Are Japanese Homes Really Worthless After 30 Years?

Are Japanese Homes Really Worthless After 30 Years?

In North America, owning a home is an asset,
it’s an investment, everyone knows this. In Japan, that’s not necessarily the case. Japan’s population has peaked, is now in decline,
and with a low birthrate and little immigration, it’s not set to change. Housing prices are prominently a function
of supply and demand, and every year, supply increases, while demand doesn’t. The only logical way for prices to go is down. And when you have homes in places where people
no longer want to live, they get abandoned. You might have heard that Japanese homes are
worthless after 30 years. The thing about that, is that you have to
separate the building from the land. It’s the house on top of the land that’s historically
been worthless after about 30 years, not the land. That’s not to say that the land hasn’t devalued. It has. Big time. Since the peak of the bubble in the 90’s,
it’s gone down significantly. Housing markets are localized though, so while
the Japanese countryside has seen land values continue to fall, land values in the six major
cities, especially Tokyo, has risen in recent years. That’s because while Japan’s population is
shrinking, Tokyo is still growing. It’s set to grow for a few more years before
reversing and going down as well. Now back to that house, the physical structure
that is. Why is the shelf-life only 30 years? Right now, the average age of a demolished
house is around 30 years old. That number, however, doesn’t include all
the houses that are still standing, since they haven’t been demolished yet. More importantly, that average age doesn’t
account for the new standards that have been put into place over the decades and the quality
of new homes built now. It’s somewhat similar to comparing the life
expectancy of those born 100 years ago to those born today. If you were born in the early 1900’s, you
would have expected to live to about 50, whereas babies today can expect to live to 80. And who knows, with proper maintenance, maybe
to 100. That’s all to say that the shelf-life of new-built
houses is a lot higher than the current average age of demolished houses. Wood frame houses built today should last
more like 60 or 70 years. This then begs the question, why have Japanese
houses up to now not lasted very long in comparison to those built in North America or Europe? Japanese houses were traditionally made of
wood. Bricks and earthquakes don’t mix well, so
you don’t see brick homes in Japan like you would in Europe. So wood it was, but wood doesn’t do well in
fire. Back in 1923, Tokyo was devastated by the
Great Kanto Earthquake. “The fires caused by the earthquake burned
the city center to the ground. Over 140,000 people were reported dead or
missing, and 300,000 houses were destroyed.” Then there was world war 2 and the fire bombing
of the city. “Much of Tokyo had been laid waste by the
bombings and by 1945 the population had fallen to 3.49 million, half its level in 1940.” After the war, the country was quickly re-building,
and creating top-notch housing was not the priority. Then in 1981, following a massive earthquake
in Miyagi prefecture, earthquake standards became more stringent. This meant that any houses built before the
new earthquake codes were not as valued as those built after. While old codes were meant to stand up to
a tremor of 5 on the JMA Shindo scale, the new building code revised it to withstand
upper 6 or higher . The new code, called shin-taishin underwent
minor revisions in 2000 for wooden houses. So every few decades or so in the 1900’s,
some major event has occurred that has necessitated the rebuilding of housing stock. On top of safety reasons, another contributing
factor to the short-lived Japanese housing is the fact that wooden houses, for tax purposes,
completely lose all value after 22 years. What are new-build Japanese houses like? Many components are first built in a factory. Now, it depends on the customization and quality
of the house, but even low end homes have the wood precut and then shipped to the location
to be quickly assembled. They do have insulation, and they do have
double pane windows. Because of the earthquake standards, the wood
frames are bolted to the foundation and the homes are structurally sound. Since they’re built of wood, the two big factors
for longevity, besides earthquakes, are rot and termites. If well maintained and cared for, experts
say the life span is double the current average age of demolished houses. What about all the homes that have been abandoned? In certain parts of Japan, this is a major
issue. We know that the population is dwindling,
and we know that homes built many decades ago have lost all value, but why have abandoned
homes been left standing, or rather, rotting in place? The simple reason is money. The minute you bulldoze a house, your tax
