Domicile Hunt

March 18th, 2010

(This post covers the move Sachi and I plan to make soon; if you know much about the location or anything else we’re considering here, advice, information, or other input in the comments would be greatly appreciated!)

At the beginning of this year, Sachi and I decided that it was time to move. For two and a half years we have been living in our apartment in Ikebukuro, and that’s much too long. Don’t get me wrong, we love it–but it’s way too pricey. When we moved in, we had two incomes and could easily afford it–it actually was less than our previous rents combined. But then Sachi stopped working, for a short time we thought, but then the short time got longer. We really should have moved to a new place a year ago, but I guess we just got complacent. As a result, we’ve been treading water financially–at least in terms of salary and the bank account, with the Apple stock taking over as the only factor increasing our assets.

So from the beginning of the year, we started looking into the idea of buying a home. We chose an initial direction–Musashi Kosugi, just on the other side of the Tama River from Tokyo on a good train line–and started to look around. We got a realtor we liked who started looking into properties for us, and began the process of applying for a bank loan.

As it turned out, the loan didn’t go through; what may eventually decide it for us is my obtaining permanent residency in Japan. That should not be a problem–after 12 straight years living here, with the career of college professor, and married to a Japanese national, I’m more or less a shoo-in. I applied a few weeks ago, but it could take 3-6 months, and even after that, the loan could take a bit more to clear, and then just finding a place we’d like to buy could take even longer–maybe even a year or more. Meanwhile, our money is going down the rent drain.

So we’ve decided to move to a new place in the meantime, and mid-April–when I have a break from school, and Sachi finishes getting her license in aromatherapy–seems like the perfect time. It’ll mean moving out of Ikebukuro, where we have enjoyed the benefits of living in central Tokyo, not to mention a nice apartment on the 21st floor with a great view–but you get what you pay for, and pay for what you get.

One of the nice things about the place we have is the landlord–or the lack of one. We live in a building run by “UR” (Urban Renaissance), a public agency which has the very attractive features of solid, modern units, relatively low rents, no usurious “gift money” for landlords or commission for real estate agents (which combined is usually equal to three months’ rent!), and absolutely no problems with being a foreigner. You do pay three months’ rent as a deposit, but they are very honest about refunding it–they gave me back nearly all my deposit when I left my place in Inagi, despite a lot of damage to the place over time. If we move out of this UR apartment and into another one, we’ll actually come out with more money, as the rent will be lower and the deposit difference will be well in our favor.

After checking around, we have found what looks to be a good candidate, in a place called Hibarigaoka. It’s on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, the second express stop out, just 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. Even better, there seem to be four trains per hour that run through to the Fukutoshin Line, which goes more or less straight to my work–two of them express trains (at worst, the train ride would be 40 minutes–perfect for watching a TV episode on an iPad…). The station area is pretty nice, with a fair amount of shopping and resources. It is a bit far out, roughly as far as Tanashi, Koganei, and Chofu–even almost as far out as Inagi, where I used to live, but on a much more straight line in to central Tokyo. Ome Boulevard runs right past that area, and to test it out I rode my scooter from Hibarigaoka to my school, and it took only a bit longer than half an hour–as with Inagi, the scooter would be faster. Catch a few lights, and it’d be a bit under 30 minutes. As an added bonus, it might even get me back to birdwatching; the place we’re looking at seems to have good birds right where it is, but the location is also a very short scooter ride from Koganei Park and Tama Reien, two good birding spots.

The apartment we’re thinking of is part of a renovation project they’re undertaking in Hibarigaoka, and about time. There’s a very old housing project there consisting of almost 200 buildings, and they look horrifyingly bad–just completely rusted, stained, run-down–as close to “slum-like” as I’ve ever seen in Japan. These are being torn down and replaced with new buildings.

