Tag Archives: house hunting


Post-Apartment Hunting (the application process)

Post-Apartment Hunting (the application process)

You didn’t think I’d actually finished the Apartment-Hunting series of posts did you?  Good, because I haven’t! 😉

As mentioned in part 4 of the series, there is still alot to do once you’ve settled on a place.  The main difference is that you can pretty much take your own time in finding your ideal home/apartment (at least in my situation – others may have a deadline of some sort and hence don’t have the luxury I did of taking almost a YEAR in my search).  Once you’ve decided on a place though, things start going fast.

Once you’ve decided on a place, your agent will then start the paperwork involved.  You’re going to be required to give information about your income, current residence, phone numbers, company information/contact info…and most importantly, guarantor.

The guarantor is basically the one your landlord is going to fall back on if you default on your rent.  Hence, they typically require that your guarantor be someone in your immediate family, such as parents, grandparents, in-laws, or siblings.  Most traditional landlords require a guarantor.  However, if you’re staying in a guesthouse (like Sakura House) or other hotel/motel/hostel, or other foreigner-friendly accommodation, you probably won’t need one.

For those who prefer not to involve family members, or simply don’t have Japanese relatives, there are also companies that offer guarantor services.  Typically, they charge one month’s rent for the duration of the lease.  One month’s rent may not sound like too much, but believe me, the costs add up!

In my case, I’m applying for an older apartment, one whose owners are more traditional – meaning I was required to have a guarantor.  Being a dual citizen, I do have relatives in Japan… but they are not “immediate” relatives (great-uncle/great-aunt) so I was still told that I needed to use a guarantor company.  I was lucky though, that I was able to get a 50% discount by asking my relatives to be my “co-guarantors”.

Aside from the initial flurry of gathering all the necessary information (copy of ID’s, personal phone numbers, guarantor information, company information, etc.), there’s not much to do after that except wait.  After you’ve given them all that info, they will proceed to review it to determine whether or not one is a suitable candidate for renting their  property.  During this period is also a good time to request any changes, or make any negotiations if you haven’t already done so.

For example, I was able to knock off 2,000 yen off the rent (woohoo, big deal you might say, but that still translates to 24,000 yen a year/48,000 yen for 2 years!).  I also requested that they fix the entrance door (which had a tendency to stick), and (based on S’s suggestion), request that they install screens on the balcony doors.  Other things one can possibly request are the installation of air conditioners (this place already had one), and if you’re really lucky, a gas countertop cooker (my place doesn’t have one, and they were not willing to install it for me).

Negotiations notwithstanding, it took about 2 weeks from the time I decided on the place to the day I actually put the final stamp (literally – they’re called “hanko“) on the paperwork.

And… here I am!  I’ve been in my place for almost a month and a half (already!!), and though it’s still messy, it’s very slowly starting to get organized.  I’ve been going out after work almost daily to search for furniture and appliances and I think that by this weekend, I should be about 90% done.

Pictures will be forthcoming eventually, and I may also do a write-up on the furniture/appliance hunting process. 🙂


It’s happening!

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After…. goodness, almost a year, it looks like I’m finally ready to move!  I concluded part 4 of my “Apartment Hunting” series of posts by mentioning that I had found one potential apartment.  And… I found out on Tuesday that the last obstacle (guarator documents) went through successfully so I will be getting it!

There will be more writeups about the application process (mostly involves a lot of waiting on my part) and of course the move!  As a heads up though, since the move will be happening THIS WEEKEND (ohmygoshthatslessthanaweekaway), blog posts may be a little infrequent for a while…

So much to think about, to buy, to pack, to arrange… Ze money, it vanishes before my eyes!! 😯

Experiences Thoughts

Apartment Hunting in Tokyo – Part 4

This is Part 4 of my experiences house/apartment-hunting in Japan.  For Part 1 please click HERE, for Part 2 please click HERE, and for Part 3 please click HERE.

I think I’ve dragged this topic on for long enough – let me see if I can wrap things up with this post!

