Finding a Real Estate Agent in Japan: 5 Red Flags to Avoid

Searching for an apartment can be a stressful experience, and the last thing you need is an unhelpful real estate agent making things more problematic. We’ve created a 5 point checklist of what to look for and/or avoid when choosing a company to rent through in Japan.

1. The Bait and Switch

This is the oldest trick in the book, and unfortunately all too common. You see a fantastic deal in the window of a local real estate agent (or perhaps on a listings site) so decide to make an inquiry… only to be told that the property was *just* rented out to someone else. The real estate agent will then proceed to offer other properties that pale in comparison to the original deal.

These fake listings, dubbed “decoy properties” (おとり物件 otori bukken) in Japanese, are illegal to advertise. However, due to the difficulty in enforcing this law, it’s estimated they account for 1 in 5 properties on online listing sites in Japan.

As you can imagine (or may have already experienced) this is both a disappointment and an annoying waste of time. There are several techniques for spotting decoy properties, however, the best thing to do is make an inquiry before you get your hopes up, or stick to companies you know you can trust. At Apts.jp, we endeavor to remove leased properties from our search results as soon as possible so you only find apartments that are available to rent.

2. Impersonal Service

Generally speaking, Japanese customer service heavily relies on protocol. If you are hoping for an agent who will go above and beyond for you, then you may find yourself disappointed with the service of some agencies in Japan. This is because they are used to working with Japanese customers who are familiar with Japanese houses, already know what areas will suit them, and face few obstacles in completing their application.

Another issue, which can occur in any country, is simply inattentive service. In our opinion, a good consultant will try and get to know you as a person. They should offer properties that suit not only your budget but also your lifestyle. Do you feel like your words are falling on deaf ears? Are the properties you’re shown not matching with what you asked for? We suggest you move on and find someone who’ll serve you better.

3. Lack of Knowledge

The role of a realtor involves being able to answer detailed questions about the properties they offer. For example, depending on the direction your apartment is facing, the amount of light can vary dramatically. Your agent should research ahead of time so they can tell you if there’s good natural lighting, and whether the neighborhood is noisy or peaceful, and so on.

4. They Leave You Hanging

In an industry where speed is key, it’s vital that your agent is actively searching for apartments. They should be contacting you as soon as new properties appear. If you’re not hearing from your agent in a timely manner, that is a red flag that you’re not their top priority.

Of course, this works both ways. A slow response time on your behalf can make it hard for your agent to do their job. Don’t let tardiness cause you to miss out on a great apartment, and respond to emails and phone-calls as soon as you can.

5. No Foreigners Allowed

This is something you may already be aware of, but renting properties in Japan as a non-Japanese resident carries its own hurdles.

You may send the perfect email in Japanese and begin to feel like it’s all moving forward, only for things to quickly go south when the agent discovers you’re not from Japan. They may be slower to respond or when they do respond it’s only to say that the house you wanted is “no longer available”.

Japanese real estate agents are aware that a number of property owners will refuse to rent to someone from overseas. They should only show you properties for which they’re certain you are eligible so as not to waste your time. Depending on your nationality, the property owner may need a little convincing, however, this is where your agent can advocate for you by confirming that you’re a full-time worker, or that you understand how to sort your trash correctly.

A second barrier house-hunters run into is not being able to speak Japanese. Few real estate agents are willing to help you understand the ins-and-outs of the process, and even fewer able to facilitate by translating documentation such as the contract.

At Apts.jp we’ve seen the difficulties first hand. We can help to translate contracts, explain the terms and work together to present you as a desirable tenant – regardless of your nationality. And best of all, we’ll only show you apartments we believe you can get.

Looking to rent an apartment in Tokyo?

Contact us to speak with an Apts.jp Residential Specialist or learn more about our service.