August 19, 2010

Finding a House

We knew before we even got here that we would try and find a house off base to live in. We had many people tell us the disadvantages about living off base but our reasons for living out in town just seemed to fit in nicely with why we were here in the first place. We didn't come to Japan to live on base where everything would be so convenient that we would have no need to ever leave. That's not to say that those that live on base never leave but we both wanted more from our experience here than to live in a little America where everyone speaks English 24-7. We wanted to have Japanese neighbors and be within walking distance of all things Japanese so that we could be exposed to more situations where we would be forced to learn the language and the culture on a daily basis. True, Japanese homes often have small ovens that are only big enough to fit a 9x9 pan and their dryers are small and take forever to dry the clothes and the bathrooms are not like the bathrooms we are used to. As we have learned, there are ways around all of these problems. It may be a different way than we are used to but with patience and some incredible organization skills we will be able to manage normally.

After attending our housing briefing we were cleared to officialy start looking for a house. The way it works here is you check in at the housing office first and then you are allowed to look in all of the housing binders which are sorted by the different areas. Once you find a listing that looks good an interpreter will call the agent for that listing and make an appointment for you. You show up at the appointment and the agent drives you to the house. Most of the agents we came in contact with spoke a little English so that made it a lot easier when we had questions to ask.

House #1
The first house we saw was in Shonan Village. The views of Sagami Bay were spectacular and being nestled in the hills in a quaint neighborhood was appealing. The house was a bit smaller than we wanted (@ 1300 sq ft) and was a little old. The area was beautiful but not convienient to any train stations or parks and was much too far from the base and school.

House #2
The second house was actually in Yokosuka City and much closer to the base and school. This house was so much bigger than the last house (@ 2000 sq ft) with four bedrooms, a family room, living room and lots of closet and storage space. The location was much closer to the base but there wasn't much of a neighborhood feel and the streets were much too small and busy. Our parking spots were in a shared parking lot and it would have been difficult to get in and out of the small parking lot and onto the small streets (they looked more like alley ways). There weren't any parks that I could tell. It was a nice house but the location just wasn't right.

House #3
The third house was in Shonantakatori which was an area of interest to us. It was not far from the main road but still out of reach from the traffic. It was at the beginning of this wonderful neighborhood. The house was beautiful although it wasn't as big as the last house we had seen. It was only around 1500 sq ft. The commute was only 15 minutes from base and the school. There were 3 bedrooms upstairs and a 4th bedroom downstairs that could be used for an office/guest bedroom. The kitchen was long and bigger than we had seen in the other two homes and there were even 2 nice refrigerators. There was a sitting area with a deck off of the back of the house fully fenced in and up on the second floor there were two separate balconies with a sitting area off of the master balcony. Downstairs there was a traditional tatami room with the table built into the ground. This was our favorite room of the entire house. The entry way was beautiful with built in cabinets for shoes. We fell in love with the house but knew that it was out of our price range. The one downside of this house other than the price was the single parking space. We would only be able to have one car. Since the owner's wouldn't come down in price we scratched this house of our list as well.

House #4
The fourth house was located in a place called Yoshii and was only 12 minutes from base. It was well within our price range and the neighborhood was appealing. I didn't notice any parks nearby which was a downside for me. There was only one parking space for this house and it was up on a curb in front of the house. Huge downside as well. The inside was ok but not the best we had seen. It seemed to be a little newer but was too small for us (@ 1400 sq ft).

House #5
The fifth house was located in Ikegami. We had heard this was a good area but when we got to the 3 month old house we were shocked at how awful the location was. It was off of a major road and up a really steep alley like hill. The house looked like a big vertical rectangle and was much too small (@ 1300 sq ft). I didn't like the views from the house and there wasn't much of a neighborhood feel but rather a small congested place with lots of tall houses on steep hilly roads. This was definitely not the place.

House #6
By the time we were ready to look at this house we were starting to feel a little frustrated that none of the houses we looked at had any possibility. This house was in Hamamidai which is right across rt.16 (main road from base) from Shonantakatori. This was the first house that was completely acceptable inside and out. It was big enough (@ 1900 sq ft) and it had so much character. There were 5 bedrooms and all but one was a tatami room but all of them had carpet over the tatami. There was plenty of space for everything and it even had a side yard with grass. This was also within our price range but it was on a small road and there was construction across the street. The house was great but the location was all wrong.

