Looking for an apartment in Japan is tough. And if something goes wrong after you move in, it can be even tougher.
Luckily, there are a lot of services that can make the process a lot easier, including our own GaijinPot Housing Service.
Right now with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a lot of people having to make difficult moving decisions. For some, their contracts are running out, and they aren’t sure if they should renew or find something else. For others, they may be looking to upgrade from a share house or smaller apartment to their own 1LDK. No matter the reason, if you’re looking to move right now, it’s important to know your options and what each company can do for you. That is why I would like to introduce some ways that you could potentially find our assistance helpful!
How the GaijinPot Housing Service works
These days there are actually a lot of agencies that are willing to help foreigners. What a lot of people don’t realize though is that many agencies are only there for you up until move in day. They’ll of course help you with finding a property, doing a viewing, going through the application process, and getting the keys. But as for things like setting up your utilities and scheduling repair appointments, you’re likely on your own.
Apartments available to foreigners only through the Housing Service
If you know Japanese then maybe that’s all you need, but if you’re not the most confident in your ability, you’re going to want a service that provides a little more. The GaijinPot Housing Service is not an agency, but instead a subleasing service partnered with 10+ large agencies and property management companies operating in the Kanto, Nagoya, Osaka, and Sapporo areas. Many properties we list are available to foreigners only through us, as most companies we work with want to assist foreigners, but do not have staff with the language ability to do so.
We fill in the gap between those agencies and foreigners looking to move in Japan. Since we provide more services than a traditional agency offers, when you live in one of our apartments you have our assistance from day one up until you (hopefully) receive a deposit refund! If you’re looking for more details about just how we can assist you, you’ve come to the right article.
Setting up and canceling utilities
Dealing with utilities in Japan may not be the hardest aspect of living here, but it does require a certain degree of Japanese ability. Sure, there are some companies with English hotlines, but generally they have awkward work hours and the quality is shoddy at best. You could ask a friend that speaks Japanese but a) Not everyone has a friend with a high Japanese level and b) Even if you do, asking them to take an hour out of their free time to help you with utilities can be an awkward ask.
When I first moved to Japan, I considered myself to be conversational in Japanese, but did not have the confidence to speak with a utility company by myself on the phone. I remember the first time I did a utility phone call by myself was maybe a year after I moved to Japan, and had attained a solid level of bravery in using my Japanese. I was self-studying Japanese at the time, but not everyone is going to be in the same situation. There are a lot of people who are only here to work and not really focusing on learning the language, and even for people that want to learn, it can take a while to get to the level you want!
With the Housing Service though, phone calls to utility companies are not something you need to worry about. Water and electricity will both be set up by us, ready to use right after you move in. Water generally requires no action at all on your part, whereas electricity will start running once you flip on all the breakers.
Gas is a little more involved, but still simple for us to handle. To get your hot water and burners ready, someone from a gas company will stop by the apartment, usually in a predetermined two-hour period. We do need to ask you about your schedule on the day you move in (or another later day, depending on your plans) so you can be there to let the gas company in to turn on the valve. Usually the process is pretty painless and no translation is needed, but if anything comes up, we are happy to translate the conversation by phone!
But what about when you move out? That’s not a problem at all. If you’re moving within the country, it’s a simple enough process. We’ll ask you for a recent copy of your bills to get your customer number, then have the final bills sent over to your new address. Things can be a little more complicated for those leaving the country though.
What if I’m leaving the country?
In this situation, generally there are two options. The easiest one is to have the final bills sent to a friend who is still in the country and can handle the final payments. This isn’t an option for everyone though. Our backup plan is to ask the utility companies to send someone to your apartment, usually right before your final move out inspection. They’ll then charge you your final bills in person with cash, and your utilities will be shut off as soon as this is completed. While that is not the ideal way to go about things, it at least means you can leave the country without worrying about lingering bills!
Repair appointments and Japanese bureaucracy
There are few things worse than realizing something in your apartment is broken. Whether it be the hot water or the air conditioner, you immediately know the next short period of your life is going to be taken over by this unexpected issue. While I cannot claim our service is so amazing that all of your problems will be fixed within hours, I can explain how we work to solve your problems as quickly and smoothly as possible!
I’m sure you know and have dealt with the dreaded Japanese bureaucracy. While I can certainly say that there are positives to it, no one can deny that it often takes a lot longer than desired to get things done here. This of course carries over to getting repairs done on your apartment. In a lot of Western countries, many apartments are maintained by the owner, or “landlord.” This landlord is often just a single person, who may live in the same building, or may own a few buildings in the area. If someone goes wrong, you have one person to contact, one person who will handle repairs, and one person to complain to.
Management by large property managers
In Japan on the other hand, most properties, and especially ones that are open to foreigners, are managed by massive corporations. That means that your repair request is going to be competing with hundreds of others coming in on the same day, and that the property management company is going to want to prioritize the simplest ones to deal with. With that in mind, I’ll try to explain how we generally work through a repair request.
How the Housing Service will help you
We have a lot of experience dealing with these companies, so we generally know how to cut through and get things done as quickly as possible. Once a tenant submits a request to us, in almost all cases we will reply with a slew of questions.
- “When did this problem start?”
- “Do you have any ideas what the cause is?”
- “What is the serial number for x device? What is the model?”
Those are just a few examples. The reason we ask these questions is that if we do not have all of this information prepared, we’re likely to be turned away by the property manager to get more information from you on the issue. End result: it takes even longer to get the repair done. As long as we have our answers prepared though, generally there are two flows that might occur.
Scheduling the appointment
Ideally we will be able to move right into scheduling the actual appointment. This can involve a bit of back and forth, especially with us operating as an go-between. One side might be available at a certain time, but then the other is only available maybe 30 minutes later, so then we have to check with the other side, but then they aren’t replying right away… and so on and so on. When things go smoothly though, there actually are some cases where we can schedule a repair for the exact same day!
If a part needs to be ordered or a sub-contractor needs to be hired
The second possible situation is that a specific part may be needed for the repair, or the property management company may need to hire ANOTHER company to carry out the repair. A fourth party being introduced the equation unsurprisingly does not lend to making the repair getting done quicker, but progress is still progress! At this point we are usually up to the mercy of the property management company to grant a quick repair. Luckily, you have the Housing Service team here to follow up with the property management company consistently until the problem is solved!
There is honestly a lot more I could write about just the repair process, but I think my main point is that it’s surprisingly difficult to get someone to actually come over and fix the problem. Again, if you have a solid command of Japanese or a friend who is willing to put up with A LOT of phone calls for you, honestly it might be easier to handle it yourself. But if you do not fall into either of those categories, having the Housing Service in your corner can really save you a lot of hassle and time. In most cases you won’t have to make any phone calls on your own, and just need to keep periodic tabs on your email for updates from us.
If a service like this sounds like something you might want for your next apartment in Japan, I would definitely recommend submitting an inquiry on the GaijinPot Housing Service Inquiry form. We’re more than happy to answer your questions and do our best to help you find the right apartment.
In addition to assistance with utilities and repair appointments, we also offer furniture/appliance rentals, can handle submitting complaints to the property management company, and include insurance with our baseline fees.
We hope to hear from you soon!
Nathan works for the GaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!
Lead photo: Stock photo