I last ended by stating that I decided to visit other agencies after learning that I no longer had any particular reason to stick to just one.  To make a long story short, I ended up going to a lot of different agencies, and exploring a lot of different stations.  I have to say that it was good way for me to get to know more about Tokyo.  I tend to stick to familiar venues and this encouraged me to explore areas/stations around the Tokyo area that I’d never been to in my 7+ years in Japan.  But… I still wasn’t satisfied with what I was finding.  I’m pretty picky, I know, especially considering the fact that I’ve been living in a 5.5 tatami room for the past 3 years – wouldn’t ANYTHING be an upgrade from that?  But I still kept holding off… until now.

About a month ago, I sought out the advice of a friend who deals in real estate investment (he was a former classmate of mine, and I helped him set up the first incarnation of his company website before he needed to upgrade to a site that could handle more complexity).  After talking with him, he offered to keep an eye out for available properties for me as well.  It helped that he was a little more firm with me, telling me to choose the top 3 criteria that I was looking for in a property.  That proved to be a little difficult (I had too many criteria!) but I managed to isolate 4 “main” points.

It also helped that I had already gone to so many other real estate agencies by now and visited so many other places because that gave me slightly more realistic expectations of what I could get given my budget because, really, I wanted everything.  For example (and these are points that other people house-hunting may want to take into consideration:

Size: a big point for me.  I’ve been spoiled by living in countries where land wasn’t prohibitively expensive (think Africa and Indonesia) and I wanted a little more than the average 20sqm.  You’ve got 1R (one room), 2K (2 rooms and a kitchen), 2DK (2 rooms and a kitchen that can theoretically hold a “dining” table), 1LDK (1 living room/dining room, kitchen, and single room), 2LDK, and more variations.  I was fixated on getting at least 2 separate rooms and a kitchen area, so at minimum 2K.
Cost: Of course this will the number one issue for most, and if you refer to my 3rd part in this post series, you’ll get an idea of what areas are more expensive than others.  For example, JPY100,000 can probably get you 2 (small) rooms and a dining area in the Northeast.  However, you can count yourself lucky to get a single room for JPY100,000 in the Northwest.
Furnishings: Most places do NOT include a fridge, furniture, washing machine, or cooking range.  If you’re lucky (or are have more money than I did) you can get a place with an A/C and maaaaybe lights.  If you’re really lucky (or again, have more money) you can also get a place with a “washlet/warmlet”! (one of those toilet contraptions that keep your butt warm – very nice in cold weather, I have to say…)
Proximity to station: also important for me.  I currently live about a 35 minute walk away from the station by foot so I need to catch a bus every morning – a bus that’s usually not on time.  I wanted something under 10min away from the station.

There are alot of other things to consider.  For example, distance from work (usually a very important point, unless you have a family and need the space but simply can’t afford to live downtown), nearby facilities (gym, supermarket, combini, dry cleaners, etc), greenery (if you want a park), pets (most places do NOT allow them so if you need a pet-friendly place, make sure your agent knows ahead of time!), musical instruments (many places do not allow these either but it depends on the instrument), parking, internet/TV availability, elevators (some places don’t have elevators – despite the fact that the room may be on the 3rd or 4th floor!)…the list goes on.  Heck, one selling point of Japanese properties is the fact that a room’s windows face East or South.  (East means you get the morning sunlight, South is popular because you get the least amount of sunlight in summer, and the most in winter – good natural cooling/heating system)

In my case though, particularly given my budget, I really needed to focus on my “needs” as opposed to my “wants”.  So this was the list of 4 points that I felt I “needed”.

