Tuesday, May 29, 2007

apartment hunt status

Minna asked me "How's the flat hunting? Have you found anything suitable?"

"Suitable" has so many dimensions. I found a place I would like to live. It's a 1 bedroom place (2 r.o.k) in Majorna, in the same complex where one of the AstraZeneca people I work with lives. Very nice. I walked into it and like the feel, both of the apartment and the building. The neighborhood's not was I was thinking of, but it's a very nice neighborhood. I had the idea that there would be more restaurants and things nearby. Still a nice neighborhood, and I'm thinking I might like it better.

It's 58 sq. meters, so a bit less than what I've been looking for, but also cheaper. The asking price was 1 260 000 or so. I expected the final bid to be about 20% higher, which is a bit over 1,5 million kronor ($220,000). Last I talked with the real estate agent, current bid price was 1,6 million ($234,000). That's getting pretty expensive.

(Note: it's morning now. I was woken up by the real estate agent's phone call that the current bid is 1 630 000:-. If I were to make a counter offer it would be for 1 650 000:-, which is $241,000.

Mortgages here have a minimum of 10% down. US was typically 20% down but now so-called "80/10/10" is more common, which is effectively the local system - 80% first mortgage, 10% second, and 10% down. Here it's the same. There's a "bottom loan" which is about 80-85% of the loan, and a "top loan" which covers the gap between the bottom loan and the down payment.

If I bid and win at 1,65 million and put 345 000 SEK down, that's 20% down, so I can stay with the bottom loan. I'm trying to figure out if I can afford it. In the US I could -- that's about what I was paying for my house in Santa Fe. Here? I don't understand how to use this online mortgage calculator. One that I used said it would be well within my means. The one I'm trying now says I'll pay almost $2,000/month. But that's obviously wrong as otherwise I would pay off the loan in about 15 year, when I selected "40 year mortgage". Most likely I don't know what interest rate to use.

I have an appointment at the bank at 1:30 to figure this out. Immediately afterwards I'll call the real estate agent to let him know the good/bad news. You all can figure for yourself which outcome is "good" (have place, spend beau coup bucks) or "bad" (continue searching, look for smaller place and spend less money).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

apt. buying

(I wrote a long blog post last week for Mother's Day, with pictures of Göteborg and running commentary. Worked on it for many hours. Just at the end my laptop crashed. Had never saved the article. Hadn't even thought of it. All gone. As I write this now I see that within the last week Blogger will autosave. One week too late for me.)

I spent a lot of time this week working on understanding Swedish real estate. I mentioned some of the generalities earlier, but when it get to spending about $200,000 on something I would like to know what I'm getting into. When you see a place the real estate agent includes details about the housing associations economics. It's the summary of the buget for the past couple of years, what was done, the loans that are outstanding, how long it's been since the plumbing and electrical were replaced, the cost of power and heating per square meter, and so on, and so on, and so on. It uses Swedish accounting terms, which are for the most part ones I hadn't seen before.

The association uses another company to do some of the work, like the auditing, but they do some of it themselves. For example, the owners of the one I was looking at are in charge of cleaning the stairwells ("trapphus" = "stair house") and the inner yard, as well as clearing the snow off the yard and roof. I couldn't figure out if that means the association contracts out that work themselves or literally do it themselves. Would I be expected to go up on the roof and clear off snow in the highly unlikely case of Göteborg having more than 1/4" of snow?

I went by Fastighetsbyrån to ask. They are the agents for the apartment. I've been by there a couple of times as I ask questions. They have been very helpful and patient. They are tied to Swedbank, and the service at both places has been excellent. On Wednesday Charlotte and I did the conversation almost all in Swedish, making it the longest hard conversation I've had. There were many side steps to work around things I didn't know, but it worked. I got enough of an understanding to go back and work on mre questions to ask.

Thursday was a "red day" here - a public holiday. They are colored red on the calendar, hence the name. Laura and Jacob hosted a game day in the afternoon, with board games, dinner, conversation, and fun. I asked various Swedes for input on how to interpret the budget. Turns out relatively few had lived in a bostadsrättförening, which surprises me still. But I got a lot of helpful feedback.

