Extendable grid panel used as coat rack

In the most recent newsletter published our landlord, the semi-public housing corporation UR, and deposited in our mailbox there’s a specious “conversation” between a theoretical apartment renter and a theoretical apartment owner about the respective advantages of each mode of living. Discounting the whole economic side of the issue, the most obvious distinction is that owners can “freely change and remodel their apartment and replace or install amenities.” The renter counters by saying it may be nice to change your apartment the way you want, but what a pain in the neck! You have to hire someone to do the work and then move out while the work is being done. And, in any case, you can’t actually change the size of an apartment the way you can a house; whereas with some rentals, (s)he argues, the landlord will gladly remodel the unit to the tenant’s specification before the latter moves in. What’s perplexing about this line of thinking is that, while it may be true in “some” cases, as the speaker says, it isn’t true in the case of UR rentals. You have to take it the way you see it. The only part of the renter’s argument that holds water is that renters have more freedom to choose, meaning once they move in they can always move out and find something more suitable or desirable. Owners don’t have that freedom; or, they do, but it depends on how easily they can sell their property and how much of their initial investment they get back, and those points are hardly guaranteed in Japan.

Stand-alone grid panel for office use

Still, remodeling needs to be addressed. In UR apartments, as with most rental units, tenants are very limited with regard to how they can decorate, since almost all rental agreements include a term that says the tenant must leave the apartment in the exact same state as he or she found it. And while usually contracts don’t specifically say you can’t make holes in the wall, that is how most people interpret it. In any case, we’ve heard of people having had money taken out of their security deposit because of holes in the wall–but then, private landlords will find any excuse to keep that money. Read More

Too late?

Last Friday, several media reported that the land ministry released a new white paper on land and property usage based on research carried out last year. The conclusion of the study is hardly earth-shaking to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s nevertheless noteworthy. The paper says that the market for older homes and commercial properties should be expanded by maximizing their value through renovation and rebuilding. Though the Cabinet Office’s recognition that Japan is overwhelmed by superannuated, deteriorating structures is a step in the right direction, it’s difficult to understand if anything can be done about the problem as long as policies for promoting new building continues as it is.

According to the government’s findings, more than 30 percent of office buildings in Japan are at least 30 years old, meaning they were constructed before current earthquake-proof standards were implemented. Consequently, 90 percent of “real estate investors” are not interested in these buildings. The paper recommends that they be quake-proofed in order to “increase the stock of good quality” structures. It also advocates promoting energy efficiency so as to make the buildings more desirable. Such renovation will “increase the value of real estate” in general by reducing running costs. The government also concluded that as a result of last year’s major earthquake people’s “thinking about real estate” has changed: they are now more aware of “land quality.”

None of the news reports we’ve read have indicated what the government will do, if anything, to follow up on the findings of the white paper. Tax breaks for people who fix up older properties? That might work but seems unlikely given the government’s current craze for tax increases. The construction industry will certainly welcome any renovation boom sparked by tax cuts but it isn’t going to be happy if such renovation comes at the expense of new building, which is where the money is. Increasing property values in that way has never really been in the government’s interest.

Home Truths, June

Here is this month’s Home Truths column in the Japan Times. Almost everything we discuss in the article we’ve already discussed in more detail somewhere on this blog, but this is a fairly concise overview of the whole cramped housing development issue. Since this is a situation that almost anyone who buys a house must contend with, we’d be grateful to hear comments from readers, especially those who have direct experience with the problem–if, in fact, it is a problem. We’ve sort of come to the conclusion it’s something you have to live with.

Field diary: Tomisato

Tomisato is out in the direction of Narita Airport. In fact, according to the real estate agent we talked to when we went there recently, a good portion of the residents of the city make their living off the airport in one way or another, which may explain the density of motor traffic. The nearest train stations are actually in Narita City, which means everyone drives to wherever they have to go, including their workplaces. It would appear there are almost no Tokyo commuters in this stretch of Chiba Prefecture, which is understandable. At some point, you have to reach a distance where people don’t go to Tokyo to work, but the lack of public transportation is notable. Read More