House #7
After seeing the last house we knew that we were relying heavily on this next house to be the one. Lucky #7! That was my lucky number growing up. We had been sent this house listing by Ken from Iino Real Estate who we had contacted before arriving in Japan. I got his name from a church friend over here. Since Ken was out of town and there were still renters occupying the place we wouldn't have been able to see it until later in the week. Since Ken was out of town one of the other agents from the same agency showed Mike the outside of the house last weekend. We knew the renters were moving out and so we decided to drive over to the house and ask if we could take a look inside. The family who had lived there were in the Navy and were getting ready to PCS to Florida. They were so kind to let us look around even though they had the packers there.

The location was PERFECT with the neighborhood feel we were looking for. The streets all had sidewalks and the roads were lined with trees. With two parks within view from the house and lots of hiking trails in the area we knew it would be a good place for the kids and for my running. This particular house is located on a corner but the road that it is on has a sidewalk barrier separating it from the rest of the street so it is kind of like living in a coldesac. There are 2 covered parking spots in the front of the house and 1 garage spot under the house. Since the roads that border the house are hilly the house sits somewhat on a hill so that is why the garage is underneath the house so to speak. Inside the entry way is spacious with built in cabinets for shoes and a American like staircase leading to the second floor. It is very open and big (@ 2000 sq ft). There are 3 bedrooms upstairs and 1 bedroom downstairs. The kitchen is the biggest we have seen so far and there is a separate laundry room off of the kitchen. Most of the homes have the laundry either in the master bathroom or in a closet. There is the issue of the small Japanase stove but the Army will give us an American stove while we are here. There is a big enough space at the end of one of the counters for a stove and an outlet so an electric one would work. If that doesn't work we will have to take the Convection Oven route and put it on top of the counter. There is a washer but no dryer but the Army will supply us with a dryer. Basically any appliance that is not provided in the house will be given to us by either the Navy or Army. SCORE!! Around the corner from the kitchen is a large pantry like area where we will be able to put our food storage and canned items.

Off of the kitchen opposite the laundry room is a separate dining area big enough for a table and chairs and then a side room off of that big enough for our piano. There is a living room which will fit our leather couch that we brought. YEAH!! Off of the 4th bedroom which we would use as a office/guest bedroom there is a side yard. Half of it is decorated as a rock garden and the other half has grass. It should be a nice little yard with lots of character. When it feels too small I will just send the kids across the street to the park!

The bedrooms upstairs are decent sizes. One of the kids bedrooms is bigger than the other and the master bathroom is a little narrow but it will fit our king size bed. The master bedroom and the bedroom boarding the master both have balconies. There is a shower off of the master bathroom which is pretty unique for a Japanese house. Usually there is only 1 shower room and it is on the main floor. We do have one on the main floor as well. The bathrooms here are different than in the US. There is a little shower area where you would sit on a stool and wash. Then there is a tub but it is primarily used for soaking. It is like having your own private Onsen...just not as nice!

As we were looking around Mike and I just looked at each other and in complete unison we just smiled because we knew that this was the house for us. As soon as we got in the car we said a prayer of thanks for finally finding the right place for us to live. The very next day we called the agency to set up an appointment to view the house with the agent. After looking at the house again and still feeling good about our decision we signed an Intent to Lease form which we gave to the housing office. We were about to sign the lease for the house when we got a phone call a couple of days prior saying that the owners would not be able to lease the house to us because their son would be moving back into the area. We were crushed and extremely frustrated. We had already signed up for the Internet company and our financial paperwork was already underway. We had called the Personal Property office to schedule the delivery of our goods and I had already given out our address to places like the elementary school. I had signed the kids up for the school bus and we had not been looking at homes for an entire week. We more people moving in all the time we knew the competition for bigger homes was high. To say that we were depressed all weekend is a huge understatement. After 24 hours of being upset we got back on our feet to look at more houses. It was frustrating to look at homes that just were not a good fit for us. It had only been a couple of days of looking before we got another phone call saying that we would be able to live in the house. We are not sure what took place behind the scenes to spark this change but we were told that the son's job changed locations. Whatever the reason we are just glad that we will be able to live in this house. It is perfect for our family.

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