uncovered.

“Check every single piece of information regarding the apartment. Don’t get into buyer’s remorse. Do check the apartment before the stipulated handover well in advance. If you don’t understand Swedish or any legal things, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Sometimes, the bank could help you with lawyers,” says Shamik, an Indian who lives in Malmö.

“Do not fall into ‘apartment buying madness’ due to peer pressure and rush through the process. Don’t believe the broker’s words on the asking price of the apartment. Always research and match the price with the market price for apartments in that locality. Then you can know the so-to-say ‘base price’. After viewing and checking the apartment, you have the chance to evaluate if the asking price is fair and can decide,” says Stockholm-based Chaitanya, also from India.

Thanks to everyone who responded to our survey, including those whose responses we could not include here. We edited some responses for grammar and clarity. If you have a question about life in Sweden or a story you’d like to share, contact our editorial team at [email protected]

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For members

CRIME

EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Sweden?

It’s a situation nobody ever wants to be in, but what happens if you’re arrested in Sweden? What should you do, and what are your rights?

EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Sweden?

Most of the people who come to Sweden to work, join a Swedish partner, or start a new life are law-abiding folk. Hardly anyone comes with the intention of breaking the law.  But from time to time, due to an accident of fortune or poor decision-making, foreigners end up on the wrong end of the law. 

Pray it never happens but if you are arrested in Sweden, what are your rights? What happens next, and who can help you? 

Whether it’s a traffic accident, misunderstanding, or murder charge, Swedish law follows certain processes upon arrest. 

The first stages 

The first stage of a police investigation is the anmälan, or report. Anyone can report you for committing a crime, regardless of whether they are the victim. The tax agency, for instance, can report you for fraud. If the police catch you doing something illegal, the officer can file a report themselves. 

After the report is registered, someone is appointed to lead the preliminary investigation — a so-called förundersökningsledare or “investigation leader”. The förundersökningsledare can be either a police officer or a prosecutor, depending on how serious the crime is. 

The förundersökningsledare then decides if there is sufficient reason to suspect that you have committed a crime.

There are two grades of suspicion. The lowest level is skäligen misstänkt or “reasonable suspicion”, which means that there are “circumstances which with a certain strength indicate that you have committed the act.  The next level up is på sannolika skäl, or “on probable cause”, that you have committed the act. 

When can you get arrested? 

If the förundersökningsledare has declared you a suspect, a police officer might be sent to arrest you. A police officer can also arrest you on their own initiative if they think that there is a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. 

All it takes to arrest someone in Sweden is for the officer to say “du är gripen“, meaning “you are under arrest”. If you resist,  the officer is permitted to employ as much violence as necessary to get you to the police station. 

If a member of the public observes you committing a crime serious enough to warrant a prison sentence, they are also allowed to arrest you, either while you are committing the crime or fleeing the scene. A member of the public is also allowed to arrest anyone wanted by the police for a crime. 

Not everyone suspected of committing a crime is necessarily arrested. If there is no danger to the public, no risk of you tampering with evidence, and no risk that you might flee, then police can decide to leave you free until you are asked to appear for interview or in court. 

When you are arrested, police will search you for any weapons, drugs or suspicious goods, and may take your telephone if it could contain evidence of a crime, but they will otherwise leave you with your belongings. 

What happens after your arrest? 

If you have been arrested by a police officer who had a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, you need to have a formal interview or förhör at the police station as soon as possible. Police may also interview the person who reported you, your alleged victim (the målsägande, which literally means “case owner”), and any witnesses. 

You can only be held at the police station for a maximum of 12 hours before a prosecutor decides whether there is sufficient reason for you to be anhållan, or “held”.  If they decide there is not, then you need to be released. 

If you are held, then you are taken to a cell, where you can be held for a maximum of three days, before which the prosecutor needs to either release you or request that you be häktad, or placed in pre-trial custody. 

When the decision is made to “hold” you, your personal belongings — phone, wallet, keys, etc — are taken from you and stored.

