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Buying a Home in Japan (Very Long Post)

June 7th, 2011

Now that we’ve been here almost two months (Has it been that little time? Were we really still in that 21st-floor apartment in Ikebukuro only a little more than a year ago? Jeez…), it’s probably about time to do a wind-up on the whole home-buying process here.

For me, buying a home was a no-brainer. If you pay rent, you get nothing back, assured. You buy a home, and yes, something terrible could happen and you could lose it all–but it’s much less likely that you would come out worse than you would if you instead paid a hundred grand per decade and got nothing back. For about a quarter of a century I paid rent, more than a quarter of a million dollars I won’t ever see again. For the first half of that, I was moving about and buying a house was not a really strong option anyway, and for three quarters of that time, I didn’t really have enough for a down payment anyway. But after getting married and having enough for a fairly healthy down payment, it really didn’t make much sense to keep renting.

When Sachi and I moved in together, we were both working, and could afford a more expensive place; we got our Ikebukuro apartment, on the 21st floor of a big building that was a few minutes away from pretty substantial shopping, about a 15-minute walk from one of the biggest stations in Tokyo. We paid about 250,000 yen a month in rent (roughly $3100, ouch). Some time into that, Sachi stopped working and started studying, and out of inertia we stayed, until it was pretty clear that we simply could not sustain that. By that time, we had already started contacting real estate agents and looking at properties.

Knowing that we would not get a house immediately, though, prompted us to move to a cheaper apartment, so we moved to Hibarigaoka. The apartment was much bigger (about 90m2), and was 60% of the cost, or 150,000 yen ($1870). We were still 15 minutes from an express station, but it was a 15- to 20-minute express train in to Ikebukuro, moving us that much farther out. This was much more in line with our budget, relieving some of the pressure to make a purchase that much sooner.

One thing I looked forward to: the mortgage payments on a house amount to somewhat less than the rent for a place just as big. We could own a nicer place than our apartment and pay less, and much of what we paid would eventually come back to us. In more ways than one, this promised to be a money-saver.

When you first start looking, the first thing to consider is the location. In Tokyo, that means focusing on train lines and stations. Ideally, you want something which has good options for transportation, and that means a train line convenient for where you expect to go to work, but also easy transfers or line conjunctions that allow you to go almost anywhere else with as little difficulty as possible.

We first started looking in a place called Kosugi, just across the Tama River from Tokyo in Kawasaki. It’s on the Tokyu Toyoko Line, which runs between Shibuya and Yokohama, with through connections to the Hibiya Line and, in a few years, the Fukutoshin Line–meaning that you could step on a train in Kosugi and it would be bound directly for the Hibiya or Fukutoshin Line destinations.

We looked at places in Kosugi itself, which has excellent shopping and, being close to the river, nice park areas, but discovered that we were late to the game–Kosugi has been a popular area for some time now, has been expanding, and so is fairly expensive. We found that in stations a bit further out, like Hiyoshi or even Kikuna (both express stations), nicer places could be found.

The next thing you want to decide on, in Japan, at least, is whether to get a house or a mansion, what the Japanese call a condominium. Mansions are very popular in Japan, and do have some attractions: they are usually located closer to the station, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or do any yard work, and often you get a nice view, if you can get a unit high up enough. For me, however, this wasn’t enough. While mansions are often located close to stations, you could get homes close in, too. I also found that mansions really did not provide any price advantage–in fact, for the same price and general location, houses tend to have more floor space. With mansions, neighbor problems are more an issue than with a house; you share walls with them, and more people are closer to you. Also, mansions come with rules that must be obeyed, and you can’t just do anything you want with the property without having to get other people’s consent.

But most of all, it just didn’t make sense as an investment. For me, the house is a possible fallback for retirement; when we’re 65 or 70, we could sell the place and that would help augment our retirement finances. With a mansion, after living there for 20 or 25 years, what you have is an old apartment in an old building–not the most attractive purchase. Even with a home purchase, after that long, the building is worth very little if anything at all–and with a mansion, the building is pretty much all you’ve got. Some mansions have communal agreements to completely renovate the structure every x-number of years, but that not necessarily a deal-saver. In the end, owning a mansion is essentially like owning a small sliver of land that is inextricably locked in with dozens of other land-sliver owners.