We were first drawn to a unit which looked great–93 square meters, 4LDK (four rooms in addition to the main “LDK,” the living-dining-kitchen). And it is a good unit–but there’s a reason it hasn’t been snapped up yet: noise. It is right on a well-traveled road with buses constantly running through, and there’s a huge construction project going up right across the street. The windows are all double-paned glass and it’s not that bad, but it’s too much of a risk to take on just a short inspection. Too bad–as the unit is also just a few feet away from the neighborhood supermarket. But if noise were not a problem, it would have been snapped up by someone in any case, and still not an option for us.

Apt-Floorplan-01But when we came to check that one out, we also took a look at another unit which is now our prime candidate (pictured at right). It’s 85 square meters, 3LDK with a good-sized bedroom. Although the living-dining area is a tad smaller than our current place, it is bigger overall by about 12 square meters. We would use the extra room as an office or den, where my computer and other stuff would be set up; what I marked as “Sachi’s Room” is where she’d do her business with visiting clients. The rooms are all quite large–most places have rooms that max out at 6 tatami, whereas these rooms start at almost that size.

The unit is on the first floor, but it’s away from major traffic and has very nice landscaping all around (tons of cherry blossom and other nice trees). There’s a unit above us, but that’s it; the apartment is at one end of the building, and the other side is the entrance hall, so no neighbors to make noise there. Three sides of the apartment is windowed and it looks very nice. The terrace is wide enough to put a table and eat outside when it’s nice. They even have screen doors installed–something most apartments don’t have, and that costs you more. It’s a bit farther out from things–about 14 minutes’ walk from the station as opposed to the 10 minutes for the unit we originally were interested in, and it’s a 3-4 minute walk from the supermarket (a nice, large Seiyu open till 1 am), but that’s not a big problem. There will be construction one building over (the next stage of the renovation of the project), but it’s on the far side of the building and so shouldn’t be too bad. We probably won’t even have trouble with neighbors’ cigarette smoke drifting in (knock on wood).

There is one big down point: the toilet. Note from the map that it’s smack in the middle of the apartment, where the, um, toilet noises will be quite audible for most of the apartment. Worse, the toilet is plain-jane, no washlet with electric seat and bidet, something which Sachi and I now would have a very hard time doing without. But the noise issue is something we can live with I guess, and we can always buy a washlet–expensive, but not overly so.

One nice thing: the rent is $1000 per month lower than what we pay now. Not only will that save us a bundle in rent money on a monthly basis, helping to save up for the down payment on the house we’ll eventually buy, but it also means that when we move, if we get our full deposit back (which I suspect we will), we’ll have $3000 left over after paying up the new deposit. That’ll help pay for the washlet, the moving costs, and leave a nice chunk of change left over.

An interesting addendum: the unit I just described is in Higashi-Kurume City. Interestingly, the first unit we were interested in is in Nishi-Tokyo City–the city limit cuts through the development, with different city rules and regs–trash pickup is different, for instance, and we would get to use the local library almost across the street from us–only available for nice Higashi-Kurume folk, not those shifty Nishi-Tokyo riffraff.

If we move to this place, it’ll probably be around April 15~20, when I’m on break and after Sachi finishes her current training, so the timing would be good. We might even be greeted by the cherry blossoms, I’d have to check when they’re in bloom this year.

So, anyone have any input? Higashi-Kurume, Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line, a UR apartment, 1st floor in a new building, etc. We haven’t committed yet, but will have to soon if we want it.

  1. March 18th, 2010 at 03:36 | #1

    Looks like a nice place, good luck!

  2. Troy
    March 18th, 2010 at 06:11 | #2

    公団 rents on new construction were kinda high when I was looking back in the mid-90s — Y160,000 for 1Ks in Shinkawa. Aside from the no renewal fee BS, IIRC the main feature of kodan rents was that they wouldn’t go up. But in a deflationary economy that’s not much of a feature. . .

