Relationship is souring quickly with the house builder

Part of my plan to RE involves owning a place. I’ve always assumed it would be difficult to consistently be able to rent a place in Japan, as a foreigner, with no proof of stable employment, so buying a place feels like a prerequisite to freedom. For those who’ve been following this blog, you probably know that we’ve gone the route of building a house, and for that we’ve chosen house maker Ichijo, based on multiple recommendations.

For multiple reasons, our relationship with them has been quickly souring. I don’t want to get into the grueling details, but long story short we consider they have made multiple “mistakes” in many of their cost estimates, and getting what we consider to be a basic house will end up cost way more than what we told them we were willing to pay (we’re now way past what I already considered to be a stretch).

Given that we feel some of these price increases are due to them making mistakes or misrepresenting some of the costs, we’ve asked them for a commercial gesture, which they have consistently refused to do. It seems the only thing they want to do is waste my time with useless meetings where they profusely apologize and give me a box of chocolates. But a discount, even of a thousand dollars, is unlikely at this point, despite hours of discussion and us providing proof of what we think are their mistakes. At the moment, I conservatively estimate that the house is costing us close to $20’000 more than expected due to these mistakes, and I have no reason to believe more errors aren’t on the way.

We’ve contacted lawyers, who have told us that we should involve them only if we’re really willing to cancel the contract: bringing lawyers in the process now would be really seen as an antagonist move, and if we plan to do that, we should expect the relationship to get even worse, while we’d have to work with these people for 12 more months. So, the lawyers basically told us to use them as a last resort, in the case we want to get out of the contract and get our money back (so far we’ve already paid a million yen when signing the contract, and that’s the money we could lose if we decided to move to another company). Furthermore, the lawyers have told us they would expect things to not move smoothly, and take up to one year to settle, at which point whatever money we get back would probably not cover the legal costs anyway. In other words, if we want to cancel the contract, our best option seems to forfeit the 1 million yen we’ve already paid.

I’m also not convinced that other house makers would be any better. I think they all have very shady practices when it comes to misrepresenting the actual cost of building houses: lowball the cost to attract the customer, then once the contract is signed, the client has no choice but to accept the cost increases. Among the things we feel Ichijo have misrepresented are 1) the cost of “terraforming” the land before building the foundations (Was estimated at 0.7 million yen “worst case scenario”, but turns out to be 1.5 million yen), 2) the cost of *not* installing solar panels on the entire roof (it was always represented as “the cost of no solar panel is zero”, which we discovered is untrue, as there is heavier maintenance costs involved in the parts of the roof without solar panels), 3) constantly wanting to equate the cost of the solar panels to zero because they can “offer” a loan to pay for it, and 4) (the craziest of all from my perspective) proprietary light bulbs in the house, that would require not only to be bought from them directly when one needs to be changed, but also to make an appointment with one of their specialists to change the light bulb.

On 4), which would be funny if it wasn’t happening to me, Ichijo have tried to explain that these light bulbs last decades, and so what it means is that technically I would only have to call them in 20 years and they would change the whole set in my house. First, I’m not impressed with the “20 years” duration, which is exactly what I would expect of any modern LED light bulb. Second, I want to be able to buy standard light bulbs from Amazon or anywhere else, and change them whenever and however I like, thank you. I elevates the “how many [insert here group of people] does it take to change a light bulb” joke to a whole new level.

Reviews on the internet had warned us that Ichijo were known to be great for their insulation, not so much for their customer service or the level of customization one can do to the house. I think I’m just realizing that meant asking for what I consider as “normal” such as standard light bulbs, is actually a costly option (yes, all of the problems above can be solved with more money).

The whole situation has also been impacting the mood between my wife and myself, so I’m willing to let it go: if I commit to paying about 3 million yen more, the issue goes away. But 3 million is a lot. And it does not guarantee more increases won’t surface.

But the worst for me has been the countless “apology meetings” that led to nothing more than people bowing in front of me and my wife, and me yelling at them that I didn’t care about their apology, all I wanted was for them to pay for the mistake. The apologies, without any associated actual action, made everyone very uncomfortable and brought nothing to any of the two parties. I also feel extremely bad for the salesman who’s working on our contract. There’s no doubt that some of the mistakes were his, but having his managers somewhat finger-pointing his mistakes instead of focusing on our ask as customers (“we want your company – not this guy personally –  to pay for a share of the costly mistake you made”) just makes me feel like the bad guy. People make mistakes, I get it. I don’t need them to blame him in front of us. Jeezus.

We still plan to move forward with them, and are crossing fingers that no more additional mistakes or misunderstandings will happen. In parallel, we’re also escalating our claim to higher ups in their company, in the hope that someone will be willing to actually do something about the situation (other than one more “moushi wake arimasen” meeting).

To be perfectly clear, all of the above is just my opinion on our interactions so far with Ichijo. They have stated multiple times that their perspective on how things unfolded is slightly different. I just don’t understand why, as a company, they’re not willing to make a simple commercial gesture (I directly told them I would have been satisfied with a 100’000 yen discount), recognize their mistake (even if they feel they did not do anything wrong), and move on. It does not make business sense: as a result, I’m unlikely to recommend their service to people I know.

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