How can one sell/rent a great old traditional house in a great part of Japan for full value, when terrible real-estate practices hamper the endeavor.
July 22, 2007 3:31 PM   Subscribe

How can one sell/rent a great old traditional house in a great part of Japan for full value, when terrible real-estate practices hamper the endeavor.

My Japanese tutor of several years wants to sell or rent her childhood home in Fujisawa's great and popular Shounan area near the sea, but the current (and mortifying) real estate practices dictate that the land needs to be leveled, the 13 varieties of old and gigantic trees be cut down, and the traditionally crafted Japanese garden and house be obliterated (along with much sentimental value).

Here's the rub. Not only does this cost around $50,000.00 (USD equivalent) to have done, the value of the property drops MORE than 50k if they try to sell it as is.

The large 6-room house has many features that aren't made anymore and are hard to find, from Snow-viewing doors, to traditionally lacquered inner sliding doors and samurai style roof. She doesn't want to rent to Japanese --since another great law says that you can't evict them after a certain amount of time-- but she doesn't know what else to do. We thought maybe renting/selling to foreigners who can appreciate the value of traditional style and quality, or to some kind of collector/group, but have no idea where to start (besides here!).

It seems almost a crime against nature to bulldoze the lot in order to put up another concrete cell-block. Can you help prevent this tragedy?
posted by Redruin to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I am not a realtor, real estate attorney, or otherwise have any specialized knowledge in this field, so take this as advice only.)

To rent the house, I'm not aware that she would need to do anything other than have a prospective tenant sign a lease. Also, as far as I know, there is no law that says that Japanese cannot be evicted "after a certain amount of time." Renters laws in Japan certainly favor the tenant, and eviction tends to be more difficult than in the United States, for example, but those legal protections are not limited solely to Japanese nationals. As for selling the house, your friend should try speaking to a certified realtor in Fujisawa (e.g. Misawa Home, Asahi, Shonan Housing) who would probably know a lot more about this topic than anyone else here. Land laws in Japan are, in my experience, rather arcane and few non-Japanese know the ins-and-outs of the field.

Good luck!
posted by armage at 4:10 PM on July 22, 2007

With the amount of detail you've provided, no. I have to say that it does sound strange that the buyer would be required to tear down an old house and only be allowed to build a concrete cellblock on the land. Maybe they really do do things different in Japan.
posted by rhizome at 4:12 PM on July 22, 2007

How much is "full value" of the house in USD?
posted by xo at 4:16 PM on July 22, 2007

I don't know about the trees, but you could sell the house itself, have it dismantled, and sent to where the buyer lives.

It seems to me that this is not an issue of "real estate practices," but zoning laws, in regards to the trees, and pragmatism, in regards to the house. While the house may have sentimental value, it has no cultural value, and is worth little or nothing for resale. It probably requires a lot of work, it may be unsafe, and there currently is not a market in Japan for older houses. For one thing, they don't make houses in Japan like they do in Canada - houses are not built to last.

The reason why you see so many old houses in the countryside is a) people simply don't have the money to tear them down and rebuild and b) they had the money to build them well 30 or 40 years ago, and they're still standing.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:34 PM on July 22, 2007

armage> Thanks for the suggestion, but unfortunately she has already spent weeks with real estate agencies in Japan, and this is the information according to long discussions with them. She is apparently certain that Japanese nationals become permanent renters after a time, that is to say, you can't evict them without paying them a ridiculous amount for the privilege.

rhizome> They most certainly do things differently there! A good primer for discovering some of Japan's bewildering policies and practices is the book "Dogs and Demons". For example, how the construction industry is destroying the environment by paving everything in sight.

Also, it's not the buyer who has to level the property, it's the seller (if they want a decent price for the lot that is) since developers maximize their profit by cramming in as many cheaply and quickly made apartment blocks as possible, and most Japanese don't seem to care about, or value traditional quality or style these days according to her.

xo> I'll ask tonight!
posted by Redruin at 4:51 PM on July 22, 2007

I live in Japan and I have always dreamed about buying of renting a house just like that. Unfortunately I don't think there is anyway I could afford it as an average English teacher. And even a smaller chance of getting a loan (laughable). I think the demand for traditional houses is out there it is just a matter of finding it. Try Japanese language bulletin boards on the subject of old houses. There is a niche for everything, especially in Japan, you just have to find it. I have spoken with many Japanese people who share my love for old Japanese houses especially among the younger generation.

I agree that real estate practices in this country are painful for everyone. As a foreigner I applied to live in 10 different apartments. Half of them simply said "no foreigners". And the other half were very reluctant to let me pay they huge amount of "bribe" money just for the privilege of living there. The accounts I have read of people buying old houses usually contain retrofitting and renovation of some of the aspects of the house (I'm thinking mainly of Joi Ito). Most people don't want to spend the money maintaining or updating something when they could have something new, shiny and "better". I have ridden by many beautiful old houses with gardens only to ride by the next day and see a backhoe parked on a pile of rubble and uprooted trees. A week later a cookie cutter house with styrofoam walls appears in it's place.

*I don't mean to derail but how much is she charging rent? got any pictures? I need more fodder for my (at the moment) unrealistic dream.
posted by Infernarl at 6:38 PM on July 22, 2007

I live in the Shonan area and am an avid reader of the local real estate mags.

What KokuRyu says is right unfortunately - basically a house has little value - it's the land that's important. Unless the house has been recently built.

