apartment guide Japan

House & Apartment Hunting in Kansai

2:32 PM

So, a couple years back, I made a big move. I'd been living in my Tennoji apartment for almost 7 years, and I was unhappy. It was a cramp 32.5m 1LDK (living, dining,kitchen) space with little natural light throughout the day. My veranda had a huge metal panel blocking the view from one side, but it was close to the downtown area. It was a series of compromises I'd made long ago.

My old neighborhood that I loved!

But as I started working and staying at home more, I realized how much a space can affect your mindset. I found myself moody, frustrated, and going out of my way to stay out of my house. I'd ask Shota to take me on road trips once a month just so I could get a chance to stay in a big, clean space. Eventually, I realized this behaviour was not healthy, mentally and financially, and I also realized what was at the root of my stress; I wasn't at home in my home.

And so, when another friend started the search for a new place, I realized I should do the same. It had been 6 years since my last move, and I am wiser now with much better Japanese. Also, I knew what I needed to look for in a new and comfortable living space.

Right after moving into the new place

First, I made a pros/cons list about my currently apartment. This helped me figure out what amenties I could or could not live without.

Your Ideal Space


Taken on the roof of my new place!
Old Apartment
Pros                                                                     Cons
Good light                                                           Light only comes from one side
Only apartment on that side                            Waiting for the elevator on the 7F
10 to Nanba by bike                                         Terrible bike manners of other tenants
Modern appliances already installed             Bad airflow caused mold
Bamboo floors                                                  Cleaning bamboo floors is hard
Big living room window                                   Bedroom windows 2ft from another apt
Free internet                                                      95,000 yen per month (900USD)

Here is an example of a basic list of pros and cons. From this list, I know that I want a new place with a lot of light and windows, preferably from multiple sides of the apartment. I also want the apartment to have good airflow throughout to keep moisture from collecting in dark corners, without windows directly facing another building/room, and with rent less than 90,000 yen.

A lot of these preferences automatically rule out a lot of apartments located in high density locations like Nanba or Umeda, but this a good thing.

Using Apartment Website Searches


An example of a typical landing page from an apartment hunting website.
When searching on apartment/housing websites, you really want to keep your search area as specific as possible. Searching for apartments throughout the all of Osaka City could send you on an endless journey leading nowhere and you'll likely give up before finding the perfect place, so pick a specific location or Ward to start with, and start your search from there.

Conversely, if your list of pros and cons is quite extensive,casting a wider net would be the preferrable option as the more specific your search parameters are, the fewer results you will have.

TL;DR
If you're still unsure of what search criteria you want to set for your perfect place, narrow your search area down to a specific station or ward, but if you have the specifics of your perfect place already decided, you can keep your search area rather large.


How to Use Search Parameters

Here is where a good command of Japanese comes in handy. While some housing sites offer information in English, this may narrow your search to housing companies that are openly recruiting non-Japanese tenants. While it is not impossible for foreigners to get an apartment outside of these English-language services, it is impossible to go apartment hunting on your own without some understanding of Japanese.

Typical Search Parameters Tab


Here are translations of the most useful searching parameters (these parameters also tend to be common on most sites):

その他条件を指定 - Select Other Conditions: This is a tab you want to keep an eye out for because this tab will have search options like price range, square-footage (meters in this case, though), and more.

賃料 - Rent: You can specify maximum, minimums, or both. The example above also has options like including monthly management fees (管理費・共益費込み), parking fees (駐車場代込み), key money (礼金なし), security deposit/insurance money (敷金・保証金なし), no setup fees (ほか初期費用なし).

 駅徒歩 - Walking distance to closest station: The time required to walk to the nearest train station (very important if you're living in Japan without a car).

間取りタイプ - Layout type: Here you can choose the the number of rooms you want in your apartment. For most short-term residents, a 1K or 1LDK is more than enough space, but if you're looking more long-term, you want 2LDK or more.

建物種別 - Building type: This parameter usually has 3 options, マンション mansion, アパート apartment, or  一戸建て house. Some sites also have the 'Other' options, so this may include buildings that have been rennovated from their original purpose into apartment/houses. Another question you might be asking is what is the difference between an apartment and a mansion? According Yahoo Japan's Answers page, the main difference is that mansions tend to be made of heavier materials like steel or reinforced concrete and are 3 floors or higher. Apartments are usually made of light materials, like wood, and generally stop at the second floor. Unfortunately, there is no rule for apartment/mansion usage in the real estate world, so they technically mean the same thing. I would also include that mansions tend to include elevators while apartments may not.

築後年数 - Date of construction: Basically, this year determines how old the structure is. As a rule, I tend to stick to ones built in the 90s or later. Older buildings may come with some unfortunate amenities like smells baked into the wall, old furnishings, and even older neighbors. If you're looking for a modern Japanese residence type of experience, I would definitely suggest that you stick to buildings built in 2000 or later. If they're older, make sure that the interior has been rennovated recently. Some other words to know are 新築 new, 以内 within, 指定しない no preference.

専有面積 - Area: the total area, in square meters, of your apartment. Small apartments tend to be 25-35m squared while larger spaces are 60m squared or more. Other important words are 下限 min and 上限 max.