To be placed in pre-trial custody, you have to have committed a crime that can potentially lead to at least one year in prison. The prosecutor must also demonstrate that there is a risk you will tamper with the evidence or flee.

The decision to hold someone in pre-trial custody needs to be made by a judge at a so-called häktningsförhandling, or “detention hearing”. Unlike a full trial, this hearing is decided by a single judge. 

When can you get a defence lawyer? 

You can ask for a defence lawyer as soon as you are arrested. You can request one by name, or request a specific law firm, or, if you don’t know of any specific defence lawyers, just ask the court to appoint one for you. The court can normally contact the lawyer within a few hours, meaning you should ideally have a defence lawyer with you in your first police interview. 

When can you contact your embassy or family? 

The Swedish authorities are legally obliged to inform national embassies of the arrest of one of their citizens, and will normally do so themselves automatically, according to the British Embassy’s guideIf they do not do so, you can request that they do. 

You can ask the police at any time if you want to make a telephone call, but unlike in the UK or US, you have no right to make a phone call. It is up to the discretion of the prosecutor whether to allow you one, and very often they deny it. 

Most embassies have an urgent number people who are arrested can call. The UK’s line is +46 (0) 8 671 30 00 / +44 1908 51 6666, France’s is 0851992349, Germany’s is +46708529420. 

In practice, it is much better to ask your defence lawyer to contact your embassy, or to request that you can make a phone call. 

Friends and relatives of people who have been arrested can also contact their embassy for them, so that the embassy can find out where they are being held and any details of the suspicions against them. 

What can your embassy do? 

Most European embassies will work with defence lawyers to ensure that their citizens are treated well. 

“The Embassy provides impartial, non-judgemental assistance to British citizens who have been arrested or are in jail in Sweden,” a UK embassy spokesperson told The Local. We aim to make sure they are treated properly in line with Swedish regulations, and no less favourably than other prisoners.”

The first stage of this is a consular visit, which most European embassies generally aim to make within about 24 hours of being notified of your arrest. 

If you request it, your embassy will normally be able to inform your next-of-kin in your home country of your arrest. 

Unless you request otherwise, most embassies will also keep the fact that you have been detained and what the charges are confidential. 

How long can I be held before my trial? 

Perhaps the most criticised aspect of the Swedish justice system is the length that suspects can be held in pretrial detention, while the police and prosecutor carry out their investigations. The system has been criticised by the  United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Council of Europe.

The only limit is that Sweden’s Supreme Court has held that the detention must be reasonably proportional in relation to what may be gained from it (NJA 2015 s. 261) and the injury to the defendant.

In theory, there is no limit to the length of time a suspect can be held in pre-trial detention, so long as the custody is extended by a judge every 14 days. So far the record is a little over four years or being held without trial, and suspects are frequently held for over a year before a court rules on their case. 

There is no bail system in Sweden. 

What restrictions can I be under while in pre-trial detention? 

Prosecutors in Sweden often impose restrictions on those in pre-trial detention on the grounds that otherwise the defendant might change their story or tamper with the evidence. Critics often accuse police of imposing excessive restrictions to break suspects, pushing them to give details of the crime to reduce the time until their trial. 

Restrictions might include stopping suspects from being able to: 

  • receive or send letters without them first being inspected by the prosecutor
  • receive visits without special permission from the prosecutor
  • receive or make phone calls without special permission from the prosecutor
  • watch TV, listen to the radio and read newspapers
  • interact with other inmates

You always have the right to contact your lawyer, a member of consular staff (in special circumstances you may be allowed contact with family). You can also see a priest or other representative of a religious order.  

When will I go to trial? 

When the prosecutor has amassed enough evidence that they feel that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they will issue an åtal, or prosecution document, after which the court will set a date for the trial. 

Prosecutors will only do this if they judge that there is tillräckliga skäl för att väcka åtal, “sufficient cause for laying charges”. If they do not, the will end the investigation without laying charges, at which point you must be released. 

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