Here are some basic DO’s and DON’Ts of apartment hunting in Japan. This is a list of things that I had to learn from experience, so hopefully, my tribulations and hardships can help prepare others looking for an apartment in Japan!
What to DO When You’re Apartment Hunting
- Decide what factors are important to you before you start looking.
- Find a good real estate agent.
- Consider your daily commute and research neighborhoods ahead of time.
- Know what’s included and not included in monthly rent.
- Ask about anything you’re unsure of.
- Be professional.
- Familiarize yourself with Japanese real estate lingo.
DO have a good idea of the kinds of apartments you are looking for: price, distance from station, nearest station (neighborhood), building material (wood, reinforced concrete), building age, etc.
It might sound difficult to narrow down your search from the get go, but having a plan of attack will help you. If you don’t have a rough idea of what you’re looking for you might end up wasting your (and your agent’s) time looking at places that won’t meet your long-term criteria.
I remember the first real estate agency I went to when I was looking for an apartment in Tokyo. I found a listing online and set up an appointment with the agent. I totally thought it would be a simple deal and I’d walk out of there with a move-in date scheduled. I was so unprepared when the agent asked if there was any reason why I hadn’t chosen an apartment constructed from reinforced concrete. He then asked me “Have you thought about what kind of apartment you want?” and I had to admit that I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into.
DO try to find a real estate agent who you feel comfortable with. In most cases, you don’t have to work with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable.
I probably met with 4 or 5 real estate agents over the course of my apartment hunt. I’m not sure if this is normal or not, but I’m glad I did in the long run. Having a good relationship with my agent made the process much more bearable. We actually still meet up for drinks every now and then.
DO try to imagine the daily commute if possible. Research the neighborhoods you’re looking at as well (check out our Tokyo Area Guides for general overviews of different neighborhoods in Tokyo). Use Google Maps or Navitime to estimate and visualize your commute to work or school.
As foreigners, we’re at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the different neighborhoods of Tokyo. Real estate agents who don’t often work with foreigners might assume that you are familiar with the differences between Nerima Ward and Minato Ward, for instance.
DO keep in mind that utilities (water, gas, electricity, internet, etc.) are not usually included in advertised monthly rent.
DO ask for info on things you are unsure of. Things like “where do I throw out my trash” or “when is rent due” are good to know.
In our home countries, we kind of are used to being able to easily find out this kind of information. Depending on your Japanese fluency, you might be able to find this information on your own, too. But if you don’t know, you should ask your real estate agent earlier rather than later. An acquaintance of mine was unsure of how to dispose of cardboard boxes, and eventually, his balcony was unusable because he just left all his boxes there. It was pretty gross.
DO treat the process with a level of professionalism. Agents are also determining if you are a reliable renter, so show up on time for room viewings and appointments. You don’t have to wear suits/formal clothing, but be neat and presentable. You don’t want your application to get rejected because you wore a t-shirt with holes and stains to a room viewing.
DO familiarize yourself with some Japanese real estate lingo. Browse the various (Guide to Japanese Apartments: Floor Plans, Photos, and Kanji Keywords) (Glossary of Japanese Real Estate Terms: Keywords for Renting an Apartment)
Even if you speak conversational or business-level Japanese, there are specific terms and words used in real estate that you might not have seen before. Getting used to these words can help your apartment search go smoother, since appointments with real estate agents won’t get bogged down with language lessons.
What NOT to DO
- Don’t get too attached to any one listing.
- Don’t get too upset if you face discrimination.
- Don’t wait till the last minute.
DON’T get too attached to just one listing though. Sometimes agents are slow to update their online properties and so there can be some listings that are actually already off the market.
This is just the nature of the beast. Especially if you are searching during the busy season (January – March).
DON’T get too upset at the blatant discrimination by some property owners. It sucks, but it’s a reality of living in Japan for now. And don’t take it out on the agents. They’re just doing their jobs.
DON’T put off your apartment hunt to the last minute. Give yourself some time to understand and process all the new information about moving to Japan.
The more research you do beforehand, the better prepared you should be for overcoming any challenges in finding an apartment in Japan!
Lead photo: iStock stock photography
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