A practical guide to rent an apartment in Japan

Foreigners find it very troublesome to rent an apartment in Japan and I decided to share a few thoughts on rental property hunting in the country for expats. There are certain situations in which you don’t have to look for a place for yourself. Some companies provide accommodation for the employees and if you are on an exchange program the university usually has a dormitory for foreign students. Even if you are in one of these seemingly lucky situations knowing the ins and outs of how to find a place to rent in Japan can save you a lot of effort, time and money. Let’s quickly dive into the details without further ado!

How to rent an apartment in Japan

We are going to iterate through the process from the starting point. So let’s suppose you’ve just arrived in Japan and you have nowhere to stay. If this happens to you, the best would be to find an Airbnb or a cheap hotel to get some shelter above your head until you find your final abode.

The initial steps

Speaking of cheap hotels, if you really want to find something budget-friendly, capsule hotels are for you! These places are incredibly cheap and they have all the amenities you will need for the upcoming days. When I wanted to save some money in Osaka, I checked out the southern part of the city and I was paying around $10 on a daily basis. For this amount of money I got a small room with sheets and a pillow on the floor and the bathroom was a shared one on the top of the building. Since I was a student I didn’t need more and this could be a great option for you if you have a tight budget. Airbnbs and private accommodations in Japan will cost significantly more, depending on the area you will pay at least $20-$30 per night in Osaka and other smaller cities. Tokyo will be much more expensive, so you will definitely feel the urgency to find a long term rental for yourself.

Talking to a Japanese realtor

Now let’s talk about the next step.

The options for foreigners who don’t speak Japanese are quite limited. If English is the only language you can use in Japan, you’ll have to rely on foreigners dealing with expats on the real estate market. This is obviously a small segment of the whole Japanese real estate industry and the agents are not necessarily sincere, because they all know how vulnerable the new expats in Japan are. Therefore, it would be expedient to learn some basic Japanese and to memorize some of the real estate related words you will hear and read every time you are in a real estate agent’s office.

If you can speak Japanese the case is altered. Mostly because Japan is flooded with real estate conglomerates. You’ll find at least 2 to 3 real estate offices every time you disembark the train in Japan. These companies are somewhat different based on the region, but the national real estate giants such as Suumo and ABLE (株式会社エイブル) have their palpable presence in almost every Japanese city from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

This article will serve the purpose of preparing you for your first real estate office visit in Japan. Many people would think that talking to a Japanese realtor is not a big issue, but I can tell you that it’s no easy task.

It’s not going to be a friendly conversation you’d possibly have in a bar over a few beers. As a general truth I can tell you that you’ll be taken advantage of in linear proportion to the vulnerability you exhibit. If you are new to Japan and you enter a realtor’s office absentmindedly there are two possible outcomes for you. If you don’t speak Japanese and you try to convey your thoughts in English, in most cases you will be turned down. In some cases they’ll serve you, but I hardly have this kind of experience. If you start your soliloquy in Japanese and you don’t have anything prepared, you’ll fall into an even deeper trap.

How deep is the trap?

If you talk to the agent in Japanese, you’ll be received with outstretched hands and that’s when the real real talks start. Obviously the atmosphere you create is completely different from the one foreigners create speaking only English in the office. The agent will be overwhelmed with bliss and initially he/she will treat you as a highly honoured client. This is not completely fake, but I always took these receptions with a grain of salt.

They will bring you a cup of coffee or tea, so that you feel even more comfortable. This is very nice, but try not to lower your guards.

So if you don’t have anything planned prior to your visit, you’ll lose, because they have their plans.

The realtor knows their real estate database in the area by heart. Nevertheless, he/she appears to know very little. Don’t fall into this trap either.

So where does this all lead to?

If you don’t know where to live, what the rental prices are in your area or what services you’re entitled to the real estate agent will take advantage of your situation.

There following few questions will be your guard against their sly practices:

  • (1) Where is the place located?
  • (2) How far is the train station?
  • (3) How noisy is the area?
  • (4) Does the place have Internet service installed?
  • (5) How much is the rent?
  • (6) How much is the deposit?
  • (7) How much are the additional costs?
  • (8) How much is the realtor fee?
  • (9) How much is the key replacement fee?
  • (10) Under what circumstances do I get the deposit back?
  • (11) Am I allowed to bring people to live with me?
  • (12) Are pets allowed?
  • (13) How much is the parking lot per month?
  • (14) How much is the insurance?
  • (15) What is the contract cancellation policy?
  • (16) Whether a guarantor is required to rent.