  • 1) Proximity to work (under 30 minutes by train would be ideal)
  • 2) Cost (looking for something in the 105,000 range (including maintenance fees)
  • 3) Distance from station (under 10 minutes)
  • 4) Size (hoping for something around 40sqm – or at least 2K)

With that info, my friend was able to start looking around.  It’s worth noting that despite the economic recession, GOOD properties still get snapped up at an astonishing rate.  It doesn’t matter that I was doing my search during the “off-season” (technically the “busy season” for the real estate industry is during the holiday periods (such as Golden week) or the end of the fiscal year (late May/early April).  Very often my friend would find some potential places but they’d be taken before we even had a chance to visit them!  But perhaps my long search is over…

It took almost 2 months (he started from early March) from the time he started (and almost a year since I first started searching!) but he’s found a place in Minami-Senju that I’m going to try to apply for.  It’s a 2DK apartment, costing JPY105,000 per month, 30 minutes by train from the office, and less than 10 minutes to the station.  I think part of the reason I’m jumping on this is because I’m simply tired of searching, but I have to say that I also like the area (peaceful, not too much hustle and bustle), and though it’s near a cemetary (a big turn-off for many Japanese) the area is being built up a little so not too out in the boonies.  The application is being examined by the property management company as I type!

Woo!  That concludes my current experiences with house-hunting in Japan.  Actually… I guess I will be writing more about this – issues of cost, working through the application process, the moving experience, buying appliances/furniture – it should provide me with much more writing material 🙂

Wish me luck that I get this place! (^_^)

P.S. Here are a few of the agencies/websites I tried!

Able – 50% (as of this writing) discount on the agent fee!

Minimini – also 50% off!

Housing Japan – the first agency I used, focused on downtown Tokyo and very foreigner-friendly!

Mitsui Fudousan Group – a large presence in Tokyo, but a bit above my pay range.

Forrent – A popular site listing many properties (all Japanese though)

Yahoo! Property Search – Another aggregate of listings

Experiences Thoughts

Apartment Hunting in Tokyo – Part 3

This is Part 3 of my experiences house/apartment-hunting in Japan.  For Part 1 please click HERE, and for Part 2 please click HERE.

I concluded Part 2 of my house-hunting experiences by explaining why I had been exclusively using one agent, and that I had resumed my search around the end of January 2009.  I haven’t been an easy customer for my agent.  For one, I (or rather my company, but I’m still the client) kept them waiting for 3 months whilst I sought approval.  Another thing that made things difficult for the agency (and this is something that would apply to any other agent as well) is that I had no clear idea of where I wanted to live.  Rather, I just vaguely said “oh, anywhere within 40 minutes of my office is fine”.  One would think that such a generalization would make it easy for an agency to find many property listings, but that is not actually the case.

There are scores of stations all around Tokyo, some cheaper than others, some more popular/hip than others, some considered “old” city, some known for their proximity to “green” areas like parks – the list goes on.  In general, what I’ve been told from a friend is as follows:

Southwest good image and expensive area
Northwest local residential image and less expensive than Southwest area
Southeast local residential image and viewed cheaper than Northwest area
Northeast slightly negative image and usually cheaper than other areas

(all “compass points” are referenced from the map of the Tokyo Metro.  ie Ueno is North, Mita is South, and so forth)

Guess which area I’m considering! (hint: I’m not exactly Rockefeller..(^_^;

Imagined prosperity of the areas aside, I’ve learned that superstition has also played a role in determining which areas are more popular, particularly in regards to the Northeast.  According to Chinese belief (Onmyodo), demons or “bad/negative” air came out of the Northeast (why, I’m not exactly sure).  Thus traditionally the Japanese tended to avoid living in those areas.  It’s one of the major reasons why the Asakusa, Senjo-ji, and Kanei-ji temples (among many many others) are located in the Northeastern part of Tokyo – to protect/defend against bad luck/evil spirits.  Such beliefs are much less prevalent in this day and age, but superstition lingers even now and continues to affect the “image” of particular areas.  (not that I particularly mind – particularly if it means that I’ll get a decent place for less!)

Since I did not care about “image”,  it made things even more difficult for my agent to find a place for me.  We visited a number of places (agencies here , especially the larger ones, will very often drive you to potential properties, making it possible to visit multiple places in a single day) but I couldn’t find something I liked.  It was either too small, or the layout was not good, or the bathroom/kitchen was too cruddy, or there was no supermarket/store in the vicinity, too far from station, too far away from the office, too expensive… on and on and on.  I’m surprised the agent stuck with me for as long as they did!

