With tons of college students and office workers looking to move at the same time, is dodging the “new lifestyle” season a smart move?

In Japan, spring isn’t just cherry blossom season and hay fever season, it’s also moving season.

The vast majority of Japanese colleges start their academic year in April, and mid-year transfer admissions are rare. The situation is similar at Japanese companies; most start their business year in April, and do most, or even all, of their hiring in one batch, with new employees all starting in the spring. Mid-career office transfers also usually happen around the same time too.

This results in a lot of people looking for a new apartment to move into in March, so that they’ll be settled in and close to their new school or workplace. It’s such a widespread social phenomenon that early spring is often called the shin seikatsu, or “new lifestyle,” season in Japan. With so many people looking for apartments in spring, though, there’s a bit of folk wisdom that says that if you can hold out and wait to move until after the early-spring rush, you can find places with less expensive rent, since demand for apartments is lower.

This is something that our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa has been hearing ever since his student days, but also something that he’s never been able to confirm. Moving to a new apartment is ordinarily something you do only once every couple of years, and often to a new neighborhood where the average rent might be different from the area you’re leaving, so it’s hard to track month-by-month prices for truly comparable apartments.

Though he’s not looking to change jobs or enroll in school, Seiji is thinking about moving soon, and he’s already started apartment hunting. But that old advice about being able to save money by dodging the peak moving season is rattling around in his head, and luckily he got the chance to ask a pro if it’s true or not. In Japan, pretty much all apartment hunting is done through a real estate agency, and while Seiji was riding in his realtor’s car to check out a couple promising places, the realtor brought up the topic of the new lifestyle season, saying “It really is nice having so many options to choose from during the moving season, isn’t it? If you start apartment hunting too early or too late, all the good places will be taken already.”

“But I’ve heard that if you avoid moving season, rents go down,” countered Seiji. “Is that true?”, to which his relator answered:

“No, rents don’t change in the off-season. All that seems to happen is your number of options go down.”

In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense. The logic behind the theory that it’s cheaper to look for an apartment in the off-season comes from the concept that the demand for apartments is highest in the spring, so prices will be higher, and that conversely if you go looking for an apartment in the off-season, when demand is lower, landlords will have brought rents down to attract new tenants.

Really, though, that’s an oversimplification of how economics works. Demand is only half of what determines price. Just as important is supply. Most people moving into new apartments in spring means few people moving out of their apartments at other times of the year, i.e. a lower supply of vacant apartments. So whether you’re moving in the spring, when both the demand for and supply of apartments is high, or in the off-season, when apartment demand but also supply is lower, those factors are still in similar equilibrium, meaning that prices don’t change much between the moving peak and off-seasons.

It’s the relative difference between supply and demand that determines price, so if that relative difference stays pretty consistent throughout the year, it’s really in your best interest to plan your move in the spring, when the total supply of vacant apartments is at its highest. The more options you have, the better your chance of finding a place that has the location, features, and other factors you want at a price you’re comfortable with. Wait until the off-season, and you might get stuck with only a small pool of available apartments and end up having to choose the one you dislike the least, as opposed to one you actually like, and without any lower-rent savings to make up for it.

Following up on Seiji’s question, his realtor asked his coworkers at the agency, which operates in the Shibuya and Ebisu neighborhoods of downtown Tokyo, and they all felt the same way: apartment hunting in the off-season won’t get you cheaper rent, and you’ll just have fewer choices.

That said, there is a way to save money by moving outside of peak time, but not with cheaper rent. The realtor told Seiji that you can sometimes get cheaper prices from moving companies who’re transporting your stuff to you new place if you’re moving in the off-season. Again, this goes back to supply and demand. With fewer people moving in the off-season, demand for moving services is lower. It’s not like moving companies sell off their trucks and fire their employees in late spring, though. The supply of moving services remains high throughout the year, so when demand is lower, some of them will offer discounts. Some movers will even lower their prices if you’re willing to have them move your stuff on weekdays, particularly in the morning or afternoon, since most people need to wait until the weekend, or at least after work.

As far as hunting for the apartment itself, though, Seiji’s real estate agent tells him there’s no time like the present.

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