Apr 29, 2017
Before You Get Started
Before you even get started, it's important to do a few things to make sure your home search will be as smooth and stress-free as possible. Here's a few things to do before you go out to see your first potential new home:
- Register at your local government office, even if it is a very temporary address. You need to do this within 14 days of arriving in Japan for a stay of 3 months or more. If you are registering now, get a copy of your residence certificate (jyuminhyo) at the same time in case it's needed for your application. Once registered, your address will be recorded on the back of your residence (zairyu) card.
- Open up a bank account in Japan if you haven't already, and ensure you have enough funds in Japan, or the ability to have them transferred to Japan. In order to transfer money from abroad to a Japanese bank account, it is now necessary to register your My Number (also known as Individual Number) with your bank first.
- Research to get a feel for price vs size vs location vs building age vs distance from the closest station and so on.
- Consider the main places you will commute to regularly (work, school, meeting places for social events) and the maximum commute time you wish to travel for your most regular destination, and if you will accept the need to transfer one or two times for example, or if you will only consider properties on a direct line.
- Determine if you will have a personal or private lease as this will have an impact on properties available for your consideration and costs involved.
- Put together a list of your home search parameters that you will provide to your selected real estate agent. Be as specific and detailed as possible to help find the best property for you quicker. Include as much as you can, such as: personal or corporate lease; budget; size (in square meters or number and type of rooms); location(s) you will most frequently travel to and commuting parameters (travel time, direct line or transfers ok); specific areas of interest or a description of the type of area you are looking for (quiet family friendly neighborhood / lively area with easy access to cafes/ close to park etc); other important considerations to you - this might include the age of the building, amount of light / direction the property faces, if you prefer to live on a lower floor or higher floor, views, amount of storage space, if you have large furniture that needs to fit (e.g. double and larger beds will not always fit in bedrooms). Also specify on your list if you can speak Japanese and if you have lived in Japan before as many landlords are reluctant to rent to people who don't speak Japanese. Other considerations that should be listed include if you need car or bicycle parking space, if you will have a pet and if an instrument will be played at home.
After following the steps above, you should now be ready to commence your home search in earnest. You can usually expect to be able to move in around 3 - 4 weeks from this point if you can find your preferred property within the first 1 - 2 weeks.
I recommend contacting a reputable real estate agent experienced in dealing with foreigners and working exclusively with that agent as much as possible as they will be far more likely to go the extra mile for you if they know you're not shopping around. Most properties on the market are accessible by any agent, with the exception of some properties that are only available through an exclusive arrangement. These agents will also usually help you to set up utilities and give you other valuable information and advice. Request the agent to send you some floor plans for your consideration and let them know when you wish to start visiting properties of interest.
With your list of search requirements in hand, the agent will look for properties that meet as many of your criteria as possible AND they should also screen the properties to make sure the owner will likely accept your application. Without this important step, you will unfortunately find many owners will reject your application on the sole basis of you being non-Japanese. Do NOT rely on online listings as many of these will be out of date and used to lure you to contact the agent.After reviewing the floor plans, let your pagent know which properties are of interest and which are not, and describe why as much as possible.
As you visit the potential properties, continue to give as much feedback to your agent as you can to help them narrow their future search if you don't see anything you like. Take photos and make notes on the floor plan as the details will quickly get jumbled in your mind otherwise.
If you have narrowed it down to a shortlist, ask the agent to revisit those properties and ask any extra questions to help make your final decision.
Making an Application
Congratulations- you've found a property you like. The fist step is to ask your agent to put in an application. Don't waste time at this point as the market moves quickly and you want to make sure yours is the first application. It's important to include at this stage any special requests or items you wish to negotiate, but be sure to be reasonable. Depending on the price range you are looking at, you might be able to request a lower rent or reduced key money, or you might be able to negotiate to have something included such as light fittings or air conditioning. Your agent should be able to help direct you to what requests are reasonable, but note that each owner is different. Some will not budge, yet others can be quite accommodating to requests and negotiations.
In other posts I will look at the lease process, costs involved and getting set up in your new home.
I've been living in Japan for almost 2 decades, spanning everything from 2 years living in a tiny town of less than 7000 people to many year in Tokyo and Yokohama, and much traveling in between. I now work as a relocation consultant, helping people as they get started on their own journey in Japan.