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Buying a property in Japan

How to save money and avoid costly mistakes when buying property in Japan from Australia.

If you're thinking about buying a property in Japan, we've got good news: Japan doesn't place any restrictions on foreigners buying property. But the Japanese property market is quite different to Australia's, and there are several key factors to consider before deciding to buy a home in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In this guide, we'll show you the key costs, regulations and hurdles you'll need to overcome when buying a property in Japan.

Can Australians/foreigners buy property in Japan?

Yes, Australians can buy property in Japan. Unlike the Australian government, which has restrictions on overseas property investment, Japan has no restrictions on foreigners buying property. So even if you're in the country on a tourist visa, you're still eligible to buy a house. Keep reading to find out how.

5 steps to buying a property in Japan from Australia

If you want to buy property in Japan from Australia, here's what you need to do.

1. Set your budget

The first step is to work out how much you can afford to spend. You'll need to not only consider the purchase price but also fees (more on these later), the cost of any repairs or renovations, and currency conversion costs.

If you need to borrow money as a foreign national, it can be difficult to qualify for a mortgage from a Japanese bank. Eligibility requirements vary, but you may need to be a permanent resident or have been employed in Japan for an extended period.

2. Choose a location

Next, narrow down to the exact location where you want to buy. While you can do plenty of research online, nothing compares to visiting different areas yourself and getting a feel for what they have to offer.

You'll need to consider property prices in any areas you like and check whether it has all the local infrastructure and amenities you need. These can include transport links, shops, schools, and dining and entertainment options.

3. Find the perfect property

Now it's time to find a property that's right for you. You can easily browse properties for sale online on websites like Suumo, homes.co.jp, athome.co.jp.

But here's where getting in touch with a licensed real estate broker, preferably a bilingual one, can help. They can help you find properties that meet your requirements, and walk you through each step of the buying process. Visit properties in person if you can, and when you find the right one you can make an offer.

4. Finalise the details and paperwork

Your real estate agent can help you negotiate the terms and conditions of your purchase with the seller. As always, it's essential that you have the property professionally inspected to make sure it's structurally sound and find out whether there are any costly repairs needed.

The transaction will also need to be registered to record the transfer of ownership. The simplest way to complete this step is to hire a judicial scrivener to take care of this for you.

5. Transfer money and buy the property

Now you need to transfer money from Australia to Japan to buy the property. Because this is going to be a large transaction, getting a good exchange rate could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Banks generally offer poor exchange rates on international transfers, so you can save money by using a specialist money transfer company. These providers offer better rates and will sometimes waive fees on large transfers, so compare money transfer services to find the best value.

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What's the property market like in Japan?

The property market in Japan is a little different to the Australian market. Unlike in Australia, where buying and owning property as an investment is common, in Japan houses have a reputation for depreciating in value quite quickly. Homes are regularly demolished and rebuilt too, and rebuilding is often a much more common approach than renovating. So if you're thinking of buying a property in Japan, it's important to adjust your mindset a little bit.

In terms of prices, where you buy has a big impact on how much you'd pay. In popular metropolitan areas like Tokyo and Osaka, prices are higher. In November 2023, an existing condominium in Tokyo would set you back JPY 699,000 (approx. AUD $7,263) per square metre, new condos cost an average of JPY 1,280,000 (approx. AUD $13,300) per square metre, and existing detached houses cost an average of JPY 42.19 million (approx. AUD $438,000).

In Osaka, existing condos during the same period cost an average of AUD $4,124 per square metre, new condos cost approx. AUD $8,396 per square metre, and an existing detached house would cost around AUD $236,000.

But it's a different story in rural areas, where there's another big factor having an impact: Japan's shrinking (and ageing) population. Japan's population stands at 125 million at the moment, but that number is expected to drop to 87 million over the next 5 decades. Younger generations are leaving rural areas in their droves and heading for major cities, a shift that has led to millions of abandoned rural homes known as akiya.

Japan's 2018 Housing and Land Survey revealed that there were 8.49 million akiya across the country, and these abandoned homes can often be purchased for cheap. Some have made headlines for selling for as little as $500, so there are bargains to be found if you know where to look.

Things to consider when buying a property in Japan

Take the following factors into account if you're thinking about buying property in Japan from Australia:

  • Language and cultural barrier. Japan has a reputation as the most polite nation on earth. If you want to convince a homeowner to sell their home to you, it's important that you understand the local etiquette you should follow throughout the buying process.
  • Property depreciates. There's an often-quoted statistic that houses in Japan depreciate to close to $0 in value after 30 years, but that's no longer entirely true. According to Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT), in terms of real estate depreciation, a wooden house in Japan has a lifespan of 22 years, brick buildings have a 38-year lifespan, and reinforced concrete buildings have a lifespan of 47 years.
  • Declining rural areas. As Japan's population ages and shrinks, and as younger generations move to major cities, there is very low demand for housing in some rural areas. While this means an abundance of cheap properties, you also need to take into account the impact this exodus could have on the provision of local services and amenities.
  • Akiya banks. Local governments around Japan maintain databases of abandoned properties for sale. These databases are known as akiya banks. There's no comprehensive national database of akiyas, so the ease of finding a property can vary between areas.
  • Cost of renovating. If you're thinking of buying an abandoned property, you'll need to be careful to factor renovation costs into your calculations. The condition of akiyas can vary widely, so you need to have a clear idea of how much repairs will cost before making an offer.
  • Earthquakes. Japan's location above the Ring of Fire means it's prone to earthquakes. If you're buying an older home, you may want to consider whether its construction will be as resilient to earthquake damage as modern buildings.
  • Visa difficulties. Simply buying a house won't be enough to qualify you as a Japanese resident, and Japan has a reputation as a difficult place to get a permanent residency visa. It's also worth mentioning that Japanese citizens are not allowed to hold dual citizenship, so it's worth getting advice from an immigration expert.
  • Transferring money. While it's convenient to use your bank to send a wire transfer to Japan to buy property, it's not cheap. You'll typically find much better exchange rates if you use a specialist money transfer company.

Taxes and fees for buying and owning property in Japan

Aside from the purchase price or down payment, there are several fees you'll need to pay upfront when buying Japanese property. These include:

  • Stamp duty (typically 2% of the home's assessed value)
  • Real estate agent commission (typically 3% of the sales price + JPY 60,000)
  • Registration fee (typically 0.4% of the property's value)
  • Judicial scrivener fee (varies)
  • Property inspection fee (varies)
  • Real estate acquisition tax (3%)

These fees can vary based on where the property is located and how much it costs. Once you own the property, you'll need to pay annual fixed asset tax (1.4% of property's value) and city planning tax (up to 0.3%).

There may also be additional costs if you buy a leasehold property rather than a freehold property. And if you take out a loan to fund the purchase, you'll need to factor interest and loan fees into your calculations as well.

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