Some of the surest bargains on the real estate market are so-called besso manshon, or resort condos. When most people in Tokyo think of second homes or weekend homes, they think of Karuizawa or the Izu peninsula or maybe the five lakes area around Mt. Fuji, where prices tend to be uniformly expensive. The thing is, second homes almost anywhere else are quite affordable, and I often check resort-net.com, which is run by Recruit, to see what’s available, and one of the most intriguing areas is actually the Boso peninsula, meaning Chiba Prefecture. A few weeks ago on the site I found 73 properties on the Boso peninsula that were priced at less than 5 million. Though Chiba has a reputation as a bedroom region it’s got lots of hills and forests and Kujukuri sea coast is cleaner and less crowded than the stretch of beach that leads from Shonan in Kanagawa to the tip of Izu. In fact, diehard surfers say Kujukuri has the best waves on the Pacific side of Honshu. More significantly, it’s cooler than Tokyo in the summer and warmer in the winter, sometimes by as much as three degrees.
Consequently, there are a lot of second homes and resort condos on sale in seaside towns like Onjuku and Katsuura for as little as 2 million yen for about 40 square meters. These two resort towns are quaint but large enough to supply all the amenities you’d want in walking distance to wherever you happen to live. Many of the resort condos are close to the main train stations, and both towns are less than 90 minutes from central Tokyo by express. If you don’t have a car this is important, since most second homes tend to be far from central business area and train lines.
Last week we took a trip over to Onjuku, which is a nice place to spend the day anyway. Because of its reputation for uncrowded beaches and fairly good waves, it’s been a surfers magnet since the 70s, and a lot of the restaurants in town are owned and/or operated by older dudes with long hair, pretty fit bodies, and eternal suntans. One such person, in fact, showed up in a suit and tie to show us some units in a 14-floor condo that was built in 1992. He admitted to being a surfer and that the real estate gig was basically not even a day job, since when he didn’t have to show properties he was out in the water. He was originally from Gunma Prefecture, which is landlocked, and had always dreamed of living near the ocean. He’d married a local girl.
Consequently, he didn’t lay the usual real estate rap on us. He said that most people who bought resort condos near the beach wanted to be on higher floors since they afforded nicer views, but generally the higher the floor the windier it gets. “People tend to have coffee on the terrace when they move in, but only for a week.” And since the wind is fraught with salt, it does more damage to the units the higher you are. Lower floors may not have as much of a view, but they’re less expensive and cheaper to maintain. He also, perhaps imprudently, mentioned that Onjuku’s fire department “doesn’t have ladders that can reach above the fourth floor,” so lower floors were better from than aspect, too.
We looked at three units, two of which were still occupied, though their owners weren’t present when we walked into them, which, frankly, felt sort of odd. Still, furnished, those apartments were much more inviting than the completely vacant one, which looked worn and forlorn. The rooms were very sunny but that was about it. The real estate agent asked if we were looking for a weekend place or something more permanent, and we avoided the question. This certainly wasn’t meant for permanency, and he said that condo living might be better for outsiders since they aren’t expected to be a part of the community, which is apparently pretty closed off. There are lots of resort houses for sale in Onjuku, too, but most people who buy them find it difficult to feel welcome.
Resort condos tend to come with things like hot spring baths and other common amenities, so while a cool 5 million will buy you the whole apartment, you still have to shell out kanrihi (management fees) as well as common repair fees, which in the case of the building we saw was 24,000 yen and 7,000 yen, respectively, a month. In Karuizawa and Izu, your monthly payments can run up to 60,000 or 70,000.
Despite the housing slump the real estate agent said that demand was actually good. Prices haven’t really changed in about seven years either way. Demand, of course, is a relative term here. Onjuku is a nice place to visti, but I don’t know if I’d want to live in a condo there.