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PROPERTY

What is a ‘kolonilott’ and why do Swedes love them so much?

It is a not too uncommon sight in Sweden’s cities to stumble upon what at first glance looks like a miniature town; small patches of land rife with little houses atop carefully cured gardens.

What is a 'kolonilott' and why do Swedes love them so much?
Alottment in Eriksdalslunden, Stockholm. Photo: Alexandra Bengtsson/SvD/TT

The kolonilott or koloniträdgård is a popular way to access nature for the city dwellers of Sweden, with allotments being rented through allotment organisations. But where does this trend come from?

According to Koloniträdgårdsförbundet, the allotment movement began in the late 1800s and came to Sweden through Denmark and Germany. The politician and nurse Anna Lindhagen brought the movement to Sweden after first seeing them in Denmark.

Their purpose was originally to offer workers a place to grow food. As the cities grew in the late 19th century due to industrialisation, people moved from rural Sweden into cities to find work. Lindhagen saw the tough health conditions faced by the workers as a nurse and wanted to develop the allotments to offer workers and their children a place for everything from fresh air to homegrown food.


Anna Lindhagen (1870-1941) in her allotment at Fjällgatan, Stockholm, 1928. Photo: Pressens Bild

The first allotment association in Sweden was the Pildamm allotment in Malmö which was established in 1895 but which has been shut down since. The Citadellet in Landskrona (1904) and Söderbrunn (1905) are the oldest allotments still in use.

During the two World Wars, the allotments served an unexpected function; they were crucial to combat the food shortages in the cities. After the wars, as more people had access to cars, the interest fell. However, allotments have seen another upswing in the 2000s.


Family in front of their allotment in Eriksdalslunden, Stockholm early 1900s. Photo: Nordic Museum/Wikimedia Commons

So why do allotments remain so popular in Sweden?

Today, they are used less for food production and instead offer a chance for city dwellers to enjoy a garden that is more accessible than a summerhouse in the country. In an interview with real estate publication Hem & Hyra, allotment owner Lina Rylander says that the proximity to their apartment in the city and their children’s friends are both advantages which made them choose an allotment over a summer house.


An allotment in Sweden. Photo: Helen Alfvegren/Flickr

Getting an allotment can however be tricky, due to their popular demand. You both have to rent the patch of land from the local allotment association that owns it, and buy any cottage or shed on the land from the previous owner. The process varies slightly depending on the association; some allotment associations regulate the prices of the cottages while others sell them to the highest bidder. 

The waiting time to get your hands on a patch of land is often long. Tanto Södra allotment association in Stockholm has one of the longest queues in the country, with 110 allotments, where according to their website, around four free up every year. At the same time, there are currently 580 people registered in its queue, with some 30 new people joining it every year. It is difficult to estimate how long it would take, although estimates say up to 20 years.

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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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