The bidding process started on Friday. There are a couple of days for it to be up for bid. Quite a different process than in the US, except in the hottest markets. The asking price, and hence the first bid, is SEK 1 590 000 or US $232,000. By the time I gave up it had gotten to SEK 1 880 000 or $275,000 which was well over the limit I set for myself. There is a tradeoff in location, size, and money. I want something at least 55 square meters, but more like 62. That's barely doable in Linnégatan.

Before then, on that Friday, I talked with Sandra, who is the main real estate agent in charge. She's managing the auction. This time I asked more detailed questions, like "why was there a net deficit of 50,000:- this year and 150,000:- in the next?". Because of the money involved and the stress we talked in English. I got the answers, and learned more about life in a bostadsrätt association. I think I now have a decent understanding of what's going on here. Nothing like jumping in the deep end. Sandra pointed out that I probably know it better now than most Swedes!

Sweden is a highly democratic country. The association has a "styrelse", which is a the "board" of the association. It's probably related to the word "att styra" which I only knew as "to steer" but which also means "to rule" or "to govern". In my head I translate "styrelse" to "steering committee". You have shares in the association, and hence voting rights. You can review the books, become a member of the board, and so on.

In general it's very easy to start a förening. A lot of people here should have practice in reviewing books, etc. which should make this a natural place to start small companies. Especially with nationalized health car that puts the onus off the startup to pay the medical insurance bills like in the US. But the general policies here are against starting companies, though that's less so now than in the past, especially with the new government. So I hear.

That evening I went to Raquel's to meet some tango people. I had bumped into her by happenstance. Because of all the people visiting the House of a Thousand Wows I stayed with some others on Linnégatan. I was coming home from tango on Tuesday when I saw someone who looked familiar going to the 7-11 that I was walking by. She invited me to the small dinner party she was hosting that Friday. With the house buying I decided to skip the dinner but went by later for the conversation and dancing. Also there were Lars, Debora, Eva and ... a woman whose name I forgot. Grr. Silly memory.

The housing search continues. Debora is gone for two months so I might talk with her more on her offer of staying at her place for a while while I search. Laura and Jacob are wonderful hosts but I don't want to overstay my welcome. She's in Kungladugård, which is the other side of Slottskogen ("The Castle Forest" - a large city park) from the end of Linnégatan. That would give me a chance to see what it's like living in that area.

Strange. I just looked at a listing in that area. The biggest room - the living room - is only accessible through the bedroom.

Must remember that I can buy a bike. This is a decently bike friendly town. Except for the rain.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Jag hjälpade Johan att flytta hans stereo när vi kom hos honom för att dans tango. Jag bar högtalaren. Den stod på golvet, därför jag kallade den en lågtalare.

Det sägs att Göteborgshumor är en "typ av humor bygger ofta på ordvitseri." Jag tror att den är staden för mig, eller hur?

Some background for translation: "högtalare" means "loudspeaker". "Hög" means both "loud" and "high". "Låg" means "low", as in "not high".

I helped Johan move his stereo when when went to his place to dance tango. I carried his loudspeaker. It was on the floor, so I called it a "lowspeaker".

It's said (on the Swedish Wikipedia entry for Gothenburg) that Gothenburg's humor is a "type of humor building often on word puns." I think that this is the city for me - what do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2007


I got my personnummer in the mail today, only three days after asking for it. Good efficiency that.

It's the Swedish tax/personal registration number, somewhat like the US Social Security number. Unlike in the US it's a very public number. It's used often. When you move you're supposed to tell the authorities within a week. They'll update your registration, and the change propogates to those who are interested. For example, there's no need to tell the bank your new address because they'll get it from the tax authorities.

My number is 700822-2817. It has internal meaning. Since most people reading this don't read Swedish, I'll translate the high points. "De sex första siffrorna beskriver personens födelsedatum." means "The first six digits denote the person's birthday." Now everyone knows how old I am. "De påföljande tre är ett löpnummer" means "The next three numbers are a serial number" (literally a "run number"). "där tredje siffran beskriver personens kön – jämn siffra för kvinnor och udda för män." means "the third digit denotes the person's gender – even digit for women and odd for men". Yep, I'm odd. This suggests there were about 140 men registered in Sweden with my birthday.

