Has the Stockholm rental market left you confused and frustrated? You’re certainly not alone. It took several conversations before I could even wrap my head around it. These discussions were peppered with words like “ förstahandskontrakt”, “ andrahandskontrakt”, “black market”, “selling leases” and “queue systems”. If all this sounds too complicated, that’s because it is. What’s worse is that the housing challenges we face in 2020, have plagued the city and surrounding suburbs for over a century. One would assume the Swedes have had enough time to sort it out, but unfortunately there is no past evidence that demonstrates a housing surplus in Stockholm since 1902.
Stockholm and its metropolitan area are home to more than 2 million residents with only about a million housing units available. The Swedish queuing system has created a flourishing black market for desperate tenants willing to dish out huge sums to avoid multi-year-long waiting lists for a rental contract.
This isn’t a history lesson, but I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to give an overview of the rental history in Stockholm. The Stockholm region has had an acute shortage of housing that began in 1904 with approximately 50,000 housing units available for 320,000 people. It was at this time that Stockholm started putting housing policies into operation; however it was about thirteen years later, in 1917, that the state accepted responsibility for erecting decent homes for its citizens in a period of chronic housing shortage. In the 1960s, the city started the official apartment queue that is currently in use.
Today, the Stockholm area is home to more than 2 million residents with only about a million housing units available. The Swedish queuing system has created a black market for desperate tenants willing to dish out huge sums to avoid multi-year-long waiting lists for a rental contract. These large sums are often paid under the table to secure a contract and surpass the regulated queuing system. Sounds like bribery to me, and obviously it’s illegal.
Like me, most people simply don’t have the extra money lying around and are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of paying under the table for a first-hand contract. If this is the case for you, the second-hand market may be a more realistic option. There are many pitfalls and scams in this market. I will describe some of the more outrageous requests my husband and I faced during our rental search, and offer some tips. Surprisingly, there are vultures in both markets, but if you use good old-fashioned common sense and your gut feeling, you should be able to avoid them.
Pitfall #1: “Too Good to be True”
The advertisement shows the perfect place in the perfect neighborhood with perfect rent. The pictures look amazing and you’re thrilled. The person renting it out is supposedly living abroad and needs to rent out their place, located in Gamla Stan or somewhere else central. You email the person and request to see the apartment. They give an excuse that they are not in the country and the keys are with them. Then they try to build up trust and eventually request for you to send a down payment transfer (to show your commitment) and afterward they will mail you the keys. At this point alarms should be ringing in your head.
Unfortunately many foreigners get caught in this scam because they fear arriving in Stockholm without a place to live and spending a chunk of their savings on hotel bills. They are so anxious to get an apartment, that despite their apprehension they trust the good-natured Swede will live up to their end of the bargain.
Pitfall #2: “Heavy Competition”
You find a place you’re interested in, the price is in your budget and you call to arrange a viewing. You arrive just as another couple is leaving, having just viewed the same apartment. After seeing the apartment yourself, you leave just as the next couple is arriving to check it out. You thought the place was fine, not spectacular, but now you’re getting nervous about how many people are looking at the same apartment and you need to find a place fast! You express your interest in the place before leaving, but the owners tell you they want to talk it over in private to ensure they pick the right renter to live in their space. Shortly after that, the owner calls to inform you that they have had a lot of interested couples come through but you would be their first choice.
That is, if you’re willing to pay 1.000 or 2.000 SEK more than the original asking price. This actually happened to us in Sundbyberg and I was so annoyed. I could understand if the place was in Stureplan or Östermalm, but this place was almost at the end of the blue line. We refused the offer and started a new search.
Pitfall #3: “The Mark Up”
Many people who sublet their apartment often charge more than what it costs for first-hand rental. You can count on a 10-15% markup for a furnished apartment. In extreme cases the renter can hike up the rent two to three times the original price. This is of course illegal, but it has become so commonplace in this market that no one ever reports it or sues. It is also not unheard of for residents to hop from short-term sublet to sublet. This can mean having to move several times in one year.
If you encounter a first-hand owner who only writes 10-15% more on the rental contract to satisfy the rent board and then demands that you pay an extra 100-200% markup in cash ‘off the books’, step away from that deal. I always like to have a record of any cash transaction and bank transfers are always the safest.
Tip 1: Use a reputable online service to search for rentals.
Avoid small online classifieds (they often have the ‘too good to be true’ rental offers). This is especially important if you are looking for a place before you land in Sweden. If this is the case, I highly recommend you have a friend or co-worker on the ground to view the actual apartment.
We can recommend sites like Bostadshub.se and Bostadslistan.se, in these website you can filter your search by area, price, number or rooms and type of housing, the houses listed here are certified. Once you find a property you like, you request for access to contact the landlord, for this you pay 9 SEK once, and then you have full access to the landlord’s information and can contact them for 3 days. If you want to extend the access after those 3 days, then there is a monthly subscription. There is also Hyresvardslistan.se which is completely free, and just lists all the landlords in different cities, including Stockholm.
In any case, you should always be able to call the owners to weed out any unscrupulous people and arrange a time to view the apartment as soon as possible.
Tip 2: When an advertisement pops up that fits all of your needs, contact them immediately.
Places on the market go very quickly and if you snooze, you will definitely lose. When you contact them, make sure you set an appointment for the same day or the very next morning. My husband and I set-up a viewing for the next day (due to laziness) and regretfully we got a call before the viewing informing us that apartment was no longer on the market and was scooped up by another individual.
Tip 3: If you plan to stay in Stockholm indefinitely, you should sign up in one of the first-hand contract sites.
If you get lucky and actually get a place in 2 or 3 years (or more) in a desirable location, you will officially become part of the renting system.
Tip 4: Purchase a property.
The housing market may be unpredictable, but the general trend in Stockholm has been upwards for a very long time. So, I think it is wise to purchase. We finally went with this option and it feels so much more secure than moving from one sublet to another. Of course, there are a whole host of other issues when purchasing a property in Sweden, but that’s another topic altogether.
Text: Shirley Å Johansson
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