Field Diary: Onjuku-Kamifuse

Type: One-story house; slate roof; wooden frame; siding exterior
Age: 14 years
Land: 165 square meters
Floor area: 76.6 square meters
Distance from nearest station (Onjuku on the Sotobo Line): 3.8 km
Price: ¥7.9 million

Unlike the previous property we inspected in the coastal town of Onjuku, Chiba Prefecture, this one was firmly embedded in a subdivision, albeit a sparsely occupied subdivision. Slammed up against a dense forest, the sad-looking little gray house had no southern exposure to speak of, and so was situated perpendicularly to the road, offering the vacant lots to the west and east its only views. The fact that the house is 14 years old and nobody has snatched up these lots in the meantime probably means they never will, what with other, more elaborate and better planned subdivisions going up elsewhere in the town–and closer to the station.

We couldn’t imagine anyone buying this house, which, aside from being dark, was mold-infested and falling apart. Given the low price, one might think it could be fixed up, but up close the structure, at least, seemed hopeless. The design was out of whack: The toilet on the west side? The agent was polite and helpful but obviously understood the property’s unsellability and didn’t even bother taking our data the way he’s supposed to. There would be no follow-up. We all agreed, however, that it was nice to see somebody install double-glazed windows.

Field diary: Onjuku-Jikkoku

Type: One-story house; slate roof; wooden frame; siding exterior
Age: 12 years
Land: 404 square meters
Floor area: 78.3 square meters
Distance from nearest station (Onjuku on the Sotobo Line): 3.9 km (6 min. by car)
Price: ¥10 million

Situated on the edge of a huge rice field, the land that comes with this property is probably its most attractive feature, providing a sizable front yard, which the previous residents tried to make into a combination vegetable/Japanese garden. Considering how overgrown and tacky it’s become–not to mention the fact that the original asking price was ¥11 million–no one has obviously lived there for a while. The agent told us that the house was originally connected to its almost identical neighbor to the west. At some point the corridor that bound them was torn down, leaving a mysterious windowless storeroom off the bathroom as its only evidence of prior existence.

The layout was reasonable: two Japanese rooms situated in staggered parallel, both looking south; an open living/dining area perpendicularly positioned to the kitchen, which is large and airy. Despite the efficient use of space the rooms are darker than we like, owning mainly to the low ceilings and small windows. Also, a small wooden deck was built outside of the double sliding doors on the east side of the living room, facing the farmhouse next door, which is uncomfortably close. The agent said that someone still lives there though we couldn’t see any signs of recent life. It was the model of a derelict fire trap and would make any venture out on to the deck for purposes of enjoying the sunrise or whatever depressing.

Verdict: House would need at least 3 million more to make is livable, and the land size alone, not to mention the distance from transportation, couldn’t justify the price.

Dying to get in

Who died here?

Further on the subject of the property values of places where people died, which was started in the comments section of the previous post, there was actually a book titled “Tokyo Laundering” published last year about a fictional occupation: people who are hired by landlords or realtors to live for one month in houses or apartments where people just died. By having somebody occupy the place legally, the owner can rent or sell the property at its listed value rather than the cut-rate price that most owners are compelled to advertise for such a property since, according to law, they have to tell prospective buyers/renters that a person died there. If someone lives there for a month, they’re no longer obliged to reveal that information. It’s such a clever subterfuge, we’re surprised no one has actually put it into practice.

As far as we know, the only outfit that openly advertises such properties is UR, which lists rental apartments where people have died for something like half the normal price for up to two years. Supposedly, within their system 300 units become vacant each year because someone died. We’ve also heard of realtors soliciting doctors, people in the funeral business, and foreigners for such properties since such people usually aren’t grossed out by the idea of someone having died in the place they just moved into. There’s also a website that lists properties where “incidents” occurred, and though they detail the incident that took place (with the help of inadvertently humorous illustrations) and even show you the location on a map, you’ll need to do a bit of detective work to find out about renting or buying, since all they give as contact is the name of the realtor or owner. It’s a great site, however, for those into ghoulish walking tours.

And lastly, some insurance companies offer coverage to landlords for apartment deaths. If a tenant dies in one of their properties, they can receive up to ¥1 million, which should cover the money lost as a result of an extended vacancy or decreased rent.

A riddle

The house pictured above is on a major road in the city of Inzai, Chiba Prefecture. It was built in 2004 on a 446.28-square-meter plot of land. The floor area of the house itself is 82.29 square meters. It is less than one minute from a bus station. The bus ride from that station to Inzai Makinohara station on the Hokuso train line is 13 minutes (from Inzai Makinohara to Nihombashi is a little less than an hour). Since the land is relatively large, there are none of the usual privacy problems one gets in Japanese housing developments, and the lack of buildings in the surrounding area means the house gets a lot of sunshine from three different directions.

According to Inzai city records, the average price of a single-family home in this particular area of the city is ¥24 million. This house is now on sale for ¥15 million. It has been on sale for more than three months, which is why we went to see what it looked like. With the conditions we mentioned above, this should be a steal, but for some reason no one seems to want it. Of course, normally in Japan, a house that’s older than 20 years, unless it’s in the middle of a major city, has no value. This one isn’t that old, and though it’s hardly impressive in terms of design or style, it still seems to be in good shape. Moreover, the land, which is on a major thoroughfare, should be worth quite a bit (if Inzai’s assessment protocols can be considered accurate).

But even if the property’s continued vacancy seems a mystery, it’s not a place that we ourselves would ever want to own, and maybe that feeling, more than the logic of the economics, says something.