I was curious about the serial number. The Swedish tax authority's personnummer document says that until 1990 it was assigned serially but now it's generated randomly. Looks like I'm not part of a cohort of 140. The numbers worked out nicely though; 140 on that day * 365 days * 2 genders * 70 years average lifetime gives a population estimate of 7 million, which is close enough given the one sample.

The "-" character means I am under 100 years old, else it would be a "+". The last digit is a checksum digit. ("kontrollsiffra" directly means "control digit".) The algorithm is described in that PDF. It's a simple algorithm using the pattern 2121212. checksum("700822281") = 10-(sum_of_digits(2*7,1*0,2*0,1*8,2*2,1*2,2*8,1*1)%10) = 10-(sum(1,4,0,0,8,4,2,4,8,2)%10) = 10-(33%10) = 10-3 = 7.

Once I got my number, I went to Swedbank to ask about opening an account there. Yesterday I went to two other banks. Swedbank had by far the best service and were the most helpful. They also came recommended by Laura and Jacob. When I went to the other banks I was surprised at the response. In most US banks if you say "I'm going to open a personal account, deposit a chunk of money into it for a down payment on an apartment, I'll need a loan for the rest of the price, and I'll start a business account in a few months" then you'll get to talk to a representative one-on-one, or directed to the main branch where you can get that level of service.

Swedbank was what I expected. I opened a personal account there. Now I need to figure out how to get a wire transfer to it. I know the IBAN but the US isn't part of the IBAN system.

I then went on a tour of Majorna and Masthugget, to get a feel for those areas. Those and Linnéstan are where I'm most likely to find a place to stay. The prices are lower than in Vasastan and I want a 1 bedroom place which is around 60m2 and with a decent enough living room area for a dance party.

I decided that Majorna - which is the cheapest of the places I was considering - was too far from the center, where all the cafes, restaurants, and excitement are. So Linné or Masthugget. There are about 10 viewings in that area next weekend.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


which means "apartments" in Swedish. I started looking for a place to live. I'm staying at the House of a Thousand Wows until I find one. One "wow" is that Laura and Jacob are letting me do that. Yesterday (Monday), after I went by the tax office to request a personnummer, I went to Boplats Göteborg. They mostly deal in 1st hand rental contracts. There are 1st hand and 2nd hand rental contracts, and I won't go into the details now.

I registered on their web site and searched for the type of place I wanted (center of town, around 60 sq meters, <$1200/month). There were 4 hits. One was for people 55 or over so 3 real hits. I couldn't figure out what a column was in the results table so I asked. It was the number of people who have expressed interest in a given apartment. The one that looked the most interesting to me had almost 4,000 people interested in it.

Yes, 4 thousand. What's the point then of being one more in that crowd? The woman there at the office said that was not unusual. I had heard that getting a rental place in Gbg was hard, but that was incredible. Jacob enlightened me somewhat. Places here are rent controlled, based mostly on living area. That keeps the prices down, but means that a lot of people want what places are available.

It's easier to buy a place here then it is to rent. Yesterday evening I started looking for an apartment to buy. This follows the pattern I did in Santa Fe, where I looked at a few rental places and decided to buy a house instead. Proved to be a good decision.

The web sites for apartment rentals are very bad. They are cumbersome and hard to use. By comparison, the ones for buying are wonderful. Of course, there's more profit for the real estate people, but I think also that because so many people want to rent a place they are willing to put a lot of time in to go through a bad user interface.

One of the things I learned in doing the research to buy here is that another reason to buy instead of rent is the tax discount. That's like in the US too, but I didn't know how things were structured here.

I'm looking for a bostadsrätt apartment. "Bo" = "live", "bostad" = "place to live", "rätt" = "right". Apartment buildings here can be structured (are often? are always?) structured as a co-op. That's rare in the US outside of New York City. Looking at Wikipedia there are differences between a bostadsrättförening and a housing co-op. I know the Swedish system better.

