Looking for an apartment in Japan? Well first, welcome! You have made a good choice in coming here! You probably have a lot of questions, and while it might be daunting, everything you need to do can be boiled down to knowing when and where you want to move, finding a real-estate agent, visiting apartments, applying for the apartment, and signing the contract. Here is what you need to know:
When to look for an apartment:
Generally it is good to look for an apartment about 4 to 6 weeks before you intend to move. You can start looking before, but it is unlikely that any apartment you find will still be available by the time you want to move. If you are already renting a place in Japan, you should check you current contract to know when to notify them that you are intending to leave. You should also consider what time of year to move, if you have the luxury of a flexible timeline.
The worst and most common time to look for an apartment in Japan is between January and April. This is because most school and business years start or hire people in April. That does not mean it is impossible to find an apartment. It just means you need to be ready to pull the trigger on an apartment application as soon as you like a place.
The best time to look for an apartment is between September and December. December is usually when apartments are the cheapest. Anything after September is usually cheaper because summer break in Japan is over and fall is usually not as big of a moving time in Japan.
Where to look
Before going to a real-estate office you should try to find exactly where you want to live. If you tell a real-estate agent something vague, or confuse a JR station for a non JR station you could easily add 30 minutes to your commute. So you need to look at where you are working, decide how long of a commute you can handle, and know how far from the station you are willing to live. Apartments are usually cheaper by how far they are from the station. If you are looking to save money you could consider getting a bike and living about 20 minutes from the station. The only downside to that is rainy season, which makes biking unpleasant, so pick your poison.
Finding a real-estate agent:
There are real-estate offices everywhere in Japan, especially near large train stations. If you speak Japanese you could call any of these, especially ones near your target living location. If you do not speak Japanese, no worries, there are many companies that speak many languages and offer international support services. They might be harder to find, but there are companies in Tokyo for example, that have connections or also can do rental services in the greater Tokyo area. This might be the better way to go anyway, because it can be hard to get an apartment application accepted as a foreigner in Japan.
Additionally, try to find a company that has good customer services. If they do not pick up the phone or respond to emails, try another one, because having a good relationship with your agent could help the negotiation process later on.
*You can also download one of the many apartment searching apps and make inquiries about apartment in the app. Do not get too attached to any of the apartments you find on the apps though, because usually these are the best ones a real-estate company can find to attract customers. Then when you go into the office you will find out that apartment has been gone for three months.
Visiting Potential Apartments
This is easily the most fun part of the apartment search. The real-estate agent will usually rent a car and take you to 2 or 3 apartments you are interested in. This is a great time to get a feel for the apartment you are interested in. Look around for convenience stores and grocery stores because those can really increase your quality of living. When you are inside the apartment check to see if the bathtub is clean, or if there is any damage anywhere. If you note things that need to be cleaned or fixed you can ask in your application before you move in. It can also protect your security deposit because you cannot get blamed for the things that were preexisting conditions. If the apartment does not already have an air conditioning unit, look around for places where you could install air conditioning and make sure there is already a place where the unit could go. Otherwise you will have to do real construction to install an air conditioner which is something that you should talk about with the landlord about before sticking a hole in the wall. Finally, if you do not like any of the places that you visit do not feel any pressure to settle. Just wait a few weeks and visit a few more places. Generally real-estate agents do not charge per place you visit, so look until you find somewhere that fits all the criteria you are looking for.
There are a few things that add additional costs that you should also ask about:
-What kind of gas and electricity does the apartment use, or can you pick your own? (Some have exclusivity contracts with gas like propane, which will cost extra every month)
-Does it use city water or a well? (well water basically charges nothing, but you have to filter the water to drink it safely)
-Does it have air-conditioning units where you will need them? (a good air-conditioning unit is not cheap and installation will cost a significant amount)
-How much are they charging for key money? (key money is one-time payment to your landlord thanking them for letting you rent, usually it is the same amount as a month of rent so it will bump up your starting costs significantly)
-Is there a management fee? (many landlords hire a company to manage their property so they do not have to collect rent or deal will construction issues directly, if they do it could be an extra 5000 円 to 10,000 円 per month on top of the rent amount)
This part is reasonably simple. Once you have found an apartment you like just tell your real-estate agent and they will put together an application for you. You will need personal details and specifics about your income. They may ask for some kind of proof of income. For verification, your employment would just have to submit a letter explaining how much you are paid per month or your yearly salary. Usually they will not accept applicants whose rent is more than 1/4 or 1/3 of their salary. So it is good to look for apartments within that range of your salary.
Unfortunately, many landlords do not want foreign tenants. So if you do not have any Japanese blood or any Japanese relatives it might be relatively hard to be accepted if you are not applying to a “foreigner friendly” categorized apartment. The reason for that is primarily because renting to a foreigner is much riskier than renting to a Japanese national. If a foreigner trashes the apartment, stops paying rent, and flees the country, there is essentially nothing the landlord can do. So in order to get a landlord to accept the risk, try to provide evidence that you are invested in a life in Japan and respect the societal systems here. Because foreigners were having such a hard time getting accepted by landlords there are additional options if you are not getting accepted. One is to use a guarantor service, these are services you would pay monthly and they would work as insurance for the landlord in the case of the foreigner leaving with rent back payments or not turning off the gas or energy. Two, it is sometimes sufficient to have you employer be the co-signer on your lease. This is a little trickier because it is asking a lot of your company, but if they higher foreigners often, they should have some sort of support in place. Third, is foolproof UR housing. UR housing is government subsidized housing. They are usually mansion style apartments with at least 2DK and up to 4 or 5LDK. Because they are run by the government, they cannot refuse an application based on nationality. So, if your income is sufficient for the rent price you will be able to get the apartment you apply for.
Negotiate Your Contract
When you find an apartment and your application is accepted, you can negotiate. You can accept the proposal drawn up by the real-estate company if you think it is fair. However, if you are interested in saving money you can look to cut some things out. This is where the previously mentioned good relationship with your agent comes into play. If your priority is saving money, tell them that. Your agent knows exactly what has to be paid and what is optional. They can take off things like “changing the lock charge,” if you are not worried that the previous owner having a copy of the key. So definitely be ready to talk about the cost if it seems high. Usually the initial cost is about 4x the rent cost, because you pay your first and last month of rent, plus key money, and the rest goes to the real-estate company.
Move in to Your Apartment!
Once you have found an apartment, applied for it, gotten accepted, and signed the contract, you will receive your keys and it is yours! Good Job!