Buying a house made much more sense. You own the whole land, which is at least two-thirds, maybe three quarters of the whole cost. The resale price will be at least the value of the land, and establishes a base value that rises or falls no more or less than that of a mansion. In the end, the options for selling are more attractive. In addition, with a house, you make your own rules, for the most part. (For example, we can get any dog we want, while most mansions either forbid any dogs or limit the size you can own.) There are fewer immediate neighbors. There is more floor space. Yes, there is yard work and other maintenance, but it’s your house. That intangible counts for quite a bit.

By this time, you should be thinking about the house loan. When I first applied, I was rejected. Sachi already was engaged in a loan with her family, and could not act as my co-signer. I had a good chunk of change for a down payment, and I had a good, steady, well-paying job I had held for a dozen years. However, they told me that my visa standing was the deal-breaker. Although eligible, I had not applied for permanent residency. Do that, they told me, and they would consider giving me the loan. So I did, and eventually got that loan. I am not sure if having the permanent residency outweighs the co-signer benefit, if I would have been approved on a working visa had Sachi been able to co-sign for me. She couldn’t, so it never came up.

The loan is also important to consider because it helps determine your price range. For such-and-such a down payment, with a loan stretching out so many years, at such-and-such a monthly payment, you could calculate the price range you could afford.

Interest on the loan is very low; we’re paying a shade over 1%–though that could increase over time. Japan’s interest rates are usually a good deal lower than American rates, in any case. Also, property taxes are very affordable here (again, that could potentially change, but does not appear to be about to do so).

When we did the calculation, we got our price range, which was not too bad. We could afford a place not too far from a decent station, with maybe between 80 and 100 square meters of floor space. That was what we felt we wanted, minimum. So far, so good.

Another consideration in getting the loan is the insurance check. If you cannot qualify for life insurance of a certain kind or level, they won’t want to give you the loan. Which means you have to be in at least reasonable health for a person of your age.

So, by now, I knew I wanted a house, and once I got permanent residency, my chances at getting cleared for a loan were good. By this time, we had settled in Hibarigaoka, and found that we liked it as a prospect better than the Kosugi area. We had also checked out many other areas, but were limited by various preferences. One was that I didn’t want to live too close in to central Tokyo, as I value floor space more than proximity to town–but Sachi preferred closeness, and would not accept a place too far out. That gave us only a narrow range, a kind of irregular ring surrounding central Tokyo. I preferred west of central Tokyo, as my work is on this side of the Yamanote, and I have always lived in this general area and I like it.

While we looked at areas on the Keio and other lines, this area stood out better. The Seibu Ikebukuro Line is a good one; aside from going into Ikebukuro, there are direct through connections to the Yurakucho and Fukutoshin subway lines. Between those three lines, you could make connections to go almost anywhere with a minimum of fuss. Compare this with the Seibu Shinjuku Line, for example–that line has no through connections, and the terminus, while in Shinjuku, is a bit of a walk to any other train line. The Seibu Ikebukuro, at least, now gives me a direct train to the station closest to my job. While we looked at properties between Shakuji Koen and Kiyose, Hibarigaoka appealed to us as an express stop with good amenities and reasonable prices. A direct express train takes 30 minutes to get to Shinjuku, while a local train takes 42.

Hibarigaoka is also a fairly nice station area. There are two department stores and many restaurants and other businesses in the area. Parks are not too abundant, but there are enough in the neighborhood, and a whopping big one on the south side of the station. Eventually, we narrowed our search down to this area.

While selecting a real estate agent can be more or less a crap shoot, it can be important. Using more than one is a bit redundant, as they all tend to have the same list to choose from.

A warning, though–and this is where the only major down point came in our experience–no matter how nice, helpful, or resourceful the agent is, never forget that their only concern is to get your money. We let ourselves forget this, and paid for it.