There are several older homes that do go onto the market around here though. But mainly they are priced for the land more than the house itself. The price would be lower because there is the expectation that with an older house there would have to be a lot of work done to it to bring it up to the safety grades for earthquakes (I forget the exact date but most people won't buy an apartment or house built after 1985 for that reason). Alternatively, the buyer might be expected to do the demolition themselves.

Renting would be an easier option. Yes it's difficult to evict people - which is why the process of renting a place is so damn difficult.

There are a few real estate companies which have divisions dealing only with foreign clients. Although most are based in Tokyo they may take on properties in Kanagawa. Perhaps it would be better for her to look at an alternative real estate company to the main ones, or to look into renting or selling privately and then advertising the property in English publications.
posted by gomichild at 6:52 PM on July 22, 2007

Oh I forgot to add - while it may seem odd for older places not to be kept, the reality of safety is a big one. Look at some pictures of the latest quakes in Niigata - most homes that were destroyed were older traditional houses.

The newer cookie cutter houses unfortunately have a better chance of surviving unless some serious restoration work is done.
posted by gomichild at 6:58 PM on July 22, 2007

KokuRyu> We did think of dismantling and selling the house, I guess we just have no idea of where to look specifically for someone who would want that. We understand the reasons why the house isn't valuable, though it is in basically good repair, having had a family carpenter employed for its entire history I believe. Though I'm sure it's not up to spec with current earthquake standards. We just want to find someone who will see value in the house despite the current trends of opinion and market. A type of person who I'm sure exists, if only in minority, but one which I simply don't know how to find.

Infernarl> I am trying to get some more information from her regarding the house, including possible pictures. My first thought when she mentioned the problem was to advise her to look on 2chan, but she's not very techno-savvy you could say. I agree with you that Japan is the land of niches if ever there was one! It's the -finding it- part that's proving difficult... If you talk to some more of those people who share your love for old houses, steer them my way! She would probably be willing to waive the insane key/thanks/bribery/shame/deposit/外人/etc. fees for the right person too!

gomichild> I know that the land is what people want, and I think you make a good point about hesitation regarding earthquake safety grades. So I agree that renting would be best, especially since someone in the family may eventually be in a position to move in themselves and preserve the property. Do you have any ideas regarding some good English publications in which to privately list the house? I think we understand the situation but are at a loss as to the specifics of finding a renter.
posted by Redruin at 8:06 PM on July 22, 2007

Someone needs to start a business of saving these old houses by disassembling them and selling them to buyers in California.
posted by LarryC at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2007

Well one big issue here with renting is that you will still hear the infamous "No foreigners allowed" at the real estate agents.

If the house could fit a family (and it sounds like it could), and if pets were allowed one whisper into the foreign community people would be all over it. Hell if it was a reasonable price I'd be all over it.

You won't get the executive expat community because most of them choose to live in Tokyo central. But there is a big foreign community out here (apart from English teachers) - and lots of long term residents.

So if renting is the way to go she should look at the laws involved and decide whether to go with private rental or through an agency. There is a lot more protection with using an agency of course - and here you can nominate what type of tenant you are looking for.

Actually advertising in the foreign community is the easiest bit. Word of mouth would be the quickest and most reliable because then you get extra references from the beginning.
posted by gomichild at 9:04 PM on July 22, 2007

It sounds like there are two issues at play: 1) your friend would like to liquidize her capital assets [ie, the land under her house] and 2) she doesn't want to part with her house.

I'm not sure where renting it out comes in. Perhaps there will be a cashflow of 100,000 yen a month - maybe more. Deduct from that maintenance costs (the trusty carpenter, the gardener, etc) plus property taxes. There's also the realtor, who charges perhaps 30% of the rent, and this would include maintenance costs for the interior of the building (the tenant, perplexingly, is responsible for things like maintaining the garden).

Does your friend have someplace else to live? If not, factor in the cost of rent or mortgage payments.

If she does have a place to stay (you said it's her childhood home), for perhaps a net of 80,000 a month for 12 months she will have to risk renting out the place to someone. If she doesn't hire a realtor, that 80,000 yen will have to cover her time.

Renting out a property is a huge pain in the ass in Japan. We were lucky for the second half of our ten year stay. We were supposed to rent a house and a school while my wife's employer retired to Australia. We would have paid her 100,000 a month for everything. She got sick and passed away while we were renting her house. Her sister took over a landlord, so we didn't pay key money or any of that stuff (though we had up until moving into that house).

After five years, when we moved out of the house they had had enough (just the banking was annoying) and they sold the house immediately.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:02 PM on July 22, 2007

Ack, that sounds lovely. Wish I had the cash, man.

Seconding Redruin's recommendation of Dogs and Demons, but then if you've been here awhile, you know all about the construction industry though maybe not why they do what they do.

basically a house has little value - it's the land that's important

Yep. They keep knocking them down and building them back up again like clockwork, anyway. Though, as you say, not necessarily to traditional designs.
posted by dreamsign at 6:59 AM on July 23, 2007

Thanks everyone for your input, I'll have to put this on hold for a little while until she can get some more information.

She doesn't live in the house, it is empty, she lives in the US and is flying back and forth when necessary.

It seems that because of the hassle involved with renting they are actually leaning toward selling now instead, and since they need to have the land survey done before they can determine a selling price, (another characteristically streamlined ordeal) I'll have to wait for any more information.
posted by Redruin at 4:50 AM on July 26, 2007

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