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In search for a new domicile: getting an apartment

Moving to a new area is a thrilling adventure and at the same time an intimidating change, especially here in Japan. Thinking about the location, transportation, budget, etc. is stressful on so many levels, but beyond the stress of logistics, the start of something new brings with it conflicting feelings of eagerness and anxiety. Whirlwind of decision-making can be an emotional rollercoaster, but extremely exciting.
Over the past 8-9 years I have stayed at 4 different apartments around Tokyo and Kanagawa area. Now I am currently staying at a house in Saitama, which I just recently bought. The one-and-a-half-month process of purchasing a house in Japan is a whole different topic, which I will share with you in my next posting. For now, I would like to share a few notes that need to be thought of, and tips before making a final decision to stay at a particular place.

For many, researching locations should be the first step in finding a place. However, from my experience, knowing the train system would be a key point to know if a given area would be convenient or not. Most people depend on the trains to get from point A to point B, meaning the trains get unbelievably crowded. There are a bunch of trains that run within Tokyo city, so there are several alternate routes available. But as you move further away from central Tokyo, train options get fewer, and in cases of train trouble or “over-crowding”, you’ll be in a bind.

Now, I’ve said earlier that Tokyo city has a lot of trains, which makes commute a little bearable, so it’s a no-brainer to get a place within this area. Also, there would definitely be various food stores, restaurants, or even malls and other entertainment establishments within a 30-minute radius (by train), making living really pleasant and comfortable. However, bear in mind that the rent in Tokyo or other popular areas, like Yokohama and Kawasaki areas, don’t come cheap. Some places can go for 120K yen for a 20sqm apartment. Usually prices of a unit are dependant on the area’s popularity, number of trains available, the distance between the apartment building and the train station, and resident’s “class status”; even the direction where the sun rises comes into play.

Real-estate agents
There are several websites and smart device apps which make searching for a place a whole lot easier. Just enter the specific criteria you have in mind and these sites would list down the places which fits your profile. (Although, most of these sites and apps are only in Japanese.) After choosing one or several places you want to look at, set an appointment with the real-estate agent assigned to that place; I have yet to see a unit which you could directly negotiate with the owner. The agent will often talk to you about the unit’s details before showing you the place. They may even give you several other apartments options you might want to look at.

Haggling with the apartment cost is a common thing; bear in mind that there are several “fees” you have to look at before deciding on the place:
• Deposit - used after your rent contract is over to fix the apartment. You can get this back, depending on how “damaged” the place is
• Key money - it’s like a “thank you” money to the unit owner for allowing you to use the place; quite a controversial topic. This is non-refundable
• Property insurance - insurance for the unit
• First rent fee - the amount would depend on the owner’s decision. It can be 1 month’s rent, or double, or even free. You can request for the agent to haggle with the owner
• Agent’s fee - would depend on the real-estate company
• Maintenance fee - for apartment building maintenance.
• Property renewal fee - apartment contracts often lasts for 2 years. After that, you would need to renew the contract with the real-estate agent and pay a certain amount; more often than not, it’ll be a month’s or 2 months’ worth of rent.

Before making a decision, you need to carefully consider how much you can really afford. A good looking apartment, in a perfect neighbourhood, with several nearby places to go is great and all but, you have to keep in mind the “general rule of thumb“ with living expenses; with your income, rent should be about 25%, 30% would be for groceries, etc. - in other words, budgeting.

Ask for people’s advice
If you’re struggling to find a place that fits you, you may want to ask your employer for a little assistance. e-Jan Network’s Administration team is always there to help us whenever we're in a bind. They would assist us in talking with the real-estate agent or give suggestions. There’s no substitute to the advice of a real live person that you can ask questions and interact with.

Credentials and other requirements
As a foreigner, as myself, you would need to have a couple of credentials which you would need provide: your passport and residential card (known before as, Alien identification card), phone number, Japanese bank account, letter or eligibility (letter from employer), a copy of your recent payslip, an emergency contact residing in Japan, and a guarantor.

Other things
After everything is set and done, some people would want to share their apartment with someone else, or a pet. You have to be aware that most, if not all rental apartments don’t allow rent-shares. Moreover, you have to be careful on how many people can reside inside the unit. Some units only allow single tenants or a given number of tenants, depending on the size of the apartment or the written contract. Regarding pets, some apartments do not allow them. There’s also the pet’s category in which you have to keep in mind; some apartments only allow cats, or small to medium sized dogs only, or no birds, and so on.

There seems to be a number of things keep you need to keep in mind before getting a place in Japan, and it seems rather mind-blowing. However, I believe it’s the same elsewhere too. Experiencing first-hand Japan’s own blend of unique tradition, culture and mindset, with a wave of new-generation global diversity and technological lifestyles, is a whole world of its own.
Finding a place that best suits your taste is just one of the things worth experiencing while residing in Japan; as said earlier, it is an emotional rollercoaster.

Stay tuned with the Working Japan blog and read on several blog posts made by other e-Jan Networks’ members on their personal experiences in and out of work in Japan. I’ll be making a follow-up post, “In search for a new domicile - Getting a house”, which would discuss the process of purchasing your own house in Japan. Look forward to that.

- J.C. (Philippines)