Adventures in Stockholm apartment buying

Buying an apartment in Stockholm is like starting a new relationship. You’re instantly attracted, and the conversations and butterflies you have on the first few dates are so promising. Then you wait for days for a phone call, you start wondering what he is thinking and if there is someone else, and soon you’re three-quarters into a bottle of wine and staring at your phone for hours.

If you think this example is an over-exaggeration of the buying process, well, you’re wrong. The process inspires such anxiety it could rival waterboarding as the most torture one person can take. In other countries, you see an ad, set up a meeting, spend days getting to know every corner and cupboard of the place and make an offer. Here in Sweden, you see a place for 10 minutes and then begin the agonizing bidding process against other interested buyers until someone finally names a price too high for everyone else.

In a healthy market where there is balanced demand this process is much easier. But in a market where there are more buyers than sellers and interest rates are rock bottom, it becomes far more racking because of the sheer competition. We went on Sunday viewings for several apartments in our first week. Some were too small, others too expensive and a few were just ok. Then after the second (and last) viewing on Monday the bidding began. We watched the price on the one apartment we liked tick up nearly 50% from the asking price in a matter of 24 hours. Shit.

The pressure built to a fever pitch after we fell in love with a 1-bedroom apartment in Birkastan, a trendy and popular Stockholm neighborhood with all of the amenities and conveniences one would want. It was love. I began decorating from the pictures on the internet ad. I envisioned dinner parties and cuddly Sunday afternoons. It was mine and I had to have it. Problem was, two other people had to have it as well. Bastards.

The bidding shot up almost 18% from the asking price minutes after the first viewing. Then we topped the bid and waited. And waited. And some anonymous Swede rode in on his high horse (not sure the Western analogy works in a Scandinavian country but just go with it) and outbid us. Then we upped the ante. He followed suit. And it continued as the price ticked up closer and closer to our highest bid.

I spent hours trying to outthink this arrogant Swede that was trying to take my dream home away. I looked at every angle, every option he had. What was likely his limit? Why hasn’t he bid in two hours? Could I convince the real estate agent to give me his name so I could track him down, hog-tie him and steal his cell phone, thus preventing him from submitting more bids? Then he bid our limit. SH%¤ DA#& Aa”#!! I sat numb. What do we do? Go over our limit?

The next few hours were agony. Text boyfriend. Wait for text. Call real estate agent and hang up. Call again. Hang up again. Answer phone from said real estate agent wondering why I keep calling. Check phone. Have a coffee. Mull prospect of having to live in a box.

In a last act of desperation, we raised our bid. Thinking all was lost and that this mystery Swede who I so wanted to mace was going to steal it away, I went to have drinks with some girlfriends. And then I got the call. We won! I felt like Rocky at the top of the Art Museum steps, embarrassingly pumping my arms and fist-punching the air (don’t judge, I was caught up in a moment). Aside from the elation of having just bought our perfect apartment, there was relief that, like so many others who look for apartments in this city, we wouldn’t have to go through the torturous bidding process again. But it was worth it…

…and we move in next week! And redecorate. Immediately.


Pilgrim Tweet: No sun for Stockholm

3.8 hours. 3.8 hours!

That’s how much sunshine Stockholm has seen in the month of November so far, according to local newspapers. And I can tell you the lack of rays has been acutely felt by Stockholm’s inhabitants. Weather is the prevalent topic of conversation on a daily basis and calling dibs on the sun lamp at work is crucial.

The only other place that is in more pain than Stockholm? Karlstad, Sweden.

1 hour of sun.

Grey days…

Stockholm is striking in its beauty; the buildings are straight out of an urban European novel. But one surprise about the look of the city is how even its majestic architecture and small-city charm can seem depressing in the November weather. I expected that a city so far north (so far north in fact that it would be uninhabitable if not for the Gulf Stream) would see snow once November rolled around. And though I’ve seen two snowfalls thus far, the skies are mostly grey. Very, very grey. It has been weeks since I’ve seen the sun, a luxury I forgot to enjoy in tropical Bangkok. And though the city is still elegant, the depressing blanket of grey clouds that surround it on an almost daily basis do detract from its allure.



It is a rainy, cold Sunday and the weather is so depressing that one would have to find a compelling reason to leave the house to brave the elements. But not Swedes. The weather is so typical for this time of year that to them it is a mere annoyance. People are still out and about, running errands and in particular, taking walks, an activity so loved by the English, I never thought I’d see another culture embrace it with such gusto.  On the weekends, this is the activity of choice and my best guess is that even if a meter (I’m working on using my metrics) of snow was falling, Swedes would still turn to each other with an excited look, strap on some snowshoes and crunch around.

In addition to the dank cold and heavy clouds, this time of year also brings 3:30 pm sunsets, if you could call them that. The sun stretches and yawns at about 3 pm and starts tucking in for the night, an occurrence that makes it impossible for my brain to function once it sinks below the horizon. It’s quite unfortunate for my new employers.