bill increases six-fold. That’s because land with a house on it only
pays a sixth the taxes, and land used for agriculture only pays a 1/3 of the taxes. Not only does your tax bill increase, but
you also get hit with the cost of demolition What often happens is that a parent passes
away, and the children don’t know what to do with the house. Demolishing it will only cost money plus add
to their tax burden. Since no one wants to buy the land, the cheapest
thing to do is to simply leave the house there. In other situations, some people will pass
away and have no relatives. There are many homes for which the owners
can’t be found. The national government has recently put into
place a law that allow municipalities to coordinate with the tax offices in order to both find
and fine the owners. The law allows the government to revoke the
special tax treatment for homes if they are abandoned. If owners cannot be found, the city is then
able to repurpose the land and building and put it to better use. The municipalities don’t generally want to
do this though, as the cost of bulldozing is a drain on the coffers, something that
is shrinking along with its tax base. While abandoned homes are an issue in Japan,
it’s really more the countryside and the areas that are not an easy commute to major cities
where you’ll find them. Abandoned homes is part of the bigger issue
of vacancy. As of 2013, the vacancy rate sits at 13.5%
nationwide, and it’s only set to increase as the population dwindles. Interestingly, in the first quarter of 2017,
12.7% of housing units in the United States were vacant. I wouldn’t have guessed it was so high! But in Japan, 13.5% represents about 8.2 million
homes, so that’s a lot of empty homes. Of those 8.2 million homes, 39% of them are
abandoned. Now those stats are for the whole of Japan. So let’s zero in to Tokyo, which still has
a growing population. Well, the prefecture of Tokyo has 817,000
vacant homes, which translates to a vacancy rate of 11.1%. Within the vacancy rate, there’s also something
else to be parsed from it. If I walk around Tokyo, I don’t actually see
many houses that appear vacant, but if I look at apaatos or manshons, I can visibly see
unoccupied units. The latest figures from 2016 show that 34%
of rental units in the 23 special wards of Tokyo are indeed empty. That’s a really high number, especially since
this is the core of Japan, the core of the Tokyo Metropolitan area. Out of the 817,000 vacant homes, only 14%,
or 114,300 are single detached houses (this is out of a total of 2,207,000 single detached
houses). Since there are over 2 million single detached
houses in Tokyo, that really means only about 5% of them are vacant. So, me walking around the neighbourhood and
not seeing many vacant homes, but seeing every 3rd of 4th unit of an apartment empty makes
a lot of sense. What have we learned here folks? Japanese wood frame homes are built a lot
better than they used to be, which should mean double the shelf-life of the homes built
decades ago. Are the houses disposable? I’d say not much more than any other wood
frame houses built in the US or Canada. The big issue with Japanese housing, rather,
seems to be the ever increasing abandonment rate, especially in the countryside. What will happen to all these units, many
of them which aren’t in a state where it’s worthwhile to repair them? How will the governments and people left behind
deal with this? This was supposed to be the end of the video,
but I felt I had to address a few last points. In Japan, the resale market is tiny. While about 90% of home sales in the United
States are for used homes, the opposite is true in Japan, where it’s only about 15%. Is this because of the Shinto religion? Portions of the Ise Grand Shrine, one of Shinto’s
most holiest sites, is rebuilt every 20 years. This is part of the Shinto belief of the death
and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things. Does this apply to Japanese housing as well? What people can agree on, is that up until
now, homes haven’t lasted very long before being torn down. Because people know this, maintaining a home
wouldn’t be as worthwhile as it would in Europe or North America, since the resale market
and value of used homes is minimal. Personal anecdote time. I bought a new home in Japan last year, but
why didn’t I buy a used one? First off, the price difference between new
and old wasn’t that big. This is largely because new homes can be built
on smaller plots of land. I like the layouts of new homes better, they
are more energy efficient, they have new finishings, they are built to the latest earthquake standards,
and come with a 10 year warranty. That’s not to mention that it’s easier to
get a mortgage on a new home than an old one. Ok, end of video. I’m outta here.