We chose a realtor close to where we lived, Seibu Kaihatsu to be specific. The agent we got was as congenial and helpful as you would expect, especially here in Japan. He showed us a variety of locations, was patient and generous with his time, and had a very friendly and easygoing manner.

But at one point, he screwed us, and good. In net terms, it may not have cost us a penny or changed our final decision at all, but at the very least he royally pissed me off and robbed me of much of the joy of buying my first, and likely only home.

It was, in fact, when we had narrowed our search down to our current house. I was content to search for as long as it took, so I could get the right place. I was ready to spend a few years in the search, if need be. It was hard to do–you would see a place that was almost what you wanted, and had to gamble between getting a good place and waiting for something better which might not ever come.

When we got to this place, we were mostly sold on it. It was the right size, distance, and general location. The floor plan could have been better, or so it certainly seemed, but for the price, it was pretty attractive.

It was at this point that the agent sold us on putting down a deposit with the developer that had built the house. And here’s where he screwed us: he led us to believe that this was just something to hold the property, so no one else would take it, while we looked at it and made the final decision. He knew we were first-timers, and by this time, had a sharp sense of what we knew and didn’t know.

When he put this idea forward, the idea sounded plausible; the property could still be showcased, but putting money down would demonstrate that we were serious enough, and they could get interest off the money in the meantime, something which a corporation making many such transactions might appreciate more than a private seller.

Still, I was suspicious; this was, after all, a million yen (about $12,500), and while that might have been enough to profit the holder in terms of interest income while not costing them much in sales opportunities, it was still an appreciable chunk.

So I asked the agent, to be clear–if we decide not to buy, we get the money back, right? His answer was in the usual floral language in which clarity evades me, but between Sachi translating and my re-asking the question, the answer came through as a clear “yes.” So we got the money and came in to make the deposit.

When we did so, I began by asking again: if we decide not to buy, we get all of the money back, right? We have one month to look and think, and if we say, “we don’t like the house,” the developer returns the whole deposit, yes? The agent assured us, though he pointed out that the 15,000 yen ($187) in revenue stamps would not be returned. No mention of bank loans or any contingent events, just “yes, the money is refundable.”

Then he laid out a lengthy contract, and we went over it line by line. Again, my suspicion was roused–why such a big contract for just holding the property while we thought? In the back and forth, Sachi said that the realtor explained this was to set things up, so if we decided to buy, we would be ready to go. It sounded strange, but I really had no idea how things were done.

When we got to the part about refunding the deposit, the language in the contract was far less than clear. One last time, I asked the question, putting it as clearly as I could. If we decide not to buy, the million yen, though not the revenue stamp fee, gets returned in full, right? I tried my best to establish that it was contingent on our decision to buy or not. Again, he answered in the affirmative. No mention of conditionals. This is not just my memory–I was taking notes, I have them right here. I remember phrasing my question as carefully as I could and asking Sachi to translate. I even remember feeling a bit sheepish about repeating it so much, but I wanted to be sure.

So we signed. By now, you must think we were huge suckers. Maybe we were. But we had built up a relationship with this guy, he seemed to be working a good deal for us (he had talked the developer’s price down by about $50,000), and he had repeatedly assured me on this particular point. I simply hadn’t considered the idea that he would lie to us so baldly.

A few weeks into this “consideration” period, I started finding a few concerns. Nothing that was deal-breaking, but things that I wanted reassurances over, and points which I felt we could negotiate with the seller over. I mentioned these to the agent as we viewed the house one day, and after the viewing, I had to go to work, while Sachi went to the realtor’s office to go over some details.

I got a distressed call from Sachi later that afternoon: the realtor was suddenly claiming that the deposit was non-refundable, and if we backed out of the deal, we would lose not only all of that money, but also a significant sum to cover his commission.

I was livid. I called him up and complained. He came to our apartment, by this time it was 11:00 pm, and we had a confrontation. The guy was as unrepentant as he was dishonest–politely and firmly. He claimed, to our faces, that what he had told us was that we could get the money fully refunded only if the bank refused to give us the loan. Otherwise, we were committed and would lose the money if we decided to back out.

