How to Choose a Reliable, Foreigner-Friendly Real Estate Agent in Japan
Housing in Japan
Searching for a rental property these days has become a lot easier, with countless property listings and information available on the Internet. And since you can search for the information yourself, you are probably not thinking too much about visiting a real estate agent, or that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose.
But one of the factors that make house hunting a good experience is not just the quality of the property itself, but also the service quality of the real estate agent that you choose.
We have heard of many stories where house hunters were focused too much on the good and bad points of the property that they failed to choose the right real estate agent for themselves. If you are new to house hunting in Japan, it is especially important to find a real estate agent that you can trust.
In this article, we will talk about how to choose a reliable, foreigner-friendly real estate agent when you’re going house hunting in Japan.
Specialization in working with foreign clients
One of the most important things to consider is whether the agent specializes in working with foreign clients. Searching for suitable properties, explaining important items, and preparing documents for a foreign client is quite different compared to those for a Japanese national. Choosing a real estate agent that specializes in foreign clientele will definitely help make your house hunting in Japan go more smoothly.
Note that “specialization in working with foreign clients” and “capability in dealing with foreign clients” are two different things. A real estate agent that specializes in foreign clientele will normally have the following characteristics.
Most foreign residents in Japan have some level of proficiency in the Japanese language. But when it comes to house hunting, there is a lot of real estate-related jargon that may be hard for foreigners to understand. There are also many important points and rules that need to be thoroughly explained before the contract signing can take place. If you are not fully confident in your Japanese ability, then it’s better to have everything explained to you in a language you can understand well.
If the real estate agent has a staff member who comes from your own country and speaks your own language, they can explain Japanese rental procedures and housing rules in comparison with those in your country, making it a lot easier to understand.
・Multilingual website for foreigners
A real estate agent that specializes in working with foreign clients should have a website available in multiple languages. This allows you to check their property listings, staff profiles, and other information in a language you can understand, and gives you more peace of mind when you visit their shop.
Many companies have foreign language websites that are just translations of their main Japanese website. But a real estate agent that specializes in working with foreign clients likely has an independent multilingual website created especially for foreigners. They also avoid using direct translations of Japanese real estate terminology that do not convey their proper meaning.
If a real estate agent meets these two criteria, it is reasonable to assume that they specialize in working with foreign clients, and you can be certain that you will have a good experience with their service.
・Speed of service and clarity of explanations
When you find a property in a property listing website and make an online inquiry, the real estate agent will contact you by e-mail or phone. The speed and quality of their response is a good indicator of the company’s reliability.
・E-mail response time
A good real estate agent should e-mail you within 30 minutes of your inquiry (during business hours), or within an hour at the latest during busy periods. This may take around a day if you make an inquiry outside of business hours, but if there is no response even after a few days, it might be a sign of slow service.
Confident real estate agents are always conscious of their response times and the diligence of their communication.
・Quality of e-mail contents
When you make an online inquiry in most property listing sites, there is a field where you can ask any questions you may have about the property. A good real estate agent will answer your questions clearly and completely. If they reply with a template-like response without answering any of your questions, they are probably more focused on productivity rather than customer service.
An excellent real estate agent will not only answer your questions, but they will also give you additional useful information about the property, such as places of interest in the surrounding area.
・Quality of telephone customer service
The service quality can be more easily gauged through a phone conversation rather than an e-mail. Are they using a polite tone and language? Are they cordial but professional or too impersonal?
One thing you should be wary about is if the agent tells you something like “Just come to our office and we’ll see what we can do”. If they seem evasive about answering questions and simply want you to visit the office, they are probably more concerned about meeting their sales quotas.
Of course, these points apply not only to the first phone call. After visiting their office once, if their communications become slow or their attitude becomes somewhat crude, you should probably avoid doing business with them.
Gauging the true quality of a real estate agent by visiting their office
The two major points above are indicators you can use to gauge the real estate agent’s quality even before you visit their office. But even more important is the quality of service they give when you pay them a visit. It shows just how much they value their customers.
・The office’s cleanliness
Some real estate agencies have stores or offices that don’t seem to be kept tidy and organized. Try to take note of little things such as the cleanliness of their counters, the floor, and the drink glasses they use. If you think that these things are unimportant and all that matters is the quality of the property and the attitude of the agent, think again. These seemingly trivial things are a reflection of how well they value their customers. Keeping their office clean and tidy means that they care about the environment where they do business with clients.
・Documents, postings, and signs in other languages aimed at foreigners
One of the easiest ways to identify if the real estate agent specializes in working with foreign clients is if their office has prominent signs that say so. An agent that claims to cater to foreigners but does not display it in their office is dubious.
But even more important is whether the agent has property listings, floor plans, contract papers, guides about Japanese housing rules, and other useful living information prepared in multiple languages. Having these kinds of documents shows that they have done their research about how best to work with foreign clients and how to help foreign residents live comfortably in Japan.
・Customer service quality
A real estate agent who truly values a customer will naturally use polite language, be well-groomed, and have a proper attitude and manners. The following are some good and bad examples that reflect the customer service quality of a real estate agent.
・The staff welcome you with a smile when you enter the store.
・The agent prepares several alternatives similar to the property you inquired about.
・The agent answers your questions honestly and accurately,
・The agent does avoids making eye contact and keeps looking at the computer screen.
・The agent does not search for properties and prepare documents in advance despite having an appointment with you.
A real estate agent that truly cares about its customers will show it not just at a superficial level, but will practice the points mentioned above throughout their company, from the cleanliness of their shop to the conscientiousness of their customer service.
We hope this article conveyed the importance of choosing the right real estate agent when going house hunting. Check out the link below for some recommended real estate agencies for foreigners who are going house hunting in Japan for the first time.
We hope that this article will serve as a useful reference that will help you get good experience for house hunting in Japan.