Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Searching for and finding a flat (part 3)

So there I was, with a key to my house which was not a home.

During the visit, there were many things I hadn’t realized. The house, which looked ok (not exactly clean, but definitely not filthy) was in a terrible state. The filter of the AC was in a terrible condition, the sinks were stained, and the floor turned my socks black. So I spent my money on cleaning products and my morning scrubbing away until it was better.
But of course, let’s not forget there was nothing in it. There wasn’t a bed, or a chair, or a table. And, obviously, no refrigerator, microwave or washing-machine. 

So, even though I had my own apartment, it was not yet my home because I couldn’t live there. 
And then the shopping began.

Do realize that, if you go through something similar, like me you will have blown most (or all!) your savings, so spending even more money on furniture is excruciating. Sure, it’s something you must buy (you can’t sleep on the floor, now can you?) and isn’t it better sooner rather than later?

But what if you can’t afford it?
Well then, you’ve got to prioritize. 
As I have stated in earlier posts, I was incredibly lucky because I was staying at my friend’s house. That allowed me to save up some money before the shopping spree began. Also, we had a big, thick and wonderful mattress and futon she wasn’t using which was perfect for my needs (in fact, I’m still using it, I haven’t gotten around buying a bed yet!). So there, bedding solved. (Carrying the mattress from her house to mine on the train was a hilarious story. The looks we got from people were just hilarious.)
The first thing I actually bought was a low-chair, a comfortable one, because I know that since the dining-kitchen was small, a tall one would only take away more space.
Then, on one escapade I managed to find a 100-yen shop, in which I bought little things which might not seem important but are a blessing to have: somewhere to leave the drying dishes, dishes (duh), slippers, one of those sticky roles which take away dust from your clothes, etc.
Ok, so then I had the essential, small stuff but not the essential, big stuff.
So, the day came when I went to the electronics shop (Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera, etc). First things first: in Japan, these kind of huge shops have membership cards, get yourself one so that you can save up some points (or miles with JAL!).
First things I bought? A fridge, a microwave and a low table (actually, a kotatsu, because winter is coming). I figured I could always use my friend’s washing machine, but I ended up buying my own a week later.
And while I was waiting for it all to arrive home, I stayed at my friend’s (who had by then gone on a business trip) and when it was all there, and I had even managed to find some time to get some curtains…!

… I moved in.

(note, that was practically 3 weeks later!)

What kind of apartments are there in Japan?
1R (1 room): Well, as stated in the name, there is only one room (and the bathroom, separatedly). That means the ultra-small kitchen will share the same space as the bed, and usually the toilet and bathtub will also be in the same room. Normally they are 12-15 sqm.
1K (1 room, kitchen): The number stands for the rooms, and the single K for the fact that there is a small separation between the kitchen and the room. Normally, the kitchen will be in a tiny hallway. Sometimes the bath and toilet are separate, sometimes not. 
1DK (1 room, dining-kitchen): This stands for one room (the number) and for a bigger sized room with the kitchen in it, which is the dining-kitchen. It is usually much bigger than your usual 1K, and the bath and toilet are usually separate, as well.
1LDK (1 room, living-dining-kitchen): As you can imagine, it is basically a room with a very big room which stands for a kitchen, a dining and a living room, and usually it is big enough to fit a table and a sofa comfortably.

So, basically if you add numbers and take away a letter you can create any sort of apartment!
Personally, at first I was looking at spacious 1LDK’s, because I wanted as much space as possible. I ended up with a 1DK and I couldn’t be happier. Now I think a 1LDK is maybe too much for a single person. 

(note that, the bigger the apartment, the more expensive it'll be!)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Searching for and finding a flat (part 2)

...So things became hectic. 

