Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chapter 16 – One Tree standing (Day 19)

As scheduled we signed our building contract on 8/25. We only managed to bring the cost down by 500$ on the fifth round but we got a concession on the payment terms. I was pretty adamant about paying as little as possible upfront since so many builders have gone bankrupt in the last few years. Typically, it’s usually 33% to start, 33% halfway, 34% at the end. Typically the home is 30% finished at the halfway point so we agreed that the 1st and 2nd payment would total around that. This is just good sound risk management. As well, Sakamoto-san does not work for free and I still have to pay him while construction is on-going. Lesson here is to make sure you have money around for your architect then any materials you need to purchase yourself (in my case the AC units) then your builder.

Below is a photo of the land with the building torn down.


It actually looks much bigger than I thought. And thankfully we won’t be building as big so more space for the garden. As we you can see it’s as long as 2 standard homes and the width is that of 2 smaller homes.


This little maple was the only thing worth keeping. We will probably move it to another area and it will look great in the fall.


Today was the Land Exploration where they certify the stability of the plot. Sorry no photos. It’s pretty much a given since there was a home there standing for 20 years earlier, but you need to check before the foundation is set. 35,000 yen is pretty cheap for many years of piece of mind.

We break ground on construction on Wednesday.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter 15 – Show me the Numbers

I know people like to see the photos and designs but just as exciting (at least for me) is the number crunching. Since we closed on the land I thought I would share the percentages I would pay on closing on the land. Then I’ll go into the details of the builder contract negotiations.

Land = 100%
Tear-down = 2.83%
Municipal taxes for 2010 Pro-rata = 0.07%
Land Measurement Inspection = 0.06%
Transfer of Land rights = 0.73%
Mortgage Setup Fee = 0.50%
Judicial Scrivener Fee = 0.15%

Total is about 5.17%.

One cost I did not disclose is the real estate agent fee which is typically 3.15%+ 60,000yen. Let’s just say I’ve managed to get a GOOD discount but can’t say exactly how much.
On this commission, every agent will tell you that this is the basic fee. Some will even tell you it’s the law. All I will say here is that this is a negotiable price especially if you have not gone very far in the overall acquisition process. What you want to do here is to get the lowest commission and structure the deal in a way that real estate agent’s compensation is aligned to your goals which is to save money. One thing I would like to point out though is make sure you DON’T string along a company or agent then go with a lower bid after they’ve shown you numerous houses including “The One” you would like to purchase. Be upfront and agree on the commission first, especially you’ve already honed in on a property you found on the internet. And if you think it’s not worth bothering haggling over, just remember that 0.5% discount on a 500K$ home is 2500$ in savings, or a very nice dishwasher..)

In our case, we did not do an RFP “Request for Proposal” for the building contract but instead went with an open book approach. Our candidate builder is the same company that built the home of our architect. They also made major renovations to our friend’s home. Both were happy with quality of the work and quality of service and found the company to be very trust worthy. Below is rough breakdown of our negotiations thus far.

(1man= 10,000yen = 100$)

June 15 : Base Estimation with Sakamoto: 52man/Tsubo, This is just a guideline so we know understand how much our design incrementally increases.

June 24 : Independent estimate created by Sakamoto using known market prices.

July 8 : First Official Estimate: It is 4.47% over our safe budget. Their estimate includes a 1.2% discount.
Based on this we review the design. We simplify the bathroom and study(minus). But we had options in the kitchen(plus). Then we make all the windows double-paned with Low-Emission coating(plus). We double the insulation(plus). We decide to use paint everywhere (plus). We change loft staircase to include a platform(plus).

August 4: Second Estimate : It is now 6.5% over our safe budget. They grew our discount to 1.9%.
I’m not too happy with the increase even though I’ve added details, I feel I made some concessions to balance things out. They mention I’ll be getting back about 30man in Eco Points. But still not happy. I sit with Sakamoto-san we go through the 42 pages line by line for 2 hours. We ask the builder to go back and get more concessions from INAX since we are building both the kitchen and the bath room with them.

