‘Prove you’re going to stay’: The challenges of buying a home in Denmark as a foreigner

The Local’s readers in Denmark shared their experiences of purchasing a house or apartment in the Nordic country.

'Prove you're going to stay': The challenges of buying a home in Denmark as a foreigner
Foreign house buyers in Denmark are typically asked for a higher downpayment on their mortgages. File photo: Niels Christian Vilmann/Ritzau Scanpix

With skyrocketing house prices in the last year and a half, closely linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, becoming a homeowner in Denmark hasn’t got any easier.

Foreign nationals looking to buy property can face additional challenges, including minimum residency requirements and banks asking for a higher down payment on mortgages.

We asked our readers to share their experiences. Thank you to all who took the time to get in touch.

One issue that was frequently mentioned was the higher down payment lenders ask for from foreign buyers.

“We knew as foreign buyers we had to put down 20 percent down payment in cash,” wrote Ellen, who bought a house in Aalborg with her partner in March this year. Ellen and her partner are both foreign nationals, with one holding an EU citizenship.

“The first question our real estate lawyer asked us was ‘how is your marriage?’ It is fine but this caught us very much by surprise,” she recounted.

Another reader, Paolo, reported “more down payment (sometimes up to 40 percent) and banks would request a proof that ‘we were going to stay in the country’.”

Not being a permanent resident counted against at least one reader when applying for mortgages.

“(Being refused a loan, despite provisional approval in the past) was a common thread with almost every bank we tried; they told us our personal economy was really great, but my lack of permanent residency was a risk. Of course this was never written down, but mentioned in phone calls,” wrote Drew Fremlev Fisher, who was turned down several times along with his Danish partner before eventually being accepted for a mortgage by the Lån og Spar bank.

Foreign nationals who have lived in Denmark for less than five years are required to apply for permission to buy real estate with the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Civil Affairs (Civilstyrelsen). This also applies to Danes who have lived abroad.

This affected the buying process for some of those who wrote in to us, although others described it as “additional paperwork” rather than an obstacle which would prevent buying.

READ ALSO: Danish government refuses to intervene over soaring house prices

“Getting the loan from the bank was difficult since we hadn’t lived in Denmark for five years minimum,” wrote Shweta, who purchased a house in Billund in March 2020.

“We had to go through multiple banks to get a bank loan with a good offer. We also had to get an approval from the government to buy property in Denmark. But it was handled by the real estate people and the approval arrived in a week or two,” Shweta recounted.

That approval was contingent on a condition that Shweta and her partner do not rent out their property.

“If we haven’t lived in Denmark for minimum of five years then we cannot rent out the property under any circumstances. Even if you have to move within the country, you will need to sell the property first,” she said.

Shweta told us that the mortgage taken out by and her partner has better terms than she might have expected in her home country, India.

“The total credit loan at 1 percent per annum was a great surprise and a home loan in India would be much more around 9 percent to 11 percent, I think,” she wrote.

Ellen mentioned another key difference compared to buying a home in the United States.

“In the US we have a real estate agent for both the buyer and the seller. Here in Denmark the real estate agent is only for the seller,” she wrote.

Another reader, Craig, also found that estate agents operate differently in Denmark.

“Estate agents work on a very different basis in Denmark compared to back home in South Africa where they charge a higher percentage than in Denmark but do not get a guaranteed monthly salary,” he wrote.

“The expectation of having to pay the agency fees after the agency contract has expired is also somewhat onerous, especially when the house has still not sold and the period is never-ending or you have to find a new agent and cannot self-sell,” Craig added.

“Holding an open house for only 30 minutes, with little or no warning is not what we were used to back home,” he also said.

In the later stages of the buying process, some were impressed by the efficiency of the handover once a sale had been agreed.

“It was incredibly quick to go through the purchase process once we had the money in place. About 2 weeks,” wrote Fiona Smith.

“We received an email from the sellers (the agent) saying ‘congratulations!’ before we’d actually paid the money but because we’d fulfilled all the criteria, the house was deemed to be ours,” she explained.

“We’re both British and in the UK pretty much anything could happen until you literally have the keys in your hand and contracts exchanged so that was a very pleasant surprise (and one we didn’t quite trust until we’d paid!),” Fiona said.

READ ALSO: How the cost of renting an apartment in Copenhagen compares to other cities in Denmark

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What you need to know about Denmark’s housing ‘energimærke’

Denmark uses a graded marking system for buildings including houses, indicating energy efficiency and giving important information to homebuyers.

What you need to know about Denmark’s housing 'energimærke'

The energy marking – called an energimærke in Danish – is an indicator of the amount of energy a building uses and is a form guidance that can be used by potential buyers of a property, the Danish Energy Agency (Energistyrelsen) explains.

