Buying overseas: Cabin fever

The Swedes love their lakeside retreats – and with prices as low as £30,000, it's easy to see why. Now a new agency is spreading the word. Laura Latham reports
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Tucked away on the edge of a forest, just a few yards from the shores of a crystal-blue lake, stands a wooden house. It's not grand – no match, in the bling stakes at least, for anything in Marbella. But it's certainly pretty, the perfect spot for a stroll or swim, maybe an afternoon's sailing. Family-friendly, or ideal for guests, with two bedrooms and plenty of space. And the price: less than £59,000.

For the money, Sweden is about as good as it gets in Europe. Part of the reason you won't have read much about buying houses there is that, until recently, Sweden has been a closed shop to UK buyers. Agents haven't been geared up to sell to the British and, as a result, it has been difficult to get any help when enquiring there.

It was for this reason that Andrew Dempsey, a British businessman, and his Swedish colleague Anders Hagstrom have set up Swedish Homes, a new agency that wants to introduce us to Sweden's huge stock of beautiful rural houses and cabins. "For years, no one has been selling Swedish summer homes to the UK market," explains Dempsey. "It was very frustrating for any buyer who wanted to own there as local agents aren't very accessible. There aren't many places you can buy a decent property in Europe these days for that kind of money. Maybe in some areas of Eastern Europe, but this is Sweden, with all the benefits and world-class facilities that brings."

Swedish Homes specialises in southeast areas of the country, a couple of hours from Stockholm, where there are beautiful stretches of coastline dotted with islands and vast tracts of empty countryside.

The Swedes, says Dempsey, prefer resorts with more amenities, whereas British buyers are happy to tuck themselves away in rural locations. "The Swedes like the west coast, around Gothenburg," Dempsey says, "but along the south and east coast there are some very pretty areas."

Such properties are generally considered to be temporary shelters by the locals. But don't let that put you off. "They are intended to be summer homes but they're solidly built," says Dempsey. "Admittedly, some of them do still have outside toilets, or may not be fully equipped for winter living."

Buyers will have to accept that many of the properties on offer haven't been updated for some time and, therefore, kitchens and bathrooms can be distinctly retro, and most of the decor will be very old-fashioned. "Some places are rather like Seventies holiday cabins," laughs Dempsey, "but you could easily redecorate and install nice kitchens and bathrooms. Extending a rural home isn't usually a problem either." Perhaps it's worth reminding ourselves here that, yes, they do have an Ikea or two in Sweden.

Despite being regarded as a wintry place, temperatures in southern Scandinavia often reach the low thirties from June to September. Sweden is also underpopulated compared with other European countries, and land isn't as heavily built on. The Swedes, therefore, spend their summers sailing, swimming and relaxing on their unspoilt, uncrowded waterways and among the dense forests, before heading back to the cities in autumn.

Many of the available properties are cute one- or two-bedroom cabin-style homes, usually very simple inside and designed for easy rustic living. Some, homes however, are much bigger and grander, with large areas of surrounding land, private boat docks and outbuildings. The fact that locals think of these homes as temporary accommodation (despite being perfectly solid in structure) means that prices haven't escalated in the same way as property elsewhere, and there are real bargains to be had.

A classic red-timber one-bedroom cottage on 1,200 square metres of land, 500 metres from a lake, for example, can cost as little as £28,000. A cute whitewashed two-bed home in need of updating, with water views, can be priced under £30,000. Larger country properties with three to four bedrooms cost from around £40,000, with £50,000 buying more land or a location nearer the coast, and £100,000 will get you a waterfront location with private jetty.

Frank and Diane Billington, from Yorkshire, already have a holiday home in Sweden. They bought a country cottage in the south of the country five years ago, for only £20,000. The couple then spent around £30,000 renovating it, and holiday there four times a year. They decided on Sweden after making several trips there.

"It's a beautiful country," says David Billington, "so peaceful and with close-knit, friendly communities. It's like going back in time."

Having grown to love the country, the couple have now decided that they want to live closer to water. They've put their cottage up for sale and have bought a second home with lake frontage that they also intend to renovate. "The lake is at the bottom of our garden," says Billington, "which is lovely."

The only aspect of Swedish life that Billington thinks might put British buyers off is that, compared with the UK, it can be very quiet.

"Life mainly revolves around being outdoors," he says. "The Swedes are very sociable once you get to know them, but they aren't into pubs and clubs like the British are. They prefer hiking, sailing and skiing. I do love it there, but I also like to come back home now and again for a bit more action!"

Swedish Homes:; 01483 461 770

Buyers' guide

*There are no restrictions on UK citizens owning property in Sweden, and they can live and work there. Anyone making a permanent move must be in employment or have funds to support themselves.

*Property is often sold via auction, with bids being submitted to the estate agent. The buyer and seller are free to pull out at any stage up to the signing of contracts.

*Property sales are highly regulated and usually conducted without lawyers. Surveys are not generally carried out, but a buyer can have legal checks or surveys done prior to purchase.