As I sit here writing at 1:30 pm, I try to savor the last two hours of daylight and remember this time. This glorious time when the sun is still in the sky (so to speak) at 2:30 pm. Because in a month, the sun will rise at 9 am, set at 2:30 pm and I will flee to the Canary Islands. Or hibernate. Deliberations are still underway.


In my first month in Stockholm, I bought my first apartment, started a new job and attended my first Swedish business conference (which I learned is just code for “boozefest”), subsequently learned the massive amount of alcohol Swedes can consume, became well-versed in Sweden’s infamous bureaucracy, got a massage at work that was subsidized by the company, and ate my first tunnbrödrulle _ a wrap sandwich made of mashed potatoes, a hot dog and pink shrimp salad. Yum.

In a word, Stockholm is amazing. This beautiful city so steeped in history is a marvel with its colorful buildings, beautiful people and rich culture. The most striking thing about the city is the water, which weaves its way around each of the small islands that make up the city of Stockholm. It is a bane in the winter, however, whipping biting winds through the already cold air. As far as adjustments go, the cold is the biggest. Wearing layers and layers of clothing, hats and gloves is something I haven’t done since early 2008. It even snowed while I was about two hours south of the city for a business conference, a beautiful sight that had me squealing and doing some cheerleader claps before I realized what I was doing.

The adjustment to Stockholm has been far easier than it was in Bangkok. Aside from the infuriating bureaucracy related to registering in Sweden and getting bank accounts (the fun of which will be detailed in a separate post), everything in this city has been designed to run smoothly. The government’s big brother approach is surprisingly liberating and, in many ways, gives people far more freedom than Americans, whose government’s minimal involvement is supposed to breed freedom that doesn’t really exist. Here, people (including me!) enjoy six weeks of vacation, free computer and cell phone from work, affordable housing, free health insurance, housing insurance that will reimburse you if you break something, subsidized gym memberships, efficient transportation, and free education including Swedish lessons.

There are myriad laws and regulations for everything, but all are meant to protect the people and support them if disaster should strike. There is a safety net here that doesn’t exist in America. Thousands are losing their jobs in the U.S. as the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent in October, the highest since 1983. And those people have to rely on savings or 401Ks that have been decimated by the financial crisis. In Sweden, if you lose your job you get paid 80 percent of your salary for six months after, a luxury meant to ensure that people can still support themselves despite a financial crisis. The big mystery to me is how they are able to do this when middle class people like me are only paying a 30 percent tax rate _ the same as I paid in Thailand and less than I paid while living in NYC.

After a month in Stockholm I feel as if I’ve lived here for ages. It is so comfortable and easy to be here. The only frustration is the language barrier, though my complaints are minimal as Swedish is an elegant and musical language that I’m happy to just sit and listen to. This month has been a whirlwind of appointments, social engagements, errands and apartment hunting. But I am well on my way to settling in for good. We move into our new apartment in a very desirable neighborhood next month and tonight’s trip to the largest IKEA in the world (!) is one of many, I’m sure.

For now, I’m happy to spend time with my handsome Swede, enjoy time with my new friends and eat smackebröd _ a hard, flat bread (really called knäckebröd but I always bungle it so I have given up) that initially tastes like cardboard but when it is spread with butter might actually be the cure for depression.

Music by Movits!

Urban Pilgrim is moving west…

I have spent months planning _ filling out job and residence permit applications, researching winter weather patterns, learning about the tall and blond inhabitants of my new home, and unloading not-so-prized belongings on friends.

I have kept quiet for months, barely able to keep my secret from all of you, waiting until everything was lined up before I shook your worlds.

But now it is finally official: I’m moving to Stockholm.

The move is a terribly exciting one for me as I’ve wanted to move back to Europe since living in London for a year in college. It is also a chance to learn Swedish, a strange and beautiful language that makes everyone who speaks it sound like they’re tripping over their tongues. And I have a new job that will hopefully bring new challenges.

But why Sweden, you might ask? It’s cold, dark and Swedes eat fermented fish like potato chips (ok I made that up, but I want to impress upon you the scariness of fermented fish consumption). I am moving to the land of banana-flavored caviar in a tube and ketchup on pasta (yes you read that right) for love. After falling for a Swede earlier this year and his unexpected departure from Bangkok over the summer, I decided it was time for a change.

My time in Bangkok has been an incredible adventure but I’ve grown weary of the language barrier, the cultural differences I can’t seem to adapt to, and the suffocating heat. During the past year I have often missed the West and longed to move to a country that feels more like home. And Stockholm’s lovely old buildings, cosmopolitan attitude, excellent English-language speaking abilities and wintry weather are just what I’ve been missing.

Have no fear, though. Urban Pilgrim will be reporting from Sweden starting October 10 and will be better than ever. I am hopeful the excitement and curiosities of Stockholm will breathe new life into this blog, as I chronicle moving to yet another international city I’ve never been to.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my dwindling time here and a trip to Thailand’s Railay Beach this week. Photos of what I hear is the most beautiful beach in Thailand will be shared!