These are some of the questions I could recall in a matter of a few minutes. There must be many other aspects you might have to consider based on your personal preferences.

Make sure you memorize these questions, and every time you’re shown an appealing advertisement try to reiterate these points, because if the monthly rent is low, the chances of the property not satisfying one of these points is quite high.

A personal experience

There is a significant number of landlords in Japan who are not willing to let expats live in their properties. Therefore, even if you find a nice place for you to live and you think that you’ll just pay the required amount of money, in some cases you will be turned down by the landlord.

I tried to find some expat friendly realtors in Japan while I lived there. If you live in an area where foreigners are frequent, you will find more of these foreigner friendly real estate agents.

In some cases they will show you an apartment, you agree on the terms only to find out that the landlord is not willing to give you the place. This happened to me so many times and I got a little bit frustrated, so eventually I ended up finding Chinese real estate agents, because they are targeting Chinese expats and they are pretty ingenious when it comes to finding loopholes in the system.

Luckily enough I was able to find the Chinese real estate agent who introduced a very nice place for me to rent.

A guarantor was necessary for the landlord to sign a contract with a foreigner, but still the place was such a nice object that I decided to go through the painful procedure.

The building had eight floors and I was taken to the fifth floor, where the real estate agent showed me a pretty nice place.

I knew that there were eight floors, so I told them to go to the top one and I decided to rent the apartment on the top floor.

This is also a very common thing they do.

Usually they take you to a place of acceptable quality and they only show you the best ones at the end of your journey.

Already on the first day of your visit they are so much resolved on taking you to a real estate tour, so make sure you have enough time when you first visit a realtor office in Japan!

While you are in an office, you will be shown a few advertisements and in the most cases the first few of these apartments or houses are not even worth consideration.

It takes a lot of time and patience but try to let them show you more places, otherwise you will end up living in a very miserable place.

If the real estate agent is convinced of your devotion to rent a place, he/she will come up with an idea of showing you around these apartments and he/she will only show you the best ones at the end. This is what happened to me.

You grow pretty tired at the end of your trip, because you have to listen to his/her stories and you learn a lot about Japanese homes usually with no purpose at all.

So imagine that you are eventually taken to the best possible place and you feel relieved, because after such a long time you are being shown an apartment that kind of suits your needs.

It’s on the floor you want to live on, it has pretty much all the amenities you require and the rent is not too expensive. Nevertheless, the above listed questions should be asked and if you’re still confident enough and have enough stamina, you can go on with your negotiations. Even if you pay attention to the smallest details, there will be some imperfections.

This has happened to me as well.

I felt that I found the best place on the eighth floor of this nice building, especially because the view was stunning from the balcony.

The rent was affordable, the kitchen was nice, it had a separated toilet and a bathtub.

Therefore I felt like I found the best place for me for a few months and I decided to look no further.

I moved in, I brought my furniture, and I wasn’t even thinking of the problem with the Internet.

The place had no wireless Internet connection, so one day I was thinking of how I’m going to get fast Internet in this apartment.

I had to call the real estate agent and I enquired about this issue.

I was told that the Internet service providers shall be contacted directly by the tenant, so he gave me the phone address of the company. This was kind of weird because in other countries you just ask for the WiFi password and you can use the Internet right away.

One day I called the Internet provider in our area and I told them the issue.

The building itself was a modern one, so I suspected that it had all the wires necessary for an Internet connection. I thought having the wireless access point installed in such a modern apartment is not a big issue.

So when I contacted the Internet provider and I told them that I need the Internet connection I received a shocking answer. I called them only to find out that in order to access the Internet I would have to pay $300 and then obviously there was a monthly fee. I said thank you very respectfully and rejected their offer.

This is an example of an additional cost that will not be advertised when you are looking at the real estate descriptions in the realtor’s office.

Nobody will tell you these hidden costs and if you want to avoid this, you have to do your own research prior to renting the place.

After you have signed a contract, you have essentially no right to complain about these kind of things and the real estate agency will not help you with these issues at all.

It is said that where there’s a will there's a way.

My recommendation for those who have no Internet connections in their house would be to buy a portable wireless Internet device, because it has no initial set up fee and just use that wherever you are. These days the speed of these devices is absolutely fine and usually there is no data volume limitation on these devices so you have no reason to worry on this account either.

Electricity, gas and water are the general utilities you have to pay for in Japan and there is not much to tell you about these factors, because the price of these utilities is almost negligible compared to the rent and even the landlord or the realtor has no options to take advantage of you with electricity, gas or water fees.

Illustration: pakutaso.com

Content: LB

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