Renting in Sweden: How to ace the apartment viewing

Foreign tenants in Sweden often face stiff competition for apartments due to a housing shortage in the big cities and a queue system that benefits those who have lived in the country longer. Here are our tips for boosting your chances in the apartment hunt.

A Swedish apartment living room
A few compliments directed at the landlord's furnishing style won't go amiss. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Stand out in your ad

To secure a viewing, you will usually need either to respond to ads put up by landlords on sites like Blocket and Qasa, or to put up your own ad. Either way, make sure you’re making a good first impression.

Include any details that make you a desirable tenant, for example if you have a full-time job or stable income, are a non-smoker, and so on. Many sublets are from people renting out their own homes for a short period, for example if they work or study abroad, so it’s also a good idea to include a few details about you as a person, and show you’ve read the ad by referencing the neighbourhood or another detail. If you can, write in Swedish and have a Swedish speaker translate or check your template. Save your questions for the viewing itself; this initial contact is all about securing your viewing.

Get references ready

As well as proof of income or employment, many landlords in Sweden will ask for references from previous landlords. The housing process can move fast, so you’ll want to prepare these in advance, particularly since landlords in many countries will not be used to providing them.

If you’ve never rented before, consider asking a previous flatmate to provide a ‘character reference’, or you could ask your employer or university tutor if they can vouch for you. If you’ve been staying at a temporary accommodation such as an Airbnb or apartment hotel, you could also ask your host to write something. However, the really crucial thing is your proof of employment or another source of income.

Take off your shoes

Sweden is a shoes-off country when it comes to people’s homes, and this is particularly important in the autumn and winter. Your host may not always ask, but it’s expected that you remove your shoes on arrival — stamping slush into their floor will not make a good impression.

Check on the laundry room

Swedish laundry culture is a big thing. Some apartments have their own washing machines and dryers but if that’s not the case, find out where the tvättstuga (laundry room) is, usually either in a basement or outbuilding. Bear in mind that even a short outside walk could become a hassle on winter evenings.

Be positive

It’s nice to be nice, and it could also help you become the landlord’s top choice. As we mentioned, in many cases the people renting out second-hand apartments intend to return to live there after the rental, so if you’re complimentary about the apartment and their furnishings, it can help persuade them that you’re the right person to take care of their home.

Check the legality

The market may move fast, but you should still look out for scams or ‘black market’ rentals. A legitimate landlord will not have a problem proving their identity to you, and you can do your own research on websites like Hitta and Eniro where you can confirm their personal details. Of course, never hand over any money before viewing an apartment, making these checks and signing a contract, and never sign anything you don’t fully understand.

Find out why the landlord is subletting the place — do they own or rent it, and why is it available? This isn’t about being nosy, but it can affect whether and for how long they are able to sublet. For example, many housing associations have a rule that home-owners can only sublet for up to six months or a year if they are moving in with a partner, but for longer periods if they are working or studying in another location.

You should always ask to see the proof they’ve received to sublet. If your landlord hasn’t been appproved by the housing association to rent out their home, this could cause several problems for you as a tenant. Firstly, you may be unable to officially register at the address, making it hard to receive post and to be ‘in the system’ in Sweden. But if the housing association finds out about the unapproved sublet, you could also be forced to leave.  

If your landlord is renting the apartment on a first hand contract, they should be able to show you the calculation of the rental price. There are strict legal limits on how much they can charge, so check that you’re not being ripped off. Prices are also regulated if the landlord owns the property, but in that case they can base the amount on the current value — which in Sweden’s hot housing market means they can often legally charge a high rental price in the big cities.

Ask about upcoming renovations

One thing which can have a major impact on your quality of life, but which may not be obvious even from a thorough viewing of the property, is building work. Here there are two possibilities to keep in mind; works on the building itself, and in the local area.

You should be able to ask the landlord if any major renovations are planned for the building. The two which generally have the biggest impact are stambyte (replacement of pipes) which can leave you without running water for an extended period, and fasadrenovering (renovation of the outside of the building), which usually means the entire side of the building is covered up for a few months, blocking your natural light. As well as asking the landlord, you can check on the website of the housing association (BRF); you can find out which association an apartment belongs to by searching the website

Planned building work in the local area will likely be described on the website for your municipality, or you may see signs in the neighbourhood if it will be starting soon.

Follow up fast

Unfortunately the rental market in Sweden means the advantage often lies with the landlord. Don’t rush into an agreement before getting all your essential questions answered, but don’t delay once you see a place you like and are confident that it’s legitimate. It’s a good idea to contact the landlord as soon as you’ve decided their apartment is the one you want, and have your proof of income and references ready immediately — you may even want to bring paper copies to each viewing.

