Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Flat hunting in Japan

{That's the design look I'm going for... wishful thinking...}

Finding a tiny little apartment in Osaka does not make me an expert in Japan's real estate world, but having that experience under my belt definitely taught me a lot. Searching for a home in Japan (whether for short or long term) can be a bit of a daunting task, especially when you're a foreigner and do not speak the language, and don't know what to expect. Thankfully I've had a very smooth and simple experience, so here's the lowdown on flat hunting in Japan.

Real Estate Agents

They have offices in every neighbourhood, and will become your best friend while finding an apartment. However, not all of them can help you out in English, so it's best to find an agency that usually deals with foreigners, as they can explain everything clearly and break down all the different fees (because there are A LOT of fees). In Osaka, I strongly recommend Flat Osaka, as they did an excellent job finding me a place. In Tokyo, a friend of mine had a good experience with Kimi. There is also Mini Mini, which is located all over Japan, although it's mostly in Japanese.


Choosing a location is probably the most important part for me. I think being near a train or subway station is a priority, and proximity to all the fun yet quiet enough to relax is a close second. I was not too familiar with the Osaka neighbourhoods, so the agent showed me a map with all the subway stops and we worked around it, along with my budget. I was surprised to see some affordable apartments right in the downtown area. My place is very central, right by a subway stop and a 20-min walk from all the Namba fun, yet tucked in a quiet little back street. And, it's in the opposite direction of the zoo, in case you're wondering...


Securing an apartment in Japan usually requires a guarantor, which means a Japanese person who will be willing to back you up, or sometimes your work place. Most English schools won't act as a guarantor, which means most of us do not have a guarantor. It's not a problem, but it will cost a little bit more: most real estate agencies that deal with foreigners can act as guarantors, for a fee that is usually about half a month's rent, or a little more.

Key Money

Key money, or reikin, is a concept that I think is completely corrupted and outdated. Key money is basically gift money, or a bribe to your landlord to let you live there. Key money is usually the equivalent of six month's rent (!!!). Oh, and you don't get it back. It's a very common practice in Japan, although it's becoming obsolete. No one should have to pay key money, and it is possible to find a place without key money, even though the choices are more limited.

Security Deposit

Some apartments require you to pay one or two months' rent equivalent as a security deposit, which you usually do not get back. I think it's standard practice, and part of it usually covers you first (or last) month of rent.

Fees, fees, fees

Yes, more fees... those are usually one-time fees: key deposit, fire insurance, tenant's insurance. Those fees can add up to about one month's rent. Sigh.

Empty Apartment

Keep in mind that most apartments in Japan come totally empty, which means no stove, fridge, or washing machine. In fact, it's really rare to find those appliances included. Luckily, those can be found (and delivered) for very cheaply in Japan, especially if you only require a mini fridge and a two-burner stove. There is usually an outlet for a washing machine, sometimes outdoors on the balcony, but if you leave near a laundromat maybe it's better to just use those (and meet people like in the movies...).

Furnished Apartment

Places like Leo Palace 21 lease furnished apartments to foreigners, although I discourage it for a long term stay. They require you to pay the whole year or stay's worth of rent in advance, and they're usually generic looking and way more expensive than any other apartments. I looked into it a bit, but quickly changed my mind after seeing all the exorbitant costs it involved. I think a little research and effort can get you something way better.

Not only finding an apartment can be a bit stressful, but it's also very costly. For the very first payment of your flat, be prepared to shell out about three times the rent you're willing to pay. That includes everything I mentioned above, such as security deposit, guarantor fees, and the other fees (NOT key money). The moving cost and appliances are added to that grand total, so yes, moving across Japan can be expensive... but very, very exciting.


{lovely little things} said...

Wow that's a lot of hoop jumping! Glad it worked out, post pics soon!

Rosemary said...

Whoa! My head is spinning after thinking about all those fees. A key fee?! That's awful! Congrats on finding a new place--looking forward to pix! :)

Carie said...

Hi Vivian,congrats on finding a place. Are these expenses on account of your move to Osaka? Did the company you were working for pay for your housing in the more rural locations?

Miyan said...

happy hunting! can't wait to see pics of the new place. and yeah, key money is so crazy!!! unthinkable even, having to bribe the landlord....what world are we living in?! =)



Anonymous said...

I really liked this entry. Very informative. Congrats on finding an apartment!

- Carmen.

Vivian said...

Carie- No, the expenses are all mine to pay... I changed companies, and my new company does not provide the apartment, so it's all me!! But it's good... I got to pick my own :)

Anonymous said...

I sympathise... Nearly twenty years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into when we first set out to look for an apartment, after returning from a first year in Japan where our apartment had been provided by the American university I was teaching for at that time. On our return, we had to do it on our own.

It may be easier now, as you mention real estate agencies that deal with foreigners. Then, we could not find such people to deal with in the Kobe Osaka area, but after much visiting and being constantly turned down, did quite fortunately get referred to a female estate agent by a friend, and all ended well.

Key money is the killer if you arrive, and are not prepared for it. I understood then, that that was a reason why most Japanese who rent do not move readily.

All the best with the apartment!

Tiago said...

I love Asian flats. In fact I love all kind of architecture, since Argentina Apartments to Arabic houses.
I traveled several times to Japan and I feel that his furniture are amazing, really comfortable despite doesn´t have chairs!!

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