In addition to being an easy-reference grading that is attached to a property, the system also provides an outline of valuable improvements that could be made to the building’s energy properties.

Houses, public buildings and business properties are all given an energy mark, but people hoping to become homeowners in Denmark are naturally most likely to be interested in how the system works for the first of these three categories.

A building must be given an energy marking whenever it is put up for sale or rented out. You’ll see the relevant letter on listings on estate agents’ websites, allowing you to compare the energy markings of different properties.

The marking given to a building can range from A to G, with A the best rating and G the worst.

The ‘A’ score is further divided into three sub-scores: A-2020, A-2015 and A-2010. The more recent the year, the better the rating. These were introduced after new types of building and low energy houses were developed and are usually only seen on new builds.

What do the letters mean?

The energy markings are based on calculations of the energy consumption of the property, which in turn indicates how efficient it is.

The marking is given following assessment by a consultant who takes measurements and looks at factors including the quality of the insulation, windows and doors and the heating system. Overall energy consumption is then calculated, factoring in standardised values for weather, number of occupants and use patterns.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this calculated energy consumption (beregnet forbrug) on which the energy marking is derived can be different from the actual consumption of the occupants.

For example, some people tend to save on energy use in their homes by switching off lights, taking cold showers and using appliances at night, while others leave windows open when the heating is on or have occupants with high-use habits, such as people who work from home or spend extended hours using desktop computers for gaming.

READ ALSO: How people in Denmark are changing their energy use to keep bills down

This means that the actual energy consumption of the house or building depends on who is using it. The energy marking is based on standardised, assumed consumption values. It provides information on the quality of the building, rather than on how it is used currently.

Additionally worth noting is that the energy used to supply a building is only part of the calculation when assessing the grade it should be awarded. Also factored in are the technical properties of the hardware, such as a water pump, installed in the building.

The type of energy used to supply the building and the way it is produced also plays a role. Electricity, district heating, oil, gas and firewood all have different ‘factors’ which are accounted for in the overall calculation. These values are not static: a building’s energy marking can change if it gets a new energy source as national or regional infrastructures or technology are changed.

These energy factors come from an EU building directive that forms the framework of Denmark’s energy marking system.

You can find the energy marking of any building in Denmark on the Energy Agency’s website.

Why is the energy marking important when buying a home? 

A good energy marking tells you that a house or apartment is relatively cheap to heat and holds in heat well while also holding up to ventilation needs, real estate media Bolius notes.

It can also tell you that a building has efficient heating sources or something like solar panels, which will help give it a better grading.

The current climate of high energy prices mean that the energy marking can make a huge difference in your living costs. The same house heated by an ageing individual gas heater will be much less efficient – and have a lower marking – than one on the district heating network.

READ ALSO: European electricity prices soar as tough winter looms

Homes with good energy markings can often be sold for more than ones with worse ratings, if all other factors are equal.

Potential homebuyers should be interested in the energy rating of a house or building because it gives an idea of the condition of the property in terms of its energy efficiency: how well insulated and economical it is, how much it costs to heat up and how much electricity it is likely to use.

When houses are put on the market, sellers are obliged by law to provide an energy marking (with the exception of properties under 60 square metres, but a report can also be requested in these cases). Energy markings are valid for 10 years and can normally be reused within this timeframe, unless major changes are made to the building.

This means that a report is produced or already exists, telling interested buyers not only what the rating of the house is, but also what potential improvements could be made to make it more efficient.

A report might, for example, state that added roof insulation or switching out an individual gas heater and joining the district heating network would pay off in the long term through saved energy costs.

The report helpfully points out three specific places in the building which are the most suitable for energy improvements, Bolius notes, while also providing information on all other potential upgrades.

In addition to potential savings on energy, you can also see how much you will reduce CO2 emissions by carrying out the recommended renovations.

What should sellers be aware of?

Sellers are responsible for ensuring an energy marking is provided when they put their house on the market.

If the property is being sold using an estate agent, the agency will normally arrange this.

People who own apartments must request the assessment through the association (ejerforening or andelsforening depending on the ownership structure) that manages the building. This is because the energy marking is not calculated based on the individual apartment, but on the entire building within the relevant ownership association.

Sellers may also consider carrying out energy renovations before putting their house on the market. According to Bolius, several studies have shown that a better energy marking results in a better selling price. The average house will net the seller an average 500 kroner extra per square metre for every letter by which the energy marking is upgraded.

A subsidy scheme for energy renovations, ‘Bygningspuljen’, was launched by the Energy Agency in 2020.