As we alluded in our last article, one of the first places to start looking to save money is the agent fee, the chuukai tesuuryou (仲介手数料). The trick here is to shop around with agencies until you find one running a sale campaign.
Often, agencies will quietly offer deals like 50% off the 仲介手数料 for everyone or elimination of the 仲介手数料 if you meet a certain demographic, like students or females or young professionals. The campaigns aren't necessarily by company but by shop, so the downtown branch of a company may give you a better deal than the suburb branch of the same company. You won't find out about these campaigns unless you contact shops directly or drive past them and look for campaign signs on the windows.
Once you have found one shop that will offer you a campaign discount, you can use it as leverage to get other shops to give you the same discount. When I looked for an apartment, I found out about a 50% campaign at one local shop, then mentioned the campaign to other shops I visited. I just asked if they would be willing to match the price, and in most cases received very prompt, positive responses.
If you have time (and really, you should give yourself a lot of time for apartment searching), take it slow. Stretch out negotiations over a couple days, even if you've identified the building you like. Ask the agency, a couple times if necessary, "Can't you talk to the landlord again?" "Don't you think you could make this a little cheaper?" "Wouldn't it be possible to cut the shikikin out in exchange for 3,000 yen more per month?" (This last one is a deal I often read in ads, and it is sometimes negotiable even if it is not listed in an ad.)
If your heart is set on a specific building, run its address through Google or search for it on competitors' sites. Properties are usually cross-listed across multiple sites. The landlord just wants it rented, he's not exclusive to Apamanshop or Minimini or whoever else. You shouldn't be exclusive either. Make sure your agent is offering you the best price of the ones listed by different agencies online. One agency may have marked the rent up differently than another. Or, the landlord may have listed it with different shikikin or reikin requirements on different sites.
As soon as you find a better price, call your real estate agent. Keep on top of him (or her)! Even if you have to pester him. Remember, his job is to find you a good apartment. (And he will make bank if you sign on something.) Make it his job to get you the best price on the property, too! Whatever you agree on now will be with you for months or years to come.
Finally, when you sit down at the negotiating table, the agent may talk about other fees that I haven't covered here or in the other guides. Be wary and ask questions about each one. I have been offered things like the "Anshin Life Plan," which was a 30,000 biannual investment claiming to insure me if I lost my key or had a backed up sink. On closer inspection, turns out the "Anshin Life Plan" only covers the cost of someone coming out to the apartment and opening the door or unclogging the leak, and the renter still ends up footing a key replacement or cleanup bill. I was initially told the plan was mandatory for my apartment, but when I expressed doubt about the coverage, the agent made a ten second phone call and came back to pronounce, "We can take it off."