    You sure about that commute? I guess the iPad factor is actually not a joke, hell, with internet access it actually makes sense to live further away, since we all can easily spend hours a day on the stupid internet anyway. Plus the further you’re out the more likely you’ll have a seat in the morning. Mebbe you should look at the next express stop too (Tokorozawa, right?).

    Can’t say it’s too small and the price looks right.

  3. Luis
    March 18th, 2010 at 09:33 | #3

    Alex, thanks!

    Troy: Hey, I forgot about the renewal fees–I haven’t paid a single one since I went on UR. That saves another one month’s rent every two years, in addition to the 2-3 months’ rent every time I move. That eventually adds up to a tidy sum in what is essentially extortion money.

    UR rents not only don’t go up, mine actually went down when I lived in Inagi. No else I know had that happen. The rents haven’t fallen here in Ikebukuro, but we haven’t been here long. As for Shinkawa, you mean in Chuo Ward? That’s a pretty darn central area, any new building in that area will cost you. Of course, a ton of other factors apply, distance from the station being #1, but also what floor, facing what direction, etc. The rent you mention is actually just a touch above what we’d get for the 85m2 3LDK we’re looking at.

    As for the commute, remember I used to live in Inagi. The train ride was similar, but actually a bit worse–it was at least a 15 min. walk to the station, but up and down significant hills, then an always-crowded train ride which often included a transfer, and I didn’t even have an iPod, much less an iPhone or iPad for the ride. The scooter ride was worse as well. The new place has a bus stop to the station just a minute away which my school will cover, so that’s an option as well.

    Ironically, the commute would actually not be much worse than from Ikebukuro! Where I am located now, it’s a 12-14 minute walk to the nearest station, a 7-9 minute ride on the train, and then another 13-15 minute walk from the station to my school–at least 30-35 minutes, as there are no easily direct ways to get from where I live to where I work. Even the scooter ride takes 15 minutes. The new commute would be a 13-15 minute walk to the station, a 34-40 minute train ride, and then a 5-minute walk from the station–admittedly longer, but adding 25 minutes to a train commute to save a thousand bucks a month on rent is a very fair exchange, especially when most of the time would be on a single train ride where I could entertain myself. Also ironically, the cost on the scooter is lower–only an additional 15 minutes.

    One way of looking at it is also relative–lots of people commute a lot more than 1 hour door to door. In any case, that’s what I’m looking forward to when we get the house, as we certainly won’t be able to afford a place in Shinkawa!

    As for Tokorozawa, we actually have looked there as well. UR’s pickings are very weak in that area.

    Thanks for the comment, this kind of things gets me thinking in new ways and makes me analyze the situation a bit more in some areas. We’re still considering, of course, and for the timing to be right on the move, we have to wait a certain time during which the place could be snapped up anyway. When and if we get the place, you’ll be the first to know! :-)

  4. Troy
    March 18th, 2010 at 11:42 | #4


    ah yeah, your work is in east Shinjuku and not Ikebukuro.

    Since I left in 2000, they’ve finished the fukutoshin and oedo lines at least.

    As far as buying goes, with these low interest rates affordability is somewhat surprising.

    For your current rent, 3% interest + 1% property tax could handle a 7千万 loan, non-amortizing.

    One mistake I made here in the bay area was comparing amortizing loans to rents, but the principal paydown is more a form of savings so should not be considered an expense like rent per se. It’s still outgo of course!

    We’re getting up there now so Japanese banks won’t give us a 45-year loan, alas.

  5. Luis
    March 18th, 2010 at 20:02 | #5

    Well, we’re around 45 now, so a standard 35-year loan would not be feasible for us. The bank demands a 25-year loan at least–we asked for a 20-year loan, but they didn’t agree. But we calculated that a 4.7千万 cost would be about our limit (1千万 of that as down payment), should our monthly costs be held down to 18万 or lower. But I think the house loans are actually at about 1%–that’s the amount we were told as an “example,” at least.

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