Hidden gems: Finding housing in Stockholm

Published February 2016 in collaboration between Invest Stockholm and The Local.

It’s no secret that finding housing in Stockholm can be a challenge – but it’s far from impossible. And a few insider tips can make it quick work. Expat Mihaela Novac shares her secret approach – and why the suburbs are where it’s at. 

Finding housing in Stockholm can be rough. Most expats aren’t in a position to buy a flat outright, and first-hand leases are extremely hard to come by. That leaves many foreign professionals left figuring out the complicated subletting market on their own.

But Mihaela Novac isn’t complaining. With the right mindset and a little patience, she and her family found home, sweet home, just a short commute from her downtown office.

“Finding housing was actually not as hard as I expected,” the Bucharest native says. “You just have to know what you’re looking for.”

Novac, whose family made the decision to move to Stockholm to pursue her husband’s new business opportunities, is Chief Marketing Officer at startup Tinitell. The couple now lives in a house on the island of Lidingö with their 5-year-old son.

At first the family tried looking for a home online from Bucharest.

“My colleagues were all very helpful, helping me try to find an apartment to rent,” she says. “We had a few options, but none of them worked out. I realized I had to actually be in Stockholm to find a place.”

I realized I had to actually be in Stockholm to find a place.

Novac found a place to stay via Air Bnb for the first two weeks and made the move, using those early days on her own to look for a place for her family. She tried popular Swedish buy-sell site Blocket, as well as other housing services. While her efforts gave her plenty of hands-on experience about how to search the housing market, she still struggled to find a suitable home.

“On Blocket usually 100 people apply within 15 minutes,” she remarks.

But for Novac – an expat already drawn to the Stockholm startup scene – another startup ended up having the answer.

“The startup world is a small world, and someone recommended Qasa. Knowing the startup environment I figured it would be a good thing to try.”

Qasa, a member of the SUP46 startup collective, is an online platform for housing-sublets that offers a hassle-free and personal experience to landlords and tenants alike. The startup handles all payments and makes it virtually impossible for either party to get cheated.

“It has a clean layout and it’s very user friendly,” Novac adds. “And it was pretty new and not many people knew about it yet – so there wasn’t as much competition as Blocket.”

Users register on the site with their Swedish identity number (personnummer) and create a profile. When they see an apartment they’re interested in, they can apply with the click of a button. If the person who listed the apartment thinks they’re a good match, then they will contact the user.

Of course, when Novac first moved to Stockholm she didn’t have a personal number – and she worried her apartment-hunting attempts would be thwarted.

“I hadn’t received my number yet, and basically all the housing portals require that number,” she explains.

At Qasa it wasn’t a problem.

“I called the customer support and told them my situation, and they helped me sign up even without a personal number,” she says.

But at the heart of Novac’s success was the fact that she didn’t insist on living in the heart of Stockholm.

“Initially we were just looking at the city centre: Vasastan, Östermalm, Kungsholmen, Södermalm. We imagined that the other areas weren’t great, were too far away, and weren’t as safe,” she explains. They thought the suburbs and outskirts of Stockholm would be similar to London, and that living outside the city centre would mean a lengthy, stressful commute each day.

But they quickly discovered that wasn’t the case – and indeed, the true gems sometimes lie in unexpected places.

“We were looking for a house rather than an apartment, so we started looking in Bromma and Lidingö,” she says.

The family quickly found a contract on a house on Lidingö, and it was perfect. Novac loves the fact that her son can play in the woods at kindergarten, and she’s still close to work.

“Lidingö isn’t part of Stockholm municipality, but it is still a part of Stockholm. I’m just 25 minutes away from the office.” 

Lidingö isn’t part of Stockholm municipality, but it is still a part of Stockholm. I’m just 25 minutes away from the office.

Novac says it may be a common misconception for expats that they need to live in the city centre – but the more peaceful suburbs can be a much better option. There are dozens of accessible options including places like Kista, Årsta, Alvik, Bromma, Lidingö, Sundbyberg, Täby, Solna, and Danderyd.

“I thought it would be really far away. I thought I wanted to live in the city. But it’s close by, peaceful, and full of nature.”

No matter what you’re looking for, Novac advises, it’s important to stay focused when hunting for a home in Stockholm.

“You should know exactly what you’re looking for and how much you are willing to pay,” she says.

“It’s not like you can’t find housing in Stockholm. You just have to know what you're looking for and be open to discovering the city.”

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