Sweden’s hinterland offers great ‘deals’ on large rural properties, for those who can afford to live in near-abandoned forest communities. But for single-bedroom apartments, the story is very different – the average wait is around 24 months and the situation in Stockholm is far, far worse.
That’s the picture painted by the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen, in Swedish) in a recent report. A new review by the organization found that waits are extremely long nationwide.
‘Imagine comparing these queues to other things in life,’ observed report author Jonas Hagetoft. ‘In two and a half years you could have children or sail around the world almost three times.’
Hunting studio apartments may be a matter of lying in wait, but the queues for 4-bedroom houses are even longer. To secure a contract for a family-sized flat, tenants need to wait for an average of four and a half years, according to the tenants’ union.
Part of the problem is that letting and subletting are governed by different sets of laws in Sweden. Subletting offers fewer rights as a tenant, so the first-hand contract is what everyone wants.
Obviously, when the market can’t supply a thing within a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost, the result is a black market, and Swedes are no exception to this rule. There’s a thriving black market in bribery and corruption, where house hunters pay cash to skip official housing queues or get bumped up them.
As might be expected the more desirable the residence – the more urban or economically active the area, for instance – the longer the wait, with waits of up to six years for a four-bedroom home common in up-and-coming areas.
Of the 21 counties that make up Sweden, only Dalarna county, in the country’s south-west, has queue times of under a year. In Stockholm, Uppsala, Halland and Norbotten, queues were longer than anywhere except Stockholm: there, they can reach seven and a half years.
Mr. Hagetoft said that, ‘local politicians who want to show social responsibility should strive to have the shortest queue time possible, ideally around two to three months.’ How much of the solution to the Swedish housing crisis is in the hands of local politicians is a different question, though: having built relatively little since the 1970s house-building boom, the Swedish government is now under pressure to spur on the construction of housing to remedy a system characterized by bottlenecks, shortages and queues.
In major Swedish cities, there’s a keen contrast to the rural situation: property is ‘dangerously overvalued,’ according to Bengt Hansson, a researcher at the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket). As long ago as October of last year, Mr. Bengt warned that Swedish housing prices were 25 percent above fair market value. FMV is always going to be a disputed figure, but what’s beyond dispute is that between queues for rentals and bidding wars for purchases, Swedes who have a home are likely to hang onto it for the foreseeable future.