He called it a “misunderstanding.” I call it “bullshit.” The three times I had asked, he never mentioned a bank loan. I know the vocabulary for that, and had he mentioned it, I would have known it and asked about how it played into it. I had asked him three times, and though my Japanese is not perfect, I knew I had expressed, clearly, that I saw this as hinging purely on our decision to buy or not. He simply stuck to his story about the bank loan contingency.

In the end, we had nothing but words which could not be proven–our word against his. He had a signed contract, which, if a lawyer were to read it, said what he said he told us. But the language was not clear–Sachi, for example, read it directly, but did not see the catch–only in hindsight, being told what to look for, did she notice that contingency.

Clearly, the realtor knew this to be a hook he could use, and I have little doubt he has used it often. I am pretty sure that many Japanese would either quietly eat it, or even see themselves to blame. And yes, I was to blame as far as you can be to blame for getting scammed–but in the context of fair dealing, we were right and this guy was wrong. That didn’t help us, though–we were now in a position of either buying the house, or losing tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, as much as we could, we took the mindset of accepting the loss rather than getting a place we didn’t want–but it is impossible to truly know that it had no effect on our final decision. Maybe, free of any penalty, we would have given up on what could have been an acceptable choice, opting instead to keep looking. And maybe we wouldn’t have found anything as good, who knows.

However, this was not just about that. Buying a house is cool. It’s fun. Yes, there is worry, stress, second-guessing–but all of that is ameliorated by the joy of buying a home you can call your own.

That joy was pretty much crushed by what the agent did to us, souring the entire experience. I am pretty sure that we would have bought this house anyway–but now I cannot be absolutely sure. I will always think back on the purchase of this home as possibly being a decision that was coerced.

Furthermore, since we were committed to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, we suddenly had no negotiation leverage. For example, the house was not supplied with some amenities that houses sometimes come with–screen doors, hanger rods in the closets, little stuff like that. Things that would cost us much more than it would the developer, stuff we could not include in the loan and would have to be paid for up-front. I was mentioning some of these things to the realtor in the context of getting the developer to throw them in as part of the package–and that’s probably what prompted him to let on to what he had done to us.

Maybe it was just this one agent, maybe this kind of thing happens wherever you go. But my advice: steer clear of Seibu Kaihatsu. And whatever agency you do choose, don’t sign a thing and don’t hand over a single yen unless you know you’re ready to buy. Maybe this would have been obvious to you and we were just dumb hicks, but all the same, keep in mind that the agent is not your friend.

That drama aside, let’s get back to the general narrative on home-buying.

So, we decided to buy a house, not a mansion; we settled on the Hibarigaoka area; and we knew what our general price range was.

There are three common options you can go for in buying a house: used, pre-built, and building on land.

Used is difficult, as homes for sale tend to be older and flawed in some ways. Structural damage, musty smells, custom changes by previous owners which may not suit you, etc. We visited some used properties, but didn’t see any used buildings that had been renovated and looked like new. No warranties on the structure. Insurance would likely cost more. Older structures often don’t live up to current building codes, and might not weather things like earthquakes as well. The building might not take more modern accessories, like fiber optic cabling or cable TV connections. Locations were good and prices were low, but the houses were no great deals.

Buying land is a nice option, if you can find the land, get a builder you can trust, and get the design you want. That way, you get to design the house yourself and ask for the little custom changes that you might not get otherwise. A little room under the stairs for the dog. A bath closer to the master bedroom. Exactly the garden space you hoped for. A door from the kitchen to the outside. A dishwashing machine or western-style oven. A better living-dining layout to take the best advantage of space. More closet space. A small loft. The home office in just the right place. Ethernet jacks throughout the house. An electrical socket outside for outdoor tool use or even Christmas lights. And so on. There are firms that will listen to all the things you want and design a place to your specifications. It might end up costing a little more, but might be worth it in the end. We were following this parallel track until the agent derailed us with his “misunderstanding” about the deposit.