人気のこだわり条件 - Popular Preferences: Additional parameters that are popular on the website. These may include バス・トイレ別 separated bathtub and toilet (sometimes they're in the same room) 2階以上 a room on the second floor or higher,  駐車場あり with parking,  室内洗濯機置場 indoor space for laundry machine (some machines must be placed outside), エアコン付き air conditioner included, ペット相談可 pets OK, オートロック automatic locks, 洗面所独立 separate wash basin.

There are even more search parameters such as being on the top floor (最上階) or a room facing south (南向き), but I would rather not list them all here. Instead, I would like to direct your attention to a very useful browser add-on/extensions, Rikaichan. By using this add-on, you can mouse over Japanese character and pull up an instant translation of the text. Very useful!

Use a website's search parameters to narrow your search for apartments just right for you.

Which Company to Use


There are literally hundreds of local real estate companies and several national real estate/apartment hunting companies. The most popular ones nationally are Apaman Shop, SUUMO, Century 21, Mini-Mini, HOME'S, HOMEMATE, AtHOME, ABLE, Chintai Jutaku Service, litereally, the list could go on.

For the most part, these companies all work from the same real estate database, so if you really want results true to the area you aspire to live in, I would recommend visiting a real estate agent local to the area.

As for which company to use, I prefer the smartphone app SUUMO. SUUMO does have shops, but if I recall correctly, they don't provide apartment hunting services in the shops, only services for buying or selling a home. But their app was my absolute favorite for finding apartments and homes available to rent.

Their database seems to be pulling from the same databade as other websites, but there is a vetting process that prevents listing from less reputtable companies like Century21 from appearing in the results.

"You will definitely find the place you:re looking for" LIES. I hate that little dog.

What's wrong with Century21 you might be asking? Weel, aside from wasting everyone's time all the time, the listings they post tend to look very attractive on the surface, but often include weird stipulations such as you have to leave the apartment in 6 months. Anyone that's lived in Japan knows that moving is EXPENSIVE and I can't imagine someone going through the effort of moving into an apartment just to leave 6 months later. I'm sure these apartments are more for businessmen looking for a short-term lease, but then these results should not pop up on databases for people looking for somewhere to live. But since Airbnb has become a thing, these listings might have moved on to greener pastures (we hope!).

For my newest place, I only used the SUUMO app to set up meetings with real estate companies because I've always felt a weird amount of pressure when sitting in a realtors office. They often make it seem like there's hardly anything left to rent out, so if you don't make a decision soon, you won't have anywhere to go. Obviously, this is not the case, so don't let them pressure you into moving into a place you're unsure of.

Personally, I think the longer you wait on the perfect place, the more likely you are to find it (not that you have to wait, if you find the perfect place that checks all your boxes on the first try, then go for it!). I would just advise that you never make concessions on the things that you know you want in your new place.

Haggling

From the tample in my old neighborhood.
People may be surprised to know that haggling is quite common in Japan, especially when it comes to big purchases, and most realtors will be willing to negotiate certain parts of the contract with the owners for you. The mostly commonly negotiated parts of the contract are the key money, but you can even negotiate the monthly rate too.

Don't be afraid to ask your realtor as many questions as you want because you are the customer and you're making a big decision that costs a lot of money. You should never be forced or feel unsure at any part of the decision making process. If you arne't feeling confident or are uncomfortable about your Japanese language ability, I would recommend using an English-speaking service, but as I stated before, the number of units on offer may dwindle as a result.

In my case, we were pretty low on money, but our apartment lease was running out and we wanted to be out before the automatic renewal kicked in, so we were working on limited time and the few yen we had saved up in the months before. But the realtor worked with us to get the intial costs down to something that worked, and signed the papers a few days later.

Competition

Typical search results on an apartment hunting site.

One thing to remember is that you're not the only person out there looking for the perfect place. I kept a list of favorites of places that I was interested in renting, but that were either too expensive or not quite the style I wanted, and sure enough, they would usually disappear altogether with the week or so. Of course, this isn't to say that you have to jump at the first home you see that fits most of your criteria, but just be aware that if you don't take it, someone else will.

Lastly

There's so much more I could write on this topic, but hopefully all of the basics have been covered here. A few things to remember: have the type of home you're looking for already in your mind. If you don't, you're not ready. Also, ALWAYS go and look at the property, do not just rely on photos as a lot of the photos aren't very true to the space. Also, check out the apartment and area during the day and night lest you move in to some suprises.

As for my own apartment hunting journey, I ended up renting out a house and I love it. It met all of my requirements and the only concession I had to make was with regard to how far I am from Amemura, but since I spend more time at home now, that really isn't a problem. You can check out a small house tour I made below:
★Peaces★

Links

SUUMO - No English site. National compay with listings from all over the country. Good listing that doesn't include any catfishing apartments.

HOMEMATE - I've always found this site hard to use and the listings unremarkable, but the staff at the store were quite nice.

athome - Naitonal company. Fewer results than SUUMO. Tends to display expensive apartments at the top of the list unless you change the order.

BRUNO - This was a company I was following for a while. They list a lot of unique and stylish rooms, but I couldn't figure out how to schedule a meeting through the website. It's probably best to head to one of their offices, but they're only based in Osaka. They also provide services for people looking for office or shop spaces.

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