We Bought a Tokyo Apartment and I’m Done With Real Estate

For the past three years I’ve been actively searching for an apartment in Tokyo for my friends and I to buy. It was by far the most difficult city in which to find a suitable apartment, and even up until I got the notification a few minutes ago, I wasn’t entirely sure that it would happen.

One of the biggest challenges in Tokyo is that you must buy a vacant apartment. An apartment that is occupied may take years to vacate, as apparently renters are entitled to renew their leases with no price increase. If you want them to leave or even to increase their rent, they must agree to it.

Location in Tokyo is not as simple as finding the center of the city and trying to get as close as possible. The ideal situation is to get an apartment that is a short walking distance away from a station that hosts lines that provide good coverage.

Last, most apartments in our price range (around $100k US) were not only small but only really had one room. I felt strongly that we would want to have two rooms so that two groups or individuals could each have a little privacy.

Over the past few years I’ve tried to put an offer in on about 5-7 places. Each time there was some reason it couldn’t work. Sometimes it was already sold, other times it was a price error, other times the land was leased.

Two months ago I found a place that seemed to meet all of the criteria. It had two small rooms, was only a five minute walk from Nakano-sakaue station, which has two excellent train lines going to it, was vacant, and looked good. I put in an offer and sent the deposit immediately upon acceptance, before even getting friends onboard. I then flew to Tokyo to check it out and found that it was even better than I had hoped. The rooms didn’t feel as small as I thought they would, its immediate neighborhood was very nice and had good restaurants and stores nearby. We even have a small balcony that overlooks the Shinjuku cityscape.

Next week I’ll be flying in to get the keys and set up the apartment, which I’m very excited about. I’ve been staying with the same friend since I started spending time in Tokyo 12 years ago, so it will be a pretty weird adjustment to have my own place in a slightly different neighborhood. I usually spend most of my time in Shibuya, which is still an easy 15 minute train journey away, but will probably spend more time in Shinjuku since it’s within walking distance.

Done with Real Estate

Besides my place in Vegas, I now share four properties with friends: The Island, Budapest, Hawaii, and now Tokyo. I’m done! I think five places is on the upper end of ideal, and having any more may be net negatives as they would probably siphon time away from the existing places. Two other people own every single property I have (including their own places in Vegas), one more has all non-vegas apartments, and then the rest have one or two.

My total outlay for every single property, including Vegas, was just under $100k. Not bad for one home, an island, and three vacation homes! In fact, if you amortize this amount over the six years I’ve been buying these properties, the average monthly cost was less than $1400, which is right in the range of what a lot of people pay for a mortgage or rent. I love how having all these properties seems so extravagant, but it’s actually much more financially effective than what most people do.

Now that I’m done looking for properties, my goal is to work on the existing ones to make them all extremely nice. Vegas is done, Hawaii is pretty much done, but the others need work. We did a renovation in Budapest but still need to get nice furnture, and Japan is obviously just an empty box at this point. The island will never actually be done, but there’s a lot of high-leverage stuff we can do there.

Sharing these properties still remains far better than owning them individually. Last month my wife and I visited Hawaii and got to enjoy some small improvements that the previous visitor had made. After us another friend showed up, found out that our car inspection wasn’t current and dealt with it.

It’s hard to explain exactly how owning with friends is better than any alternative (renting alone, renting with friends, owning alone), but it really is the best. It’s nice to have so many people caring about the place long-term and to have the continuity of always staying in the same place and having your stuff there.

To date we’ve had exactly zero conflicts on any of the properties, unless you count a fairly heated debate on whether or not we should have a goat at the island. Besides new friendships with locals everywhere, co-owning these places has strengthened and created friendships between owners, which is sort of the point.

You Should Really Try This

I’m a little bit amazed that no one else has done this. My other wacky ideas like living in an RV and being a professional gambler got adopted by a lot of people, but I haven’t heard of a single other person who has bought a property like this with their friends. Maybe it seems like a big deal so people are daunted by it? Or maybe it’s even rarer than I think it is to have such an awesome group of open-minded friends?

Either way, it’s worth investigating. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to find good apartments for around $100k, and at that price point it can make sense for a lot of people.

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Photo is a shrine we pass walking from our apartment to Shinjuku.

Superhuman 4 is now full and has a small waiting list. If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please let me know.

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