The last option is to buy a pre-made home. Developers will buy a property and build homes, based on what I don’t know, but I assume that at least part of it is based on what they can assemble most economically. The big advantages are in terms of overall price and immediate move-in–you don’t have to start monthly mortgage payments to the bank while the structure is planned and built. On the other hand, it will probably never be exactly what you wanted in a house. In our place, for example, I don’t think I would have made the shower in a straight line-of-sight with the front door, so as to cause an accidental flashing if a shower exit, open bathroom door, and unexpected caller all happen at the same time. Smaller details about the pre-built home might not fit exactly–the shade or quality of the flooring, the type of wall coverings, the moldings or railings, the choices for built-in appliances, etc.

You might want to look for any possible deals among those categories, not ruling any one of them out.

After those basic decisions, it’s a matter of looking and getting to understand the details involved. there are a lot of variables, and you have to weigh them all in your final decision. Here’s a basic list:

Distance from the station: a classic Japanese consideration. Unless you plan on having and regularly using a car or cars, this will be something you will have to take into account. You don’t want to be so far away that it is a major trek, especially as shopping tends to be clustered around stations. However, the closer you are to the station, the closer you may be to train noise, including railroad crossing alarms. We wanted something closer in than a 15-minute walk, but preferred closer than 10.

General neighborhood: what shops are close by? What is the general quality of the area? Are there things that could affect resale value? For example, our house is built on land that could, in twenty years, be bought by the city to put in new roads. It’s part of a city plan that may or may not ever come to fruition. Even the address can make a difference–we live a block away from Niiza City in Saitama Prefecture–but our Nishi-Tokyo address, in Tokyo Prefecture, adds value to our home.

Immediate neighborhood: Japan often has irregular zoning. Your house might be next to a small factory, a schoolyard, a cemetery, or a karaoke bar. Is there any business nearby which has trucks coming in at 4:00 a.m., making loud beeping sounds? Do the neighbors have little kids? Are there noisy pets? Our place is right next to the parking lot of a fitness center; the cars don’t make much noise, but the warning buzzer as cars leave is a bit of an annoyance. There’s also a Muay Thai gym a few doors down across the way; you can hear the punching and kicking in the evening if you have the windows open. But we’re OK with these, for the most part. (Mostly we’re waiting for the new home construction next door to stop.) Access is also an issue–we’re rather easy to find, but we earlier turned down a place that would have involved difficult directions and resulted in many a lost house guest.

You have to look at the location in four dimensions, in fact. A private parking lot just to the south could become a construction site at any time, and if it’s big enough, it might be a mansion that will block out the sun or at least ruin the view, if you have one. Our south side has another house under construction, so we know what will be there, for the near future in any case.

Size of the plot of land: We hoped for at least 100 square meters (1076 square feet). One thing to keep in mind is what amount you are allowed to build on. Many properties restrict the footprint of the building to be no more than 50% of the property area. Others allowed 80%. The size of the plot also restricts the total floor space in the building–often restricted to no more than double the maximum footprint. If you get a plot of land too small, you can’t always just build higher; it may determine the floor space available to you.

Shape of the plot of land: Some land plots are not your basic rectangles. Some have arms stretching out to give street access. You might have a larger plot but be unable to utilize a good chunk of it. Also watch out for regulations about certain areas required to be empty on the street side, or leaving clearance to adjacent lots, etc.

Outdoor amenities: Is there a parking space? Most places have one, but often it’s noting more than just concrete to squeeze a car onto it. Is there a garden space, and if so, is it in sunlight enough to plant what you want? Is the balcony space what you need? Where will you park your bikes? Can you put a shed somewhere if you want?