August 12 : Third Estimate : It is now 3.4% over budget. Our discount grew to 3.1% thanks to concession made by INAX and Miele. But still not satisfied when I realize that the bicycle parking area is not part of contract. I tell them to include it in the contract and to bring down the contract price by 15man and we’ll be 98% of the way there. I turn to Sakamoto-san and ask him if he can send me the 42 page estimate to his house. I spend a full saturday reviewing 2 sets of 1000 line items.

August 23 : Fourth Estimate: It is now 3% over budget. Our discount is now 4.2%. I’ve gotten the concrete bicycle area for free and reduced the total price by 15man. But after close inspection with Sakamoto-san’s contract, I see 50man of costs worth discussing. We agree that the wood shipping fees and the mortar paint should be reviewed. I ask them to knock off an extra 10man and we’ll call it a deal. Next meeting is August 25th when we sign the contract.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chapter 14 – Bring in the Big Boys (Day 9)

Typically by now most of the tear down would have been completed. However with the Obon Holidays things are a little behind schedule but we had planned for that.

As you can see they’ve brought in the heavy machinery and about 80% of house is torn down. With all that open space, the property really does feel big.

I climbed this heap of rubble so I could get some better photo shots.


I actually manage to climb onto the old staircase. Flip flops not recommended especially at night.


I think they are meant to be completed on Friday.


Kichijoji – Healthy Menu Monk’s Foods

Some times you’ve got to have jazz and Monk’s Foods (named after fames Thelonius Monk) is the right place for soulful organic food.


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They have a daily lunch set ( Chicken, Fish or Vegetable) for 980 yen. Below is the braised chicken with daikon. I won’t pretend I know what the small dishes contained but they were quite different from any vegetable I ever tasted, very subtle and healthy no doubt. The miso soup was especially hearty with big chunks of potatoes. All that with a nice bowl of 5 grain rice.


It’s probably the closest thing from nice home cooked meal you can get here.


First floor is a bar counter but second floor has seating for groups up to 4.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kichijoji – Restaurant Los Lobros

Very near to Inokashira Park is Los Lobros which is an old favorite of ours for the last 10 years. It used to be known as Cafe Nigiro’s but changed it’s name a few years ago and while doing so went a little more upscale in its decor.



On nice comfortable days they open up the terrace. Today is too hot though.


Lunch is a great deal: 1000 yen for a main with salad, bread and coffee/tea. Add 300 yen for a small beer.


The one drawback is that a lot of the seating by the windows are for smokers. Sort of makes sense but why treat healthy people like 2-Class citizens?




Good freshly tossed salad with tangy summer dressing. Nice toasted home made bread.


I went with the Daily special: Salmon Risotto with Haricot and Wild Rice. Great texture and cooked to perfection. Not soggy mushy risotto which makes you feel like you’re eating salty pudding.



Chapter 13- Tear Down (Day 2~4)

Not sure if people are interested in the tear down process. But if you’re wondering how much it costs, this will all the depend on the size and the materials. For example a concrete home is much more expensive than a wooden frame home. So when you’re getting you’re quote just make sure everything is itemized, from scaffolding, waste disposal to land preparation. You don’t want any surprises. We ended up getting a quote for a little less than 4man per tsubo including disposal of concrete for the large driveway. We had 3 bids for the contract and managed to bring down the cost by about 14%. Since workmanship is not so much a factor in demolition, making a decision based on cost was a no-brainer.

Day 2- The scaffolding preparation.

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Day 4 – The scaffolding is up. No heavy machinery yet. Workers are busy tearing down the interior first. I didn’t go in because I was in sandals. Today was hot and windy which made wonder about the tarp if a typhoon hits Tokyo. One worker mentioned that they roll up the tarp in the evening before finishing up the day.

