After about 4 months of research, we have found a plot of land and a house builder we are happy with. But there’s still a lot of things that need to happen before I can RE.
Found a House!
The search for a house has been a painful quest from my perspective. Not sure if my wife would agree with that statement: I think she would have had no problem looking for a house for 12 more months, if I hadn’t insisted we “make a decision, already!”. I feel the past 4 months have been extremely painful, but that’s in particular because finding a house (and getting the loan for it) is pretty much the last thing that stands between me and quitting my job.
In the end, we found a city we liked, and hesitated between 3 different options in that city. One of the options was a clear winner from many aspects (larger plot of land, closer to the station), but ultimately it lost because of insulation standards that did not meet our needs.
We basically had the choice between Toyota Homes (compared to the other two: more space, closer to the station, but significantly worse insulation), Yamato Juken (who have won the “good design” award this year for their insulation), and Ichijo (good insulation too, and the folks we had been working with since the beginning).
Ichijo and Yamato Juken both offer high quality insulation for the price, and that is something we were looking for from the start. Yamato Juken in particular had a lot of compelling arguments. My wife loved their “real wood” flooring option as well as some of their creative layout (rooms with lower ceiling can accommodate for some weird local regulation while being great places for the kids to play), and they also have this “poor man’s” central heating/cooling system that I just fell in love with, which uses a regular “aircon” to cool the entire house. As an engineer, I felt this was very clever and fun.
We got to stay in both Ichijo and Yamato Juken’s model houses, and on all aspects I preferred Yamato Juken.
Not the actual house we are buying. The Model house from Yamato, literally the one we stayed in (photo found on some random site). Of course it’s a bit deceptive as it is almost twice as big as what we will end up building, but the kids had a blast staying there overnight.
Toyota homes were also doing their best to improve their insulation numbers, and overall building a more “eco friendly” house on our behalf. They provided an upgrade in insulation at no cost (including triple layered windows), offered low cost options for solar panels, and so on.
It really was a tough choice. Ultimately, we felt that despite all their efforts, the offer from Toyota homes would lead to a house with insulation that would barely meet 10 year-old EU standards for an “ok” house, let alone an energy efficient one. I would have been content with their offer due to the proximity to the station and the opportunity to have an actual garden, but we decided not to go with them. My wife felt extremely bad to say “no” to the sales woman, a young lady who had truly gone above and beyond to help us and improve their initial offering.
So it boiled down to Yamato Juken and Ichijo, two companies with great insulation for their homes. There was no comparison needed for the land, as they were competing for the exact same plot.
Although on paper Yamato Juken felt better to us, in practice my wife didn’t click at all with the salesman. He was a bit fuzzy on pretty much all details. For example, as we initially agreed to proceed with them, he taught us on a Friday evening that we would have to bring 1 million yen in cash to finalize the contract on the Sunday, with less than 48h lead time. That’s 10’000 dollars to find on a weekend, in cash. I managed to get the money, but that wasn’t the only case where he was very fuzzy on important things, and my wife grew worried of the overall “seriousness” of the company. How much would their “approximations” end up costing us? That was troublesome. She trusted Ichijo way more, even if they were a bit more expensive and offer much less flexibility in the design of the house. In particular, their salesman had been diligent (after we asked) in providing us a “worst case scenario” cost of everything involved, down to purchase taxes we’d owe the city when signing the contract. We felt we could trust their price estimate way more.
Interestingly, because of how the timing worked out, we bought the land through Yamato Juken. Signing the contract at the real estate agency was grueling: we had to bring the 3 kids with us (because Japan, no trust in the concept of baby sitters), and the real estate agents office, a 25 square meter space occupied by 4 employees, reeked of cigarette smoke. Despite us bringing 3 young children in their office, the boss had no concern and kept smoking cigarette after cigarette in the 4 hours we spent there. I wanted to yell at the 50 year old dude, but as often, as the only gaijin in the room I felt uncomfortable doing so. So I let my kids be the victims of passive smoking for 4 hours. This kind of made me feel a bit better about not pursuing the contract with Yamato Juken (even though, to be clear, they are not responsible for the offices of the real estate agent, who are a 3rd party company).
So, we’re going to get our house built by Ichijo, but I feel any of the 3 options we had would have been good. I already regret that I’m not getting the “close to the station, with a garden” house from Toyota house, or the “mad scientist and his poor man’s centralized cooling system with wooden floor” house from Yamato Juken. Hopefully though, my wife will be able to negotiate a few nice things from Ichijo.
Getting that freaking loan
This is however only the beginning of the work, it seems. After signing the contracts, it was made clear to us that we have less than a month to bring the money, at least for the land, and a partial payment for the house (otherwise everything is cancelled). We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here, so this requires a loan. Which had been the plan all along, except…
Getting a loan in Japan without a permanent residence visa is harder than I remembered. Specifically, when I bought a “manshon” back in 2012, only a few banks made it a requirement, and we had more than enough choice to pick a bank with great interest rates on the loan. Fast forward to 2018, I feel that getting a loan without permanent residence is almost impossible.
Shinsei Bank have this convoluted system where they give the money only after the house is fully built. Since we have to pay upfront for most of the work to even begin, I fail to see the point. Well, technically the way it works is that Shinsei let you take a much more expensive loan to get the money upfront, and then you get a loan with Shinsei to reimburse the expensive loan. Did you follow? Yeah, convoluted, and their rates are not even that great (about 2% fixed for a 35 year loan).
Sumitomo Mitsui and MUFG both seemed to have reasonable rates and do not require a permanent residence visa, as long as the rest is good (good salary, etc…). It’s very likely we’ll go with Sumitomo.
Mizuho has the best rates we’ve found in my case so far (I think 1.7% for 35 years fixed?), but they need proof that I am at least in the process of asking for permanent residence. Given that we came back to Japan less than a year ago, I’m not even sure if I can actually try to do that. But we’ll try nonetheless.
Quitting the company
My internal goal is to speak to my manager around the end of June to tell him I’m pretty much done with the company. I’d be open to a few months of transition if needed, although to be honest my work has been so desperately boring for the past 6 months that I don’t know how I would actually be of any help to the team.
The conversation about leaving has been tough with the few people who know (partially) about my plans. Friends and a handful of colleagues are not really grasping my situation. It doesn’t help that I’m somewhat secretive about it. Depending on the day, I’ll tell them I’m only looking for a sabbatical, sometimes I tell them I’ll be looking for another job soon enough, and other times I tell them my side gig has been doing pretty good and could be my main source of income. None of that is technically a lie, but I guess I’ve been confusing them.
Worse, even though I’ve told my wife multiple times that “end of August” was probably the furthest I could hold it, when I told her the other day “I intend to discuss leaving the company with my manager at the end of June”, she almost choked. “I didn’t realize you wanted it to happen this soon”, she said. “Didn’t I say I would hold at worst until August?”, I replied. “I somehow assumed you meant next year”. Ha, RE is always “next year”, for everyone.
Well, in truth, I kind of meant next year. IF things had gone well at work. Which they are not. So screw it. I’m getting my loan, then I’m out.
… At least I hope. Until I find another good reason not to. People are asking me “what if you sign the loan then quit immediately afterwards. Wouldn’t that be a breach of your contract with the bank? What if they find out, would they cancel the loan?”. I honestly have no idea, and that kind of freaks me out. Then again, once I have the money, I don’t think the bank will want to backpedal, unless I am not paying on schedule. And I don’t intend to do anything stupid.