Layout: How is the house interior designed? That living-dining area may look spacious, but when you actually try to place furniture in it, you might find that a good amount of that area is unusable–you can’t put anything there without blocking passage, and it just winds up being wasted space. Look at the living room–where will the TV, sofa, chairs, etc. go? There may not actually be a way to set things up the way you imagined. My solution was to set up the floor plan on InDesign, where I could measure things down to the centimeter, and then try putting furniture in there. That saved me a bad purchase at one point–the floor plan looked nice, but would have been a nightmare to live in. Then there are considerations I mentioned above, like shower-front door placement, and proximity of the bath to the bedroom.

Rooms: What will you use the rooms for? Where will all your stuff go? Will everything really fit? With housing being as cramped as it is in Japan, that’s a real problem sometimes. Will the kitchen be too narrow after those cabinets go in? What space will be left over once you put that double bed where you want it?

I’m sure there are things I am missing here, but these come to me right now as being some of the bigger considerations.

When you are looking, unless there is some pressing deadline you have no say about, take your time. Don’t feel pressure to take the first acceptable place you see. Ignore the realtor when he claims that most people, in retrospect, realize that the first place they saw was actually the best. Don’t worry about somebody else snatching up the place; that may happen, and so be it. Make yourself comfortable with spending a full year or more looking at places, if need be. Consider it a part-time hobby. Sure, maybe a better place than this one your found won’t come along–but time is usually on your side, or at least this is my impression.

Don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions, or to ask to visit the developer’s office, where they’ll explain everything about construction methods, how the house passed inspections, where it rates in terms of those checks, and what features there are–for example, the earthquake-proofing, the insulation methods (our place: styrofoam, apparently), or the techniques to protect against mold or termite damage, and so on.

When you do find a place that you like, then you will do what we were misled into doing too soon: you’ll be asked to put down money as a deposit while the bank considers your loan. The contract is long, and you go over every section with the realtor.

You are going to need a hanko, a “chop,” or seal with your name on it. Usually these are wood or some artificial substitute, about a centimeter in diameter and maybe four or five centimeters long, with a kanji (possibly katakana) impression of your name on the stamp side. It must be registered with the city office–though be careful after that, as the chop will then equal your signature, and if someone dishonest gets it, you could be screwed. In a home purchase, you will be using this chop a lot. I mean, seriously, a lot. Sometimes it seems like every piece of paper needs to be stamped, twice–and there are lots of papers. You will also learn your address pretty darned well, as you will have to write that personally a lot, in this step and most others. And no, no one else can do it for you, it has to be in your hand.

You then hand over the deposit (ours was a million yen, I don’t know if that’s typical but I assume so), and wait for the loan approval. This involves a visit to the bank to make the formal application, with the usual dozens of forms and stamps. You get a lecture on interest rates, and how you can switch between low variable and higher fixed rates for varying periods of time.

After this happens, you’ll also be required to decide on insurance. The cost is pre-paid and is covered by the loan. The main structure of the house comes under a 10-year warranty if you buy new, but you will want insurance to cover various types of damage, including fire, theft, flood, etc. Insurance to pay for damage to other homes if a fire from your home damages them. Optional earthquake insurance, in five-year chunks instead of the twenty for the main insurance. Do you want insurance for the structure only, or for your personal possessions as well? How much coverage?

If the bank approves, then the sale goes forward. If not, then you’re in trouble–because if one bank turns you down for reasons you cannot change (health, financial standing, etc.) then it is considered unlikely that other banks will approve you. Nonetheless, you can try; I was ready to try Citibank, for example, should the Japanese banks say no for some reason. I have no actual idea if they would have been any different, but I would not have given up.

When the loan was approved, we went back to the bank, and, once again, went through an hour or so of writing my name and address a dozen times and applying my chop to each form.

So, now we have our place–or, at least, are beginning to pay off the 33-year loan. Two payments down, 394 to go. Unless we pay off more quickly–you can pay more than is scheduled, along certain rules and plans. I hope that we can do this, otherwise we won’t own the house until we’re 79 years old. I asked the bank, by the way, if they would agree to a base plan where I paid more per month over a shorter time. They said no.

