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HOUSING

MAPS: New tool reveals cheapest places to rent an apartment in Sweden

Rory Crean, a British postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University, has developed an interactive website to compare rent prices throughout Sweden. The Local got in touch with him to find out how the site can help newcomers navigate the rental market.

Rory Crean next to graph of Swedish rent prices
Rory Crean, originally from the UK, has developed a web application to visualise how rent prices differ across Sweden. Photo: Private

Rory developed the web application using national number-crunching agency Statistics Sweden’s data on rent prices across the country, which stretches back to 2016 and covers almost every region (previously län, now region) and municipality (kommun) in Sweden.

“I mainly wanted to improve my programming skills. It’s best to decide on a topic and learn as you go along – so it made sense to pick something I was interested in,” he told The Local.

The data he used shows the median rent price in the area, divided by the area of the apartment in square metres. He chose to use the median value rather than the mean as skewed data is badly represented by a mean, thus enabling a better comparison.

His graphs are interactive, meaning that users can easily compare how rent prices differ across the country as well as how prices have changed in the past five years by hovering their mouse over different areas.

RENTING IN SWEDEN:

Sweden’s rental market is notoriously competitive, especially in the big cities, where renters are forced to either wait for years in the public housing queue or pay markedly higher rents for sublets (despite Sweden’s housing laws banning overpriced rentals).

Meanwhile in more rural areas, rents are often much lower and waiting times shorter.

Rory hasn’t had much trouble finding housing himself, despite living in busy university town Uppsala – his decision to develop the tool was built on curiosity. “It wasn’t too bad really – I was just curious to see how they differ and to see if it really is all located in the cities,” he said.

“It was interesting to see how in certain places, median rent has shot up – mainly in Stockholm – in comparison to other parts of Sweden. Eight out of the ten most expensive municipalities were in Stockholm.”

Rather than drawing his own conclusions on the data, he aimed to make the data accessible and enable people to look at it for themselves. His figures also make it possible to easily see which areas of Sweden are generally cheaper to rent in, which could be useful for people planning a move to Sweden and trying to figure out where to live if they want to save money.

Even though renting is more expensive in the big cities, there is still price variation. The application also enables users to see the ten most and least expensive municipalities to rent in – only two of the most expensive municipalities are not located in Stockholm county, these are Lomma in the southern county of Skåne and Uppsala, north of Stockholm.

Vallentuna in Stockholm county is now the most expensive municipality in Sweden to rent in – rent prices there have increased by over 20 percent in the last year – overtaking nearby Täby which was number one last year.

Editor’s note: The maps we had originally embedded in the article have hit their maximum amount of views, so we had to remove them. You can still look at all the maps and charts HERE. Any programmers interested in seeing the underlying code and raw data used to generate the web application can take a look at the GitHub repository here.

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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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