Rent me

The Asahi Shimbun ran an article about a 62-year-old widow who abandoned her house in Saitama prefecture, where she and her late husband raised two children, and moved to a smaller house in Fukushima prefecture that her husband bought just before he died. The house has a garden and the woman says she is quite comfortable. The thing is, she did not sell her Saitama house. This unusual arrangement is made possible for a new sort of organization that helps older people “change homes.”

The basic idea behind this scheme is that older homeowners often find their houses too big for them when their children eventually leave. “Many people think that the home they live in now is the place they’ll live in until the end,” the president of this organization told the newspaper. “But that house may not fit your lifestyle when you get older.”

What this organization does is lease homes from owner at slight below the market rental value for a house of comparable size in that area. They then find a family that wants to rent the house and they charge montly rental fees that are higher than what they paid the owner but still less than market rates. The organization keeps the difference as a handling fee. Most significantly, the organization continues paying rent to the owner even when it does not find a tenant.

The main merit of this system is that it shifts potentially useless properties from the sales market to the rental market. As the head of the organization says, many of the homes they lease are more than 20 years old and, unless they are in Tokyo or Kamakura or special in some way, probably have to value. The organization takes over maintenance and may even carry out repairs before renting out the properties they lease.

It’s a good plan and a rational one given the state of the market for used houses in Japan, but a web search of these types of organizations reveals that not many people are taking advantage of the scheme. There are very, very few houses for rent at the moment. Most people, it seems, just can’t be bothered. And families still think that renting houses is a pain in the neck. They still think they have to buy, even if in the end they’re stilly throwing away their money. The 62-year-old woman is an exception.

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