Around the first week of March I found a place in Kita-Senju that I considered a possibility.  It was still about 10 minutes away from the station, but it was directly over a combini, and Kita-Senju itself has 2 large department stores.  It is also a large station with a number of connecting lines – as well as being 30 minutes away from my office!  I decided to go for it and submitted the application to my company to see if they would supplement any of the initial one-time costs (key money, deposit, etc).  Guess what?  Turns out that would NOT assist with costs.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised – it was a bad time to be asking for financial assistance from a financial company (early 2009, when businesses were still reeling from the economic turmoil)  However I was rather miffed; the whole reason I had stayed with this one agency was because it was a “company-approved” agent and I had been told that there was a possibility of assistance.  Had I known that this would not be the case, I would have long ago started going to other agencies as well to see what other options were available to me.

Once I found that there wouldn’t be any financial support from the company for the property, negotiations fell apart.  For one thing, the “thank you money” was 2 months rent (about $2,000USD!) on top of deposit, rent, utilities, and basic facilties (the place didn’t even have an airconditioner!).  As I wasn’t willing to plunk out that much cash and there was nothing tying me to a single agent any longer, I decided to check out other agencies.

Hm.. I hadn’t expected my writing about house-hunting would turn out to be quite so lengthy… I think I’ll have one more housing-related post after this – will try to make that the last!

Experiences Thoughts

Apartment Hunting in Tokyo – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my experiences house/apartment-hunting in Japan.  For Part 1, please click HERE.

As mentioned at the end of the first part of this writeup, a lot more properties become available if you are willing, and linguistically and legally able, to step out of the “safe zone” of foreigner-focused agencies.  There are so many housing agencies everywhere, possibly more ubiquitous than even combini (convenience stores).  You’ve got the major chains such as Able, MiniMini, Pitato House, and Mitsui Chintai, as well as hundreds of smaller, more local/area-specific agencies.  Obviously, the bigger chains are more open to the idea of dealing with foreigners, but the individual agencies may have better deals or access to more local information.  At the end of this writeup, I’ll include links to some of the agencies I’ve tried.

One thing that I’ve found interesting about my house-hunting experiences to date is how much my expectations have changed over time.  I actually started looking for a place of my own sometime around the middle of last year, so it’s been quite a while.  At the time, I was much more focused on finding a place close to a park (so I could pursue running), regardless of distance from the office.  I also wanted a place that accepted pets, had a garden, allowed piano-playing, had a large kitchen/stove – and was less than an hour from the office. (yes, yes, I know any non-expats who’ve ever lived in Japan are wondering just what dreamland I was living in at the time)

Back then, I settled on a 2-story 62sqm place about an hour away from the office, located at a tiny little station that had very little in the way of supermarkets/stores around.  It was also a tad expensive (for me), at 124,000 JPY per month, but at the time I didn’t really care thinking that the size/garden made it worth it.

The only reason I’m not living there now is because at the time my company had indicated that they would be able to help me with the initial costs (more on that later).  So I filled out the application form, sent it off to my company for approval, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Three (3!) months later, I finally got approval – but the house was gone by then.  I was pretty frustrated at the time but now in retrospect, I realise that I’m actually glad I didn’t get that place for several reasons – primarily because it was still too far away from work and secondly, due to the economy, I’m just as glad not to be paying a premium for someplace that would probably have been too big for a single person anyway!

I started searching again around the end of January this year and…but maybe I should mention first that up until now, I’ve been sticking exclusively with one agent.  The reason for this is because of what my company had mentioned previously, about the possibility of their being able to assist me financially in regards to either the initial costs, or some kind of tax deferral/benefit.  They had also said that they might be able to serve as a sort of corporate sponsor/guarantor on my behalf.  The requirement for all this was that I had to use a company-approved housing agency, which happened to be one of those agencies more geared towards the foreign/expat community.  Despite the fact that it limited the number of properties available to me, I chose to use this particular agency exclusively since any form of financial assistance was very appealing.