So now, including property tax and other expenses, we’re paying less per month than we were paying in rent at our last apartment–with roughly the same floor space (some of it wasted on stairs, but not too much). On paper, the place looks small, but as it turns out, the rooms are about exactly what we need–less space would cramp us badly, but more space would not be necessary, so we don’t miss it much. The house has an “LDK”–Living room, dining room, kitchen–plus a spare room (Sachi will use for her home business) on the first floor. On the second floor are three rooms–the master bedroom, my home office, and a third room we use as an upstairs living room, with reclining sofa-chairs and the TV and media stuff. There are toilets on both floors, and the shower/bath/dressing room is on the first floor.

Small things have come up. After the earthquake and resulting power crisis (that hit just after we found ourselves semi-committed, further complicating things), the train lines were irregular for some time–and when they came back to full schedules, they had taken the opportunity to change things. One change: they limited the number of through trains to the Fukutoshin. This is a pain, as now my options are less than they were before. But not a travesty or anything.

That buzzer in the parking lot next door is proving to be more of a pain than it seemed when we were looking at the place before we bought it. It’s livable, and I will probably stop noticing it after a while. But for now, it’s a tad grating. I’d consider going to the place and asking them to consider toning it down, replacing it with something else, or even eliminating it–I’m not sure if it is legally required or not–but I have the feeling it won’t be something they’ll change. Maybe a baffle or dish to focus the sound away from us.

Otherwise, we’re happy. The interior soundproofing is pretty good, so we have relative quiet indoors. Too good, in fact, sometimes–Sachi was yelling at me to come down for dinner and I couldn’t hear her, especially if I was wearing headphones, but even without. It was leading to friction until I went to a home center and bought a wireless ringer–when Sachi presses a button in the kitchen now, I get a chime and flashing light.

The doors are nice–they close silently, and have cool little magnetized gizmos set in the floor to hold them fully open. Water pressure is great, and it only takes a few seconds for hot water to come out-mostly because the water heater (in Japan, it’s just that–it immediately heats the water, and has no holding tank) is situated close to the bath and kitchen. However, aside from the toilet and its hand washlet, there is no running water upstairs. The toilet seats, as I feared when we first saw the finished place, are a shade smaller than usual (a problem for me, not for Sachi), and the bowls are shallow at the front (also a problem for me but not Sachi–now if I lean forward too much, there’s a cold shock!). But the flush is well-designed, and the bathrooms, though lacking ventilation fans, somehow don’t hold odors like our old apartment toilets did.

And finally, sometimes you just realize that this is your house, and that’s pretty cool. Everything is working fine–and yes, I know, wait ten years and things will change–but for now, it’s a new house.

So far, so good.

Categories: Hibarigaoka Tags: by
  1. June 7th, 2011 at 20:46 | #1

    I wonder if there are web forums where people looking for houses share information about agents, catches, black spots etc.

    That would be a good place to put warning about that guy :)

  2. June 7th, 2011 at 20:48 | #2

    Btw. Can you enable email notifications about replies? All I can do is to subscribe RSS feed, which I’d rather avoid.


  3. matthew
    June 7th, 2011 at 22:12 | #3

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up. As usual a well written and insightful post. Sorry to hear about the relator —Japan has just as many assholes as any other country, but smothered in keigo (敬語)it is much more difficult to know.

    I was always rooting for you to get your PM and was sure something like a home purchase was coming for you. Congrats on making both things happen.

    I followed an alternative route–I opted for the mansion. I grew up in the countryside and absolutely detest gardening and yards and the like. My dream yard is covered in cement. LOL! So my awesome balcony with no plants whatsoever is perfect.

    I have some rather strong opinions regarding resale of homes in japan but i can only speak for my area. Tokyo is a different animal. In any case such issues are well down the road for both the mansion and the detached home owner. Hopefully we will both live long enough to have such situations.

    Enjoy your home!

  4. Luis
    June 7th, 2011 at 22:25 | #4


    I used to have that feature, but neglected to re-install it when I cleared out the plug-ins after the Pharma hack attack. I found either the same one or the equivalent. Please let me know if it works.


