Monday, 3 November 2014

Moving House ~ The First

Well, I’ve finally done it. It took hours of scouting the internet, sending in CVs and only six interviews, but I finally managed to find a new job. The perks include smaller classes, a British boss and the opportunity to teach adults. 

The con – it’s all the way in Odawara, Kanagawa so I’ve had to begin the process of relocating.

Now it’s no secret to foreigners and Japanese people alike that moving house here is no walk in the park. Japan is a relatively nice and honest place to live but one of the hardest things to do here is to actually relocate. There are so many hoops to jump through and con artists out there keen to cheat you out of your money, so you have to have your wits about you. It’s easy to get swindled so it’s best to clue yourself in.
Typically, in order to move house, you are generally expected to pay the following things:

First month’s rent. This is a given.

Security deposit. Also a given. And it’s refundable at the end of contract.

Agency commission. Understandable. However, sometimes an agency fee can also equate to a month’s rent.

Key money. This is basically gift money for the landlord and is always non-refundable. Say goodbye to another month’s rent.

Fire insurance. You know – in case you set the house on fire. I would have thought this was covered by the security deposit but nope.

Maintenance. This is usually added on to your monthly rent. It’s usually only a couple thousand yen but it mounts every month. For the Brits out there, I guess this could be equated to council tax. For everyone else, maybe building maintenance?

Guarantor. In the case that you can’t find a suitable guarantor for your apartment – the person who fits the bill if you can’t – the estate agent might suggest a third party organisation to be a guarantor for you. And of course, they need to be paid.

Lock exchange. You know – to change the locks. I don’t really see the point of this one.

Renewal. So moving into an apartment is one thing but if you want to continue living there, sometimes you’re required to pay a renewal fee too. Another month’s rent.

Cleaning. And if you do decide to move out, don’t think you’re getting out too easily either. Some places will charge an extortionate cleaning fee so they can make it fresh and nice for the next tenant.

Now obviously, this is the worst case scenario and I’m sure there have been circumstances where some people haven’t had to pay all of the above but sometimes, they have to. So be prepared to part with a lot of money.

I of course, went the foreigner route at first and searched online via the infamous Gaijinpot website but Odawara is a smaller city and Gaijinpot only really possesses decent housing in and around the Tokyo area. The only houses they had for Odawara were, what is referred to as a 1K. What this kind of apartment entails is one big room with bathroom and tiny kitchenette. Having spent my first year in exactly that, I wanted something bigger so in the end, I went the Japanese route. I found a website called AtHome, perused some houses and found one that I was interested in.

If I’m honest, I didn’t actually do the leg work. I’m based in Hiroshima and Kanagawa is far so my new boss and his wife decided to check the house out for me. The house was indeed lovely. It was a 2DK on the ground floor with a balcony – or two roomed apartment with kitchen and bathroom area. On the website, it had assured me that there was no key money or deposit to be included and the price was reasonable. I had also been warned to expect a headache. And headache we got.

When it came to discussing the price, the “estate agent” began rattling off a whole bunch of different things. It turned out that there was not only a deposit (not what the website had said) but there was a deposit to reserve it as well (of which would be refundable if I decided not to take the house). There was maintenance (which I expected), a fire deposit (of which I hadn’t expected), and a ridiculously pricey cleaning fee. According to my new boss, it actually took them a while to get the total figure out of the estate agent but it was ridiculous and it made them absolutely livid.

I wasn’t there in person so I couldn’t feel the aggravation per se, but I know that it took a lot of back and forth negotiations and some getting angry to sort it all out. In the end, we’d found out that the guy from AtHome was simply a middle man between us and the actual estate agent. When they had spoken to the real guy in charge, it had turned out that the price to “reserve” the house had been a lie. It was actually free to reserve and the total price to pay was dropped to something more reasonable. The cleaning fee was still ridiculous however and the deposit was still present despite the website saying something else.

Fortunately however, it really is who you know. One of my boss’ students happened to be in real estate and had a house for rent. They went to check that place out. It was also a 2DK and the guy had offered to throw in a bike and a stove as a gift. The house was also lovely and unlike the previous one was on the second floor – which I actually prefer. Discussions for the price were negotiated, guarantor was sorted and I will sign for that house on at the end of the week.
Headache terminated.

Since then, I checked back on the AtHome website, and the apartment I had been looking at has now vanished. It turned out they were going to renovate it and I wouldn’t have been able to move in until December which is too late for me. I personally think this was just a cop out – a way for them not have to deal with us anymore – but personally, I think I got the better deal.

I’ve also spoken to a number of people who have moved house in Japan. All mention having problems or spending more money than they had to. One guy mentioned being told he had to pay for something called a Drain Outlet fee by which they sterilise the drain outlet. According to him however – having worked in real estate himself – the price they charge and the job that’s done do not add up so he refused to pay that and instead had them clean the air conditioner to which they obliged. It makes me consider how important some of these fees really are if some estate agents are happy to bend the rules.
In preparation for the signing, I’ve been told I’ll need to following things:

Residence card. All foreigners who intend to live, work and study in Japan are issued a residence card. By law, we must carry it with us at all times.

Passport. A given.

Health insurance card. I’m not sure why this is needed – especially because I’ve never used mine.

Bank book. A given.

Inkan. This is a stamp with my surname in katakana printed on it. In the UK, we sign for things. In Japan, if you have one, you use an inkan.

Juminhyou. Apparently this is residence record attained from the Ward Office where I registered my current address. I’ve been told it doesn’t take long to obtain it but I’m expecting hurdles because of my limited Japanese ability.

Payment. Obviously.

As I now almost have an apartment to move into, I’ve also looked into removal arrangements. It was suggest to me to use Kuroneko to send my stuff to my new address as I haven’t much stuff. There was only one person who could speak English in the whole of my area so after a week of not receiving an email, I contacted them via phone and managed to get things underway. So for the most part, I’m almost ready to go. I have some loose ends to tie up in Hiroshima with my current place of residence and my company of course, but I’m hoping everything will go smoothly. I don’t think I can take another headache.

Wish me luck. 

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