The building is owned by the association ("förening"), which is basically a non-profit. The people who live in the apartment own shares in the association. These are voting shares, and not ownership shares. Jacob says that means the value of the building is therefore not included as part of your personal wealth. Important in a country that until recently had a weath tax in addition to income tax. A member gets the right to live in one of the apartments. (Hence the term "bostadsrätt".)

How will Lesley figure out my taxes? How will I figure out my Swedish taxes? Good thing I've been careful not to mingle personal and business accounts. Still, I'll need two accountants for the indefinite future too.

Going back to the apartment search. I went online and found about 20 that were in the rough area I wanted, of the right size, etc. The price for an apartment like I want goes for about $250,000. That's a 1bd apartment (here called "2 r.o.k" meaning "2 rooms and a kitchen"), or possibly a 2. There's a tradeoff between having a larger living room, which can be converted into a dance floor, vs. having a smaller bedroom for a home office. Still debating that in my head.

After going through the options I picked the ones with showings today. There were three I was interested in. All three were nice inside. One was in Guldheden, which is right above Chalmers. It's atop the hill and has a great view overlooking the city. But it's uphill and a bit far from the places I want to be.

The second was in Linnéstan (the Linné part of town, named after Linnaeus). Great section of town; close to lots of restaurant, bars, shops, and more. The wallpaper wasn't my choice of patterns but otherwise nice. Bedroom was airy and sunny, what with two windows. Handy in the winter I imagine.

The third was in Masthugget. It's very close to Oceanen, which is where I got tango and salsa dancing. Across the street is a grocery store, and on the other side of that is the tram stop for 3 different tram lines, all going into town. The apartment was on the top floor, which gave me a problem. It has a nice balcony, but there's nothing between it and the ground far below. It's enough to trigger my fear of heights. I could bear it, but wouldn't enjoy it. Great views though.

All three had many other visitors while I was there, with the last being the most popular. I'm estimating that any one place in the areas I'm looking will have 40-50 people viewing it. Some subset will bid on the place. If more than one then there's a bidding contest. Usually places here go within a week or two.

Heikki's house in the UK, in a small town south of Cambridge, was on the market for over a year. My house in Santa Fe was on the market for a couple of months.

I won't have a personnumber/tax id for another few days. Once I have that I can open a bank account. I'll also be talking with the bank (I don't think there are mortgage companies here) about getting a loan, and what my options are. I've got money from selling my house in the US, which will make for a good down payment. I'm told normal is 10% down but I'ld rather do higher as I've got the money and I think real estate here is likely to be a good investment.


On Sunday I was walking to the tram stop to go tango dancing on the wharf near Röda Sten. In Swedish we were dancing on "Ångbåtsbryggan" which means "Ång" = "steam", "båt" = "boat", "bygga" = "pier" or "quay", "n" for definite article => "the steam boat pier". Strangly enough, bryggdans, meaning "quayside dancing", is in that dictionary. Which implies something about the frequency of dancing there? Oh, and American English I never use "quay". To me it's a strange British/Commonwealth thing.

Okay, so I was walking to the tram stop and saw someone from AstraZeneca. Said hello. Earlier today, in Masthugget, I saw someone I knew from tango, biking by. It was directly across from Oceanen, where I go tango dancing, but it wasn't tango dancing night there. After tango dancing (which was in Vasastan) I dropped by my favorite street kitchen and said hello to the guy I know there working behind the counter. Hadn't seen him since I was here in January. I carried the frequent visit stamp card around with me, as a memory. It was fun to drop in late at night, people partying on the streets, and chat with him a bit while getting a late supper.

And sometimes my stomach just yearns for a burger and fries, and they do a pretty good one.

I like that I can walk around town and bump into people I know. That happens surprisingly rarely in Santa Fe, even after 8 years.

And I like that now when people ask "how long are you here this time" I can respond "I have my residency permit, so I'll be here at least a year." Emily, I think it was, asked me yesterday if people have started treating my different now that I actually live here, vs. being just a visitor. I'm not sure. Perhaps. It does feel different. I can make plans for more than a few months ahead.