We wanted to buy a house. Finding a bank that would grant us a loan to buy a house in Japan under our circumstances is difficult at best. The sticking point right now, though, is that with the loans we might qualify for, we can't afford the down payment and the closing costs. Putting down 25-30% on a house when the dollar isn't terribly strong and land is expensive just isn't something we can do right now, even if we could afford the monthly mortgage payments.
So we decided that our best course of action is to rent for a year or two and re-evaluate. This is its own animal. Up front, we will need to pay probably 5-6 month's rent in deposits, key money (unrefundable thank-you-for-letting-me-rent-here money), and agent fees. Expensive, but not as much as buying.
We would like to get a place within our budget, between the Mew's place of work and Tokyo, within a 15-minute walk of a train station. One of the big factors is the Mew's commute to work, which we'd like to keep under an hour.
This is complicated by two things: two cats (most places will not allow pets) and the need for a particular lease agreement that is different from the normal Japanese lease. The terms for the landlord aren't as favorable, so I can completely understand why most won't agree to them.
We looked at a house that was enormous (larger than our place in Arlington) and amazing - it was designed by a German couple with lots of open space, a fireplace, outlets built into the living room floor, bay windows everywhere, innumerable storage shelves/cupboards/closets/nooks/crannies, and next to the bathroom was a sauna. We were blown away. It was within our budget, pets were allowed, it was literally across the street from a park, down the street from two shopping malls and a ferris wheel(!), it was a 7-minute walk from a train station and our iPhone app said that the train time was under an hour.
After visiting with the realtor, we went back that evening and timed the train ride. Realistically speaking, the total commute would be about an hour and a half. What the software doesn't calculate is the time between trains (in one case, the walk between train stations), and even if he had a bicycle, he couldn't shave off enough time between house-to-train and train-to-work to get it down to an hour. Driving would be an hour at best, probably more with rush hour traffic.
I'm not upset about not jumping on that house, to be honest, I'd be just as happy there as somewhere else, but I'm a little apprehensive about turning down a place we know we can get in the hopes that we can get something closer. We still have two more months we can stay in the lodge, hopefully something will come up.
I've had ongoing email dialogues with two real estate agents unassociated with the base housing office that started when we thought we could buy a place, and even after we said we had decided to rent for the time being, in every single email they try to convince us that we should get a mortgage instead of renting. One of them speaks excellent English, the other one doesn't speak at all and probably runs his emails through a translator before sending them to me. The former is getting on the Mew's nerves and he's ready to cut all communication, the latter hasn't been as pushy but hasn't been as helpful with suggesting properties, either. I don't know if it's a cultural behavioral difference or something lost in the translation between languages or if they're just more concerned with their own interests than ours and are being pushy. They make a ton of money on a home sale - if they sell two in a year, they're probably doing all right for themselves.
I'm increasingly frustrated with my lack of language and reading skills. I can't research much of anything because I can't read the sites that have that information or call Japanese businesses to make inquiries. Being able to sound out Hirigana, while noteworthy to me, is only a third of the written words out there and usually not the important ones. I can ask someone how they like their red necktie or comment on how delicious the dessert is or ask for two hot coffees please, but that has limited application in this situation.