    Thanks! As for our situation, the garden is rather small–I think getting concrete all around would not be a problem. However, house maintenance is still a potential issue, though it probably takes a few years for things to start falling apart… You’ve got that covered, but I’ll have to deal with it. It will undoubtedly add to the expense, eventually.

  5. Troy
    June 8th, 2011 at 05:54 | #5

    yeah, I fell for the “sign the contract to reserve XYZ” line when I came back to the US and bought a car. I changed my mind and went and bought the same car at another dealer and told the other dealer to stuff it. Apparently worked.

    NEVER sign a contract unless you absolutely have to.

  6. Roger
    June 8th, 2011 at 22:06 | #6

    Thanks for taking the time to write that, Luis, and thanks for steering me towards it. It will be bookmarked for future reference. After reading about your experience, I took a couple of minutes and thought about actually leaving Japan permanently solely to avoid this headache, but real estate is pretty shady back home in the US, too, so what the hell.

    PS–I’ll see that real estate agent in hell. What a dick.

  7. Luis
    June 8th, 2011 at 23:07 | #7


    Thanks for the support–though I hope I didn’t sour you on buying a home here. I did not mean that it is a bad thing, just that you have to be aware of the dangers and keep you eyes open. Kind of like diving in the ocean–it is so enjoyable that people go out of their way to do it, but are also aware that the wrong air mixture or aquatic life with predatory or defense mechanisms could hurt them badly. Sharks in the water can be a hazard, but not if you know what to do and are prepared. We could have avoided all that simply by following the principle of not signing or paying for anything until we were 100% sure we wanted to commit fully. Of course, there may be other pitfalls as well. Maybe that web site with stories by foreigners does exist and could be informative, I don’t know.

    All the same, at the point you are at, I would definitely go for the home purchase, for the reasons given in the post and perhaps a few others.

  8. Stuart
    June 9th, 2011 at 06:23 | #8

    I always thought Japanese train crossing alarms were a nice soothing electronic bell tone that I could fall asleep to; not like the loud clanging church bell sound on American crossings or the fire-alarm sound on British rail.

  9. Troy
    June 9th, 2011 at 07:52 | #9

    yeah the seibu sen crossing alarm has a special place in my heart because I my first day in Japan was in Shakujii. Chong-Chong-Chong-Chong-Chong . . .

    But the parking lot alarm is warning that the lift is lowering, which probably is much more grating. IIRC it’s more of a buzzer than an alarm.

  10. June 14th, 2011 at 17:09 | #10

    We bought a house a few years back, and much of what you write about here echos our experiences. I might be able to help you with one of your gripes. I also wished that we had running water upstairs to use for things like cleaning the balcony and watering plants and the like. I went to the home center and bought a T-joint of the right size with a on off valve for the bottom leg of the T, so then I had a threaded water outlet available off the toilet water line. Since I wanted to be able to actually get a stream of water out to the balcony when needed I installed a reel of mini garden hose with a spray head onto the connector, but you could do pretty much whatever you wanted. Downstairs I installed a shower head using the same technique to allow us to spray off poopy diapers into the toilet. That last tip probably doesn’t help much, but hopefully the ideas before it will.

  11. Luis
    June 14th, 2011 at 18:14 | #11


    Sounds like a good idea, but maybe not what I was thinking of. I was thinking of a place to wash hands, get a drink of water, etc. More than having the pipes, we don’t have any space on the 2nd floor to set anything like that up. However, the extra faucet might be nice in that it would allow me to wash my hands without having to flush the toilet first…

  12. January 26th, 2012 at 23:31 | #12

    In accordance with my study, after a the foreclosure home is available at a sale, it is common for the borrower to still have any remaining unpaid debt on the financial loan. There are many loan providers who attempt to have all service fees and liens paid by the up coming buyer. On the other hand, depending on particular programs, restrictions, and state regulations there may be quite a few loans which are not easily fixed through the shift of personal loans. Therefore, the duty still rests on the borrower that has obtained his or her property foreclosed on. Many thanks sharing your opinions on this site.

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