Home > Focus on Japan 2010 > The Hunt Is On, Again (or, where I write too much about the houses we saw)

The Hunt Is On, Again (or, where I write too much about the houses we saw)

December 18th, 2010

Sachi and I are again on the lookout for a home. We started looking about a year ago, but ran into the problem of my not having Permanent Residency, thus kiboshing the house loan. I got my PR a few months back, but my busy schedule precluded gearing up for a search again. Now that the December break is here, we’ve started again. Previously we went down to Kanagawa to search on the Toyoko Line between Musashi-kosugi and Kikuna; this time we’re focusing on the area near Hibarigaoka, where we are currently staying.

Both times, we more or less randomly chose a realtor; without a specific recommendation, it’s a crap shoot anyway. The last time we found someone in Kosugi, and either there just weren’t many homes available in the area, or the realtor wasn’t very good. He showed us something like 3, maybe 4 houses per visit, and most were not very good at all.

The guy we found in Hibarigaoka is certainly putting a bit more effort into it–today we saw about a dozen properties, with some interesting prospects, spending about five hours running around the area. And unlike the Kosugi realtor, this guy didn’t waste our time with obvious dogs, like that house behind the railroad tracks. One or two were certainly questionable, but all had some potential merit.

Naturally, there is quite a bit of leeway in making the choice–very similar to finding an apartment, but some new wrinkles added in. We would like a new home, of course, but that always carries a premium. Closeness to a good train station and shopping is important. A quiet neighborhood is also very preferable. Our personal preference is for a room downstairs Sachi can use for her reflexology and aromatherapy work; to have a big enough LDK (living-dining-kitchen), at least 13-14 “jo” (tatami mats), a bedroom that hopefully is 7 mats or better, and one or two extra rooms–small is OK–for private work rooms for myself, and then another for Sachi if there’s on to spare (she would have the work room downstairs as well). It doesn’t matter to us if the LDK is on the 1st or 2nd floor. More important is getting sunshine and having enough closet and/or storage space. Space for a garden or even just a bit of leg room outside is a nice plus, but not necessary for us. And of course you have to consider whether that parking lot next door will become a construction site, with a building going up that will cut off your light and box your house in.

Of all the places, we were able to rule 3 or 4 right out. We saw two places near Higashi-kurume Station, which is just beyond our preferred zone; one was too small and strangely shaped, the other too far out. One was inside our zone and just barely within our walking-from-the-station comfort distance, but it was too far from any shops and high-tension power lines loomed too close for our comfort. One place we went to only because we were in the area, but we knew it was out before we even saw it. It was on a narrow road with no sidewalks, but tons of traffic, including frequent buses. The place was not only noisy, it frequently vibrated due to trucks roaring by outside. Pass.

Some were possible, but missed at least one key point, like a workroom for Sachi, or a big enough LDK. Most in this category simply didn’t interest us so much.

Of the original prospects, five remained as potential keepers, but none were particular standouts. One was an empty property, but less than 5 minute’s walk from Hibarigaoka. The land space is good–about 100m2–but zoning laws require that we use no more than 40% of the land area for the building, which in Japan is pretty restrictive, lots being as small as they are. Unless we built a 3-story home, we’d be restricted to no more than 80m2 for the whole house–barely enough for us. The good point is the location–convenient to everything–and the fact that we can design our own house. One bad point is that it is down the street from a railroad crossing, which has a warning bell clanging almost constantly (trains come every few minutes most places in Tokyo). It also means more traffic than usual for the small and narrow street. The crossing is about 90m away. Sachi feels that it would not be so loud inside the house–but we couldn’t know for sure until we bought the land, built a house, and went inside.

Another place, not too much farther out in the same neighborhood, is the very first place we saw. It’s about 12 minutes from the station, just a minute’s walk from a small shopping area with a good supermarket. The LDK is a tad too small, though acceptable. The LD part of it has a high ceiling with large windows high up to catch the light–almost too bright! The house is 2 stories, but there’s a small roof balcony–more attractive in summer, for certain. The front of the house has enough room to park a car sideways (we won’t have one, but Sachi’s customers might) and still leaves space for a bench or chairs or whatever, if we wanted to relax in front of the place. It’s almost perfect–but off just enough to make us hesitate. One other point is the cost–it’s a few tens of thousands of dollars beyond our hoped-for price.

Another place was the only used property we saw. The location is very good–less than 10 minutes to several nice shopping areas, including two major department stores and a good-sized and reasonably-priced supermarket. It has two very large rooms upstairs–almost too large–and a fairly spacious downstairs as well. The price is a few tens of thousands of dollars below our limit, and we could possibly even talk it down a bit more. The problem? It’s used. It smells moldy. Does that mold smell even ever come out? I’ve seen places that are renovated (“reformed,” as they say in Japan) and later re-acquire the mold smell. Also, the design is quirky; for example, in the LD area, there’s a raised three-mat tatami dais, which would be perfect if we were to put on puppet shows or something–but for us, it’s superfluous. Plus, there’s a post almost right in the middle of the room. I would hope it’s superfluous and not load-bearing, but if it’s superfluous, I can’t begin to guess why it’s there. If we got the place, there would definitely be quite a bit of remodeling done. I don’t know if remodeling usually entails new flooring and replacing every glass door and window with double-paned glass, but if that’s in the usual budget–and if that mold smell can be banished–the place would be great.

The two remaining places were in the next town over. Both were places pretty distant from shopping, not exactly convenient for anything. But the houses were both cheap and either were spacious or felt that way, in ways just about perfect for us. Had one of them been in a location we saw the previous three in, we probably would have gone for one of them. Both were very nicely made, the rooms were all just about right, and one of them–one I really liked–was in a very, very quiet area. But that one was also inconvenient for Sachi–distant supermarket, for one, and maybe hard to find for her customers for another.

It’s not as if we expected to find the perfect place in the first week or anything. We still have to try to get life insurance, which apparently is kind of a precursor for a loan, and then we have to get the loan approved. Heck, if we run into roadblocks with the loan, the whole idea might go down the drain.

But it’s a start.

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  1. Ken sensei
    December 19th, 2010 at 05:02 | #1

    Apparently, mold is a serious issue when moving into a home. It can be very costly to eradicate. You had better get an honest estimate before making an offer.

    Best of luck on the housing search!

  2. Geoff Kransdorf
    December 19th, 2010 at 20:29 | #2

    You probably already know this, but in Japan, the value of a used house is effectively zero. In other words, a piece of land that’s empty and one with an older house on it will be about the same price. The one with the house may even be cheaper, as they assume you’ll want to demolish it.

    There are several reasons for this. One is the general Japanese dislike of used goods. Another is that older houses are generally dark and rather nasty by modern standards. Finally, most Japanese houses are built lightly for eathquake reasons and don’t last. After 20 or 30 years, they often *need* to be demolished.

    So try to find the best location that you can and pretty much ignore what’s on it. Location is more important than size. 60 sqm in Hiroo is more expensive than 120 sqm in Kita Senju for various reasons. However, many outlying areas (e.g. Setagaya, Jiyugaoka, etc.) are just as expensive as central Tokyo. Don’t expect space for any kind of yard–people usually build right to the edgs of their property.

    Finally, expect any Japanese house to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer (e.g. in the bathroom and hallways). Mansions are usually better insulated. But a house does give you some extra privacy.

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