I was arriving back to Japan the 30th, and arranged for my house-visits to be on the 31st, for on the 1st I was starting work. And, to complicate things further, I was leaving from the 5th to the 11th overseas for a business trip. So it had to be on the 31st.
I could have stayed longer at my friend’s house, but I was in a hurry on a bureaucratic level. I needed to get my papers done, namely the jūminhyō (住民票, a registry of your current residential address) to get a bank account and a phone. You can live without a phone in Tokyo, but it’s a crazy endeavor. And you need a bank account to get your salary, duh

The morning after my arrival, when it came to seeing more flats, I was very, very lucky. There were two apartments I liked: one was in the neighborhood I liked, 4th floor and quite spacious. The other was in the neighborhood my friend lived in, much bigger, on the 3rd floor. I liked both of them, but decided to apply for the latter and hope. I was, by then, quite disillusioned and pessimistic.
And, of course, I didn’t pass, because my guarantor (my uncle) (because, yes, I did need to ask him in the end) is retired, which would have left me –yet again– stranded. And here is where I must say that the girl who was in charge of my case in the Agency is an angel. Without consulting me (and this was a good thing!) she had also applied for the other building I had liked… and I passed the inspection! (How did that happen?!)

Immediately after that I ran to the Ward Office, got my papers, opened a bank account and got my phone (maybe I’ll talk about that another time). And the day after that: First Business Trip! (talk about a tight schedule!)
So I gathered all my papers and the money needed for all the payments (see below), and the day after my business trip I went to the office. I was shaking with nervousness and excitement. Would it be ok? Would I be refused again? I could not help but pray because I had had such bad luck with apartments I was almost sure something would come up. But, surprisingly, it went really smooth.
And I got my keys and a house…
… which I could not yet call a home.
(to be continued in part 3)

What are you going to pay?
Living in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive, that is a fact. And when you rent an apartment, the initial sum can be devastating. Especially if, like me, you’ve moved from the other side of the globe.
So, what exactly are you going to have to pay?

Obviously. One month in advance, of course. 
管理費・共益費Maintenance Charge and Building Management Charge
Monthly. It’s cheaper for “Apartments” and more expensive for “Mansions” (I’ll explain that in another post). It’s basically the money you pay so that the building is correctly maintained. Which makes sense, and I’m not even being sarcastic.
Some apartments don’t require a deposit, but the vast majority of them do. It’s normally a month’s rent worth. If you’ve caused any damages to the house, they’ll use that money to repair it. At the end of your stay they’ll give back most of it back to you (most of it? Yes, because they’ll use it for the cleaning of the house after you moved out).
礼金Key money
Some apartments don’t require it, either (find one of those!). Another month’s rent. And this is money you won’t ever see again. And what IS key money? It’s a gift to the owner: a “thank you for letting me rent your house”. If you paid it: say goodbye to it forever.
鍵交換費用Lock change
Yes. You’ve got to pay for the lock to be changed. It kind of even makes sense… but still. Why do I have to pay for that?
仲介手数料Agency fee:
 Another month rent, PLUS it’s tax percentage.
This varies according to the Insurance you choose. The first year is more expensive that the rest.
保証会社 Guarantor Company
Here comes the tricky part. If you’ve got someone who’s got your back financially, and IN Japan, that you can just ask that person to be your guarantor (which is what I had to do with my uncle, and I honestly didn’t want to bother him with any of this). If you don’t… and I assume if you’re reading this you’re a gaijin as well, well… One option is to ask your company (but mine wouldn’t help me here). The other is to ask a company to become your guarantor… and of course, pay. And they are expensive. Like, really expensive.

Ok, yes, but exactly how much money is that?

Let’s imagine a house’s rent is about 80,000 yen a month, which is what you get for a tiny apartment in the center or a bigger one in the outskirts. If we take that price into account…

First month’s rent: 80,000¥
Maintenance and Building Management Charge: 3,000 (for apartments)
Deposit: 83,000
Key money: 83,000 (remember: find one without key money)
Insurance: 20,000 (there are several types of insurance)
Lock changing fee: 15,000
Agency fee plus tax: 87,000 (aprox., each agency may vary)
Guarantor company fee: 88,000 (the one I was suggested, anyway)
Which equals a total of: 459,000 (without Key Money: 376,000)
Which equals (as of today): $4,249.88 ($3,481.40) or 3,345 (2,740.12)

Pretty shocking, eh?