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The materials are neatly separated which makes me wonder if they make a little on the side recycling some of these materials. I would not be surprised.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kichijoji Chinese Restaurant Symo Long

Hard to find good Chinese grub in Japan. It never quite feels authentic. Symo Long is probably the closest thing you’ll get in Kichijoji. The decor is what I call Chic peasant.



This is not a big place but it packs a lot of charm. I’m alone tonight so I get the little table right under the stairs.


Behind me are a couple of small tables and the entrance. The kitchen is open and can be seen from the street.


Tonight I order their specialty: sholompo or Juicy pork dumplings. Usually they are steamed but here they steam and fry them a little in a pan. The result is a crispy dumpling that oozes juiciness when you take a bite.


Sholompo close-up. Four for 550yen.


Below is the Fried Rice with Black Shoyu (Soy Sauce). It’s of course a little saltier than you’re average rice, but the sauce adds a tanginess to the dish. You can’t see it very well because it’s one big brown mass, but there are tons of finely chopped vegetables in there. My conscience is safe.


Chapter 12 - The Handover (Day 1)

The keys were handed over today in what ended up being an anti-climactic affair. Basically, you walk in the house and make sure they have not left anything that would increase the cost of the tear-down such as large furniture, or some huge safe (believe me we have one in the current place we live in). While surveying the place, I think we had elevated hopes that there would be something worth salvaging. But as I inspected each room, it was obvious that they had built this house very cheaply (gray wall-paper, linoleum sheet peeling off in the kitchen, etc.). Shabby is the word that comes to mind.

Entrance: That gate is going away. As well that horrible Car Port. There’s enough space to park 3 cars, but we’ll stick with 1 car park, 1space for bikes and a nice public garden.

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The previous owners covered as much land as possible so the approach to the entrance feels crowded. Our home will be 25% smaller so this space will be much more open for greenery thus more welcoming.


The main entrance. We are keeping that nice little maple tree.

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The interior from wall coverings to flooring quality to lighting fixtures is all cheap. One thing we were curious about was natural light. And as expected there’s lots of it. There was also a nice breeze flowing through.

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The current Master bedroom on the second floor is where the large patio deck will be. Not many neighbor windows facing that side and there’s at least 10 meters of clearance.


After the handover, my architect and I went over the building estimate taking a fine comb through 45 pages of details. Current estimate is about 4% above our goal. So we have a couple of rounds to go on that one.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kichijoji – Ken’s Sandwiches

Kichijoji was made for walking. But walking can make you hungry. There are tons of cafes but I don’t want a cake and coffee all the time. Sometimes I want something substantial but not a full on meal. This is where Ken’s Sandwiches fits in.



Ken’s sells only 2 types of sandwich: Veggie Menchi Katsu Sandwich or the Pork Filet Katsu Sandwich. The veggie sandwich is ground vegetables that are breaded then deep fried. Same thing with the pork. The pork is my favorite no surprises here. You have an option of 2 sauces. Sorry but I can’t remember the names.


This is mostly a take out place but they have a couple of tables where you can people watch. Oh and they server free coffee!! Another bonus.


An honest place that gets to heart of the…Katsu Sandwich. Bushido of the Katsu.


Now time for a nice afternoon nap.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Kichijoji - Cafe Zenon

Cafe Zenon (link) is a new concept cafe restaurant in Kichijoji. The concept centers around Manga: Home X Manga, Art X Manga, Cafe X Manga.


It’s located right below the Kichijoji Train tracks about 5 minutes out from the station.


Some cool pendant lighting.


Below is the main dining area. Cool retro furniture with some couches in the corner.


Very cool interior design with an indoor terrace. Very funky.


But how’s the food? This baby is the Hamburger Focaccia Sandwich: Hamburger, thick tomato slice, lightly fried onions on lettuce topped with a tangy tartar sauce. A competent Mojito on the side. Chill groove music on the background. Need I say more?




Just want to add that they have a few Apple Macs to surf the web and free wireless as well. Just as the waiter for the password. Actually this post was entirely written and uploaded at Cafe Zenon. See below? That’s your table waiting.