Apartment leasing isn’t exactly a line of our business here at Tyton. However, it is an integral part of our clients lives, and we are happy to help you get it done smoothly, and get yourself the best deal (by primarily knowing about, and avoiding the pitfalls of renting in Japan that us foreign people often miss…)
If you already know the basics of finding a place to live in Japan, feel free to skip down to the Negotiation section for our tips on how to get yourself the best possible deal on your new place
As the saying goes, real estate is all about location. So, the first step in choosing a suitable apartment in Japan is usually deciding on a neighborhood. The people we’ve spoken to typically choose a location convenient to their work. The most straightforward way is to make sure your place is on the same train/subway line as the station closest to your office(or at least a minimal number of transfers)
Once you’ve found the train line associated with your work, check out the stops along the line. Which ones have the amenities you require? (Good schools, good shopping/grocery, gym, restaurants, nice parks, etc.).
If you are confident in your Japanese level, websites like Chintai (http://www.chintai.net/) are a good way to get a feel for the market before spending an afternoon and physically visiting the area.
Now that you have an idea of a few stations that you would like to live near the next step is talking to an agent. The easiest way to do this is just go to the station and look around. Literally just look around. It’s almost guaranteed that 2 to 3 different estate agent offices will be across the street or at most around the corner from your station’s exit (easy to spot them from all the apartment floorplan layouts taped all over the windows). Once there, the agent will help put together some recommendations and take you to view apartments that suit your preferences.
A little-known fact: the vast majority of estate agent offices in Tokyo are all pulling information from the same “master list”. This enables any little sales office to show you just about any rentable space within the area they are willing to travel to. However, the downside is, this also enables good ol’ Japanese style collusion price fixing making it harder for you to get a good deal.
But, take heart- while it may be difficult to alter the base rent level, there are often other angles to cut to enabling you to get a better deal
First trick in the book is to try and cut out the agent fee.
Apartment owner > Management Company > Sales Agent > You
Above is the typical flow of command. Once the lease is signed, the Sales Agent is completely out of the picture. They perform no other role than simply showing you the apartment. So, in SOME cases, you can go directly to the Management Company (or they might have their own sales office), and you’ll save yourself the .5 to 1 month rent fee for the Sales Agent. Though, admittedly, this loophole is quite rare.
If you’re thinking about moving, don’t wait until last minute! Start casually browsing months in advance. You will come across better deals, and you won’t be in a desperate/weak negotiating position like if you were waiting until you HAVE to move.
Never pay key money (1 to 2 months rent extra upfront for moving in). Long story short, it’s a relic of the past, back from when there was a huge shortage in rentable living space in post-war Tokyo, and individuals would give this “gift money” to landlords to have the “opportunity” to move in. That shortage is long gone. When in doubt, you can always play the gaijin card and have them explain what it is and why it exists. When they inevitably fail to provide a logical reason for its existence, feel free to proclaim that you will move in as soon as possible but only if they drop the key money. Works like a dream.
Never pay more than 2 months deposit. If it’s 2, try to knock it down to 1. This is where they can be flexible. Point out things like…maybe you noticed many other units in the building are also vacant…random characteristics of the building or specific unit that may make it harder for the company to rent out…
Keep an eye out for high monthly maintenance fees. These can also be negotiated down, with the help of the above “reminders”, or, for example, if you can commit to moving in asap.
There is always the possibility of getting free rent. For example: ask the salesperson to call the landlord and suggest that you will move in immediately if the rest of current month is free. This works more often than you would think. Just remember: the salesperson will work with you on your side to try and get the deal done, as they want the commission.
When it comes time to sign, ask them for a copy of the lease for your files. They will sometimes give some mini abridged worthless version of the contract, and not the real thing. Get the real thing.
Last, and most importantly, is negotiating that you don’t pay a Renewal Fee if you choose to stay after your contract runs out.
At the actual signing of the lease, there will at some point be a clause about a Renewal Fee. Don’t bother bringing it up during the sales process, wait until the signing. Here is where you have the opportunity to get them to try to explain why this fee exists. They won’t be able to. Because it’s a fee to the tune of 1 to 2 months rent for the “privilege” of renting from them again after your 2-year lease is up. (It doesn’t matter that you will have been a good tenant for 2 years and they should be giving YOU kickbacks for continuing to rent and not have to find someone else). A lot of foreigners don’t even know this fee exists until 2 years later when they have a big bill in the mail. But, at the signing, after they fail to provide a logical reason for its existence, calmly tell them (or threaten, if you like to play hardball) that you will only sign the lease if they remove the frivolous Renewal Fee. This is why the timing is important, as at this point they just want the deal done, and will almost always drop the Renewal Fee.
Also, if you are currently living in an apartment and are just finding out about this Renewal Fee, make an appointment to renegotiate lease ASAP. Sometimes they will have rules in the contract that you cannot renegotiate within 3-6 months of renewal date, so if you wait too long you might be too late and get stuck with the fee. If you are able to renegotiate the least, you can try to get it reduced, or dropped entirely.
We hope these insights have been helpful. Feel free to reach out to your Tyton advisor if you have any other questions about living in Japan and getting the most out of your money.