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EXPLAINED: What can foreigners in Sweden do about the weak krona?

The Swedish Krona last week hit a record low against the dollar, hammering the international buying power of anyone earning their salaries or holding assets in the currency. We asked Johan Löf at Handelsbanken what they can do.

EXPLAINED: What can foreigners in Sweden do about the weak krona?

How low is the krona right now? 

On Tuesday, September 27th, the krona to dollar exchange rate hit an all-time-low of 11.37, easily beating the previous record low for the currency of 11.04, which it reached at the nadir of the dot com bust back in 2001. At the time of the financial crisis in 2008, a dollar would have got you less than 6 kronor, meaning the currency has almost halved in value in less than 15 years. 

A euro now gets you 10.9 kronor, which is not quite a record, with it briefly topping 11.4 in 2009, but more than it has been for most of the past decade. 

The only major currency which is more or less stable against the krona is the pound, which will now buy about 12.39 kronor, down from 13 in February, but above the levels of around 10.5 the pound hit shortly after the UK voted to leave the European Union. 

Why is the krona worth so little? 

Johan Löf, the head of forecasting at the Handelsbanken bank, told The Local, that the krona always tended to take a hit at times of financial uncertainty. 

“The krona is a relatively small currency much like the Swedish economy is a relatively small economy,” he said. “You could compare it to a small boat sailing the big ocean, so when you don’t go on the course that you thought you were going, it can be a bit of a shaky ride,” he said.

“Right now with financial market conditions being volatile, with a lot of uncertainty and risks, the Swedish krona takes a hit. Investors and various agents of the economy don’t want to hold so much of this smaller currency. Instead, they they go to safe havens like the US dollar.

“So even though there are fundamentals that would suggest that the Swedish kroner will strengthen again over time, for the time being and for some foreseeable future, we think that the krona will remain quite weak.”

How are foreigners living in Sweden affected? 

It very much depends on their individual financial situation: which currency they earn their salary in, which currency they hold assets in, and which currencies they have the highest outgoings in. 

People who live and earn in Sweden, but travel regularly to countries with stronger currencies, or perhaps send remittances back to family at home, are likely be negatively affected, Löf said. 

“It makes you lose purchasing power in these other countries: you get fewer goods and less services for the money that you have in the Swedish currency.”

It’s a similar situation for people or small businesses based in Sweden, who need to, or perhaps only want to, buy goods outside of Sweden. 

On the other hand, for people who have substantial savings abroad in dollars or euros, this might be an opportunity to convert them into kronor for use in Sweden.  

“If you have savings abroad, and you feel the need to use some of those savings, when you then sell your foreign currency to buy Swedish kronor, then you will get more Swedish kronor,” Löf explained. 

What can foreigners living in Sweden do to lessen the impact of a weak krona? 

Change the currency in which you get paid 

The best way to protect against currency exchange shocks is to make sure that you’re paid in the same currency that you spend in, so if you live in Sweden but have a lot of your outgoings abroad, it’s an advantage to be paid in dollars or euros. 

If you’re considering getting a new job, perhaps favour international employers that can pay you in one of the major currencies, or if you work for a big international company, perhaps you can ask to be paid in a different currency. 

Get freelance or part-time work outside of Sweden

If you work as a freelancer, or have some spare time for additional work, consider getting part-time freelance gigs with companies abroad that pay in euros or dollars. The lower the krona sinks, the higher your real wage when you spend in Sweden. 

Time major spending for the best point in the market 

If you have savings in kronor and are considering, for instance, buying a holiday house abroad, it is probably worth waiting until the kronor has strengthened and the Swedish economy is back growing strongly. 

Similarly, if you have savings outside of Sweden in euros or in dollars, and have been planning on buying a property in Sweden, now might be a good time to consider doing so (although it may be worth waiting a few months until interest rate rises have been fully reflected in reduced Swedish property prices).

Get a multiple currency account 

It can be helpful to have an account in multiple currencies, such as those provided by banks such as Wise and Revolut. Keeping any cash in a combination of dollars, euros and kronor can reduce your exposure to any single currency. 

The advantage for foreigners living in Sweden is that you can set up US dollar, Euro and Pound accounts, each with their own local bank number, which you can use to receive and make payments domestically in each country. 

With the krona so low right now, it may not be a good idea to convert all your assets from krona to euros or dollars right now, as the currency is probably more likely to strengthen than weaken over the coming year.