Which is best for you?
Broadly speaking in Japan you can choose to rent or buy, and your can choose a house or a manshon (or apato if you are renting). There are also various minor options, like living in a company dormitory, renting one of the new style maisonette apato, etc.
We'll come back to rent or buy in a future post, so for now let's just look at the various options.
This is probably the bottom of the pole. I haven't really heard of anyone buying one of these to live in, they tend to be owned by people for the purpose of renting them out. Apato have in the past been badly-constructed, although modern ones are much better.
The main benefit of an apato is that it is cheap.
The disadvantages of apato is that they tend to be colder/hotter than alternatives, tend to be less luxurious, have worse soundproofing, etc. You may have to put up with unpleasant neighbours.
There is a new style of maisonette apato that is becoming more popular (they are sometimes called casita) that is an apato on two floors, sometimes with parking on the first floor.
These tend to come in two types: rental manshons, which share some of the characteristics of apato and tend to be cheaply made, and owner manshon (which can also be rented out) which tend to have better insulation, soundproofing, services, etc.
Manshons have lots of extra costs that renters will often have included in their rent and owners will have to pay. These include the service fee (pays for cleaning, security, staff, etc.), the repair fund fee (is saved up and used for repairs and renovations to the common areas of the building), property taxes, parking, some utilities (especially water), etc.
Manshons are basically convenient. Benefits include not having to worry about maintenance, cleaning of common areas, trash rules (our manshon has a garbage shed and we can put out garbage whenever we want -I will miss this so much if we move), dealing with neighbours (we haven't really had cause to speak to any of ours for the six years we've lived here), or dealing with chonaikai (local resident) or similar groups.
If you have a manshon in the middle of the block, it will tend to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than a house or a manshon on the edge of the building.
A house allows you more freedom (you don't have to worry about the person living on the other side of the wall) and you may have a garden or some space between you and your neighbours. Renting a house can be difficult (we've tried in the past and run into landlords who wouldn't rent to foreigners or to individuals -they want to sign a contract with a company) and depending on relative scarcity can be more expensive than an apato or manshon.
If you rent all costs will be included in the rent, but if you own you'll be responsible for maintenance costs and have to take care of the outside of the house too. This can be expensive if you have to redo the walls or roof every five or ten years. There is also termite inspections/proofing, being expected to join and be active in chonaikai, garbage rules, boundary disputes, property taxes, etc.
Which is best?
Which of these works best for you is going to be a personal decision. Your work situation and commute, family situation, budget, how long you are planning to live there, whether you can rent what you want (if you want a house in a certain area, you might have to buy to get it).
I've rented apato, a house, a manshon, and bought a manshon. So far the manshon has been the best for us, balancing cost-effectiveness with comfort. We needed the house for a bit when we had all three kids plus others living with us. Now we have two manshons side by side.
How about you? What's your experience of housing? Anything I missed in this post?