Lest anyone think that I’m a cheapskate (I’m not!  I’m just frugal 🙂 ) or just trying to bilk my company for the all money I could, perhaps I should also explain something about the costs involved with renting property in Japan.

Renting in Japan typically incurs the following costs:

  • 1) 1 Month rent
  • 2) Deposit/Shikikin: ranges from 1-2 months rent and theoretically refundable, minus repair costs
  • 3) Key money/Reikin: ranges from 1-2 months rent, NON-refundable! (basically free money to your landlord…)
  • 4) Agent fee: ranges from 1-1.5 months rent, though some agencies are now charging only 1/2 month rent

If I were to have moved into the first place I found (which had 2 months shikikin/reikin), my initial costs would have been almost 750,000 JPY, or about $7,500!! Hence why I found the possibility of any financial assistance from my company very appealing…

I think I’m going to have to break things off here and continue in yet another post as this is getting fairly lengthy yet again.  Stick around for Part 3!



Apartment hunting in Tokyo – Part 1

Time has flown by – I hadn’t realised that it’s been over a week since my last post!  There hasn’t been much time to just sit down and relax lately, though hopefully things will be a little less hectic as time goes on (though you wouldn’t know it by all the running around I was doing at work this week! – and yeah, I know it’s only Tuesday..already!)

Aside from the daily grind at the office every day, most of my free time has been spent house-hunting.  I currently live at Higashi-Kurume which, while being a pleasant neighborhood, is just a little distant.  It currently takes me about an hour and a half door to door (depending on if I can catch the bus on time), and involves a bus ride and transfers between three (3) train lines one way.  For the math inclined, that’s 3hrs on the train every day, 15hrs every week, 60hrs every month, and 720hrs (or 30 days/1 month) a year.  So…I’ve effectively spent 3 months of my life in a train during my 3 years at Kurume.

Also, though the family I’m staying with is very nice, I would really LOVE to have a place of my own now.

So… I’ve been house-hunting and though tiring, it’s also been learning experience in several ways.

In my case, the biggest barrier in this process has been the lack of language ability.  Yes, I fully acknowledge that the fault is entirely mine – I have simply been too lazy to learn more than what I need to get by.  If I can order food, or ask for general directions, then I can get around without much difficulty in Japan.  Even outside of central Tokyo, one can get by with minimal vocabulary (and patience) since Japanese people for the most part are fairly helpful and kind.

When it comes to renting a place though, the Japanese are not so accomodating and understandably so.  After all, you’re going to be living on their property and presumably needing to interact with them from time to time.  If you can’t explain the thick smoke billowing out of your window, or why water is flowing out of your apartment, and what the heck a howler monkey is doing on your balcony, then you’re setting yourself up for potential tension down the road (though if you’ve got a howler monkey on your balcony you’re probably setting yourself up for tension regardless of how good your Japanese is).

In my case, agencies and landlords are happy to see my name (Matsuya) and even happier to know I’ve got Japanese citizenship, passport and all.  However, they quickly turn glum when they realise just how minimal my Japanese is.  Some agents won’t even bother showing you any of their available properties until they’ve called up the landlord and asked if they are willing to accept a non Japanese-speaking tenant.  I am still fairly lucky though – I hear that the situation is usually much more difficult for someone who’s not a Japanese citizen/permanent resident, even if they’re fluent in Japanese.

It really, REALLY helps to have a Japanese friend along with you who not only acts as your translator, but also is able to assure the agent/landlord that you’re really not such a bad and scary foreigner.  Having a Japanese friend with you also means that you have access to many more property options.  Sure, one could go exclusively to housing agencies that are more foreigner-friendly, but these tend to either focus on the really cheap (usually shared) guest/student houses or thousand-dollar expat homes.  I think it’s safe to say that there are more housing opportunities becoming available for non-Japanese these days, but the best (in terms of cost anyway) properties are still to be found amongst the local housing agencies.

Hmm… I can see this post building up to one of my mega-writeups, so I’m going to take a break (literally) and continue on this topic in another post shortly.