Let’s face it: if you’re a foreigner, finding an apartment in Tokyo is a pain.
If you’re planning to move to Tokyo and need to rent an Apartment, here are some tips and things you should know before moving forward.
I told my friend I would only stay with him for a few days while looking for an apartment. My experience in getting apartments in Seattle had been very easy. It was all done independently (read: through Craigslist) and though it is much less regulated, is still relatively safe for finding apartments. I figured it would be the same in Japan.
In Tokyo, almost everything has to be official. You can use Craigslist Tokyo to find a space to live, but the locations are spotty, overpriced, and sketchy at best. Craigslist is good for finding a quick job teaching English, not a place to live. In Tokyo, almost all apartment searching is done through real estate agencies （不動産屋/fudousanya).
Tips for Finding An Apartment in Tokyo Through Real Estate Agencies
Use the Web
Though there are plenty of brick and mortar real estate agencies （不動産屋/Fudousanya） around Tokyo, your best bet is to look up listings online. Japanese businesses are a bit behind in internet usage compared to the US, more and more agencies have websites with listings. Especially if you are still outside of Japan. Many real estate agencies, when you visit, will just print out the first choices that appear from their website. Save extra time and hassle and come with units already in mind. I didn’t push and come prepared, so in the end I paid more for a location when I could have found another one for less.
Make Sure Foreigners are Accepted
One thing to watch out for: if you’re a foreigner, finding a place will be much more difficult than if you’re not. I heard that most apartment managers do not accept foreign tenants, and the only way to find an apartment is through an agency that specializes in dealing with foreign tenants. Though this is not true, it is the most convenient path (and also can be more expensive). The easiest places to find tend to be places where there are already a lot of foreigners.
Search Locations according to Train Lines
An interesting thing I noticed in Tokyo is that apartments are normally listed by station, and is possibly the best way to decide on a place. All apartments listings will tell you the quickest route to the nearest station (or advertise a location near a popular station, even if it’s quite far), so it’s important to plan your location around the lines you will be using for commuting, fun, and exploration.
Working with a Real Estate Agency in Tokyo
1. The agency will show you the choices.
In my experience, when you approach an agency, they ask you to fill out a form of your criteria, such as rent, location, pets, size, etc. They then put the data into their system and magically produce detailed information sheets of various apartments that match your criteria. Are these all the apartments that fit you? I doubt it. Are these the apartments they want to sell? I’m sure of it. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life, as you cannot look them up in the database itself, unless of course they allow you to look on with them.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no.
Their first choices are first for a reason, and are probably not YOUR first choice. Your bargaining skill and ability to say no is your power. If you say none of the ones match, they will magically show another listing that’s perfect for you.
3. They are ready to spend as much time with you as you need.
In Japan, the customer is God, and people at the agency are willing to spend all day with the customers. One time I saw a couple looking at residences for over three hours before making a decision.
4. They personally escort you to the apartments for a look.
This is the thing I appreciate most about agencies. Even if you spend three hours looking at a residence, once you have found two or three that match your interest, the people at the agency will escort you immediately to the location, which with Minimini was a personal drive through Nakano to my apartment. It’s tough to not feel like a celebrity when you are treated like one. This service alone makes the agency fee worth it.
5. They will hide the final fee until the end.
Agencies have to make money, too. Even if you’re a poor student, you’re going to be hit with an agency that is equal to roughly one month’s rent, on top of other things.
The Real Cost of An Apartment In Tokyo
In Tokyo, there are multiple kinds of fees that customers are hit with that do not exist in the USA so much. Whether someone other than the agency actually gets this money, I do not know.
1. Reikin – 礼金 (lit. “Thank You Money”)
Reikin is typically equal to one month’s rent and is a payment given at the beginning of the lease agreement and is non-refundable. This relic of the past comes from the days when living in Tokyo was so competitive, that people had to give “thank you gifts” as incentives (read: bribes) to landowners in order to beat out other potential tenants. This off-the-books money has been institutionalized, and many listings have this.
2.Shikikin – 敷金 (deposit)
The shikikin is the equivalent of a deposit in Japan, and is normally equivalent to one month’s rent. Though this is technically refundable, it is typically eaten up by a “cleaning fee” after you move out.
My Recommendations for Real Estate Agencies in Tokyo
There are a couple of agencies I recommend, as I used them in the past and have great things to say about both of them:
MiniMini is one of the larger real estate agencies in Japan. They have locations all over, so you can go to the agency that specializes in the area you want to live in. I chose Nakano, so I went to the agency that is literally a 30 second walk from Nakano Station. However, they do not speak any English.
Best-estate specializes in residences for foreigners and they have an extensive listing of places and a staff which speaks multiple languages. If you don’t speak Japanese, these guys are your best bet, but their listings online are outdated and should only be used to get a sense of what kind of places are open. Their offerings get snatched up quickly, so chances are that if you have seen it, it’s been taken. One great thing about them, is that when you come to the office and look for listings, they show you exactly what is in their system if you make a request.