  1. Post
    Esteban Garita

    I've heard a lot on other videos in YouTube that while Japanese people are generally friendly to tourists, the same can't be said for their attitude towards immigrants, I've never been to Japan, but like I said, I keep hearing this a lot on other videos scattered around YouTube.

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    Thanks for the informative video.
    I do feel as though, if some of the toughest parts of immigration were changed, more foreigners might come in and help with these abandonment issues.
    I know personally, I'm working towards becoming more eligible for immigration, so that I can one day move there myself.

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    Chris Winston

    I find it much more disturbing that Canada's vacancy rate is under 3%. Now that is a nightmare of a different sort.

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    THAT is one seriously weird housing system. On the one hand you have abandoned homes all over. The city and countryside especially. On the other you have around 15 thousand homeless. Seems like there is a solution to both. Allow the homeless to move into homes where the owners cannot be found our have passed away provided they find work and fix the place up as best they can and then at least work to pay the taxes. There can be an equitable solution. Just have to work out the details.

    Beats living in a tent or the back seat of your car.

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    A K

    Well researched, just a couple things worth mentioning:
    First, the abandoned land issue (not homes) which is around 20% and second, "ONLY 52% of all Japanese cadastral information as land area, boundaries and ownership has been
    logged to date".

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    Crystl Fire

    If they make the old homes so expensive, then it is the fault of the sellers and the country in general for old homes sitting vacant. If they made the old homes very affordable, then they could be used for the homeless or the poor especially in the country side! They would have more land to cultivate and grow their own food!

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    Japan doesn't need immigration. The pressures that are depressing birth rates will end once population goes down enough. Birthrates will rise slightly and stabilize. Leaving Japan with a sustainable

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    TaraBoo Art ARMY

    I want to buy an abandoned home in the Japanese countryside and have a farm more than anything, but Japan makes it so difficult to move there. I have children, so it would help their population, but I can totally understand why they are reluctant to accept more foreigners.

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    James Armstrong

    My US town has 180k people & 800 houses are set for demolition but 100 are torn down each year – cost $9,000 each. Most are 70 year old that need electrical, plumbing & structural repair which cost 1/2 of new home in a better neighborhood. Houses are less important to the younger since they may move for a new job plus high taxes mean you never completely own a home.

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    E Dennis

    There is a program to get a free house in Japan in order to get owners who will pay the property taxes. The houses have been abandoned by the previous owners (often they died without heirs) and you have to agree to live in it. They're looking for people who will become part of the community.

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    Zion Orent

    Wanted to say how much I appreciate hearing that new homes in Japan are built with double-paned windows and with insulation. We were told that houses in Japan we built with neither. Glad to hear that this isn't true any more.
    Super appreciate all the research that went into this video!!

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    some large old japanese homes are for rent for about 300 dollars all fees included, though a its a 5 year contract
    ps: i specifically say old because it shows they were particularly well built and maintained

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    Edgar Salgado

    Then why not make it so they don't tax demolished homes? If abandoned homes is an issue, I would think an insentive would be in order to deal with that.

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    In the united states, you're allowed to depreciate your home over 29.5 years. Bit of a different situation, but still.

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    Gen Li

    This is unfortunately quite inaccurate. The reason for the belief that a house lasts a generation is actually historical standards of upkeep and construction. They did not repair houses but let them fall down and then rebuild. It was just a cultural thing. Northern European peasant houses were the same in the Middle Ages, but there was a shift in mentality in the 1500s when the middling sort began to build more substantial houses. They transitioned to a repair, remodel, and addition culture and not a rebuild culture.

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    Buster Biloxi

    This is one of the best videos I've seen on Japan made by a non-Japanese. Please keep up the good work!

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    Black Girl Magic

    Homes look cheap & everything is too damn tiny. I guess that's to make sure "VISITORS" don't over stay their welcome. Huh?

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    A. Hakan Ozcan

    Americans produce homes from woods so some time later, wood products will decay due to humidity and those houses must be renewed with new homes. Neighbors are more intimate in those villas as one can easily hear what is going on on the other side of apartment because of wood layers inbetween. Bricks and mortar apartments longevity are much higher than Americans and Japanese homes.

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    Jules Winnfield

    Great thanks for the info, so does the govt actually force you to demolish and rebuild or undergo major refurbishment after say 30 yrs? What is the regulation?

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    Akash Sandhu

    Lower life expectancy doesn't necessarily mean that the average lives to x number of years defined in the life expectancy range, its the average of all lifespans for someone born in that year, back in the late 19th century a large percentage of children died before the age of 5 because of disease this significantly lowered life expectancy, if you made it to your 20th birthday you could expect to live to 80-90 like today.

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    The tax differential on land based on vacant vs with house is puzzling. In the USA it's totally opposite. Even making your house bigger or nicer adds to your property tax assessment. My wooden house is 80 years old, but modernized and in great shape. Due to expanding population, etc., it's worth more each year.. Lately going up more than 10% annually.

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    The government should really look into changing its policies if it doesn't want to incentivize behavior it doesn't want.

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    Velys Tiandi

    Wow the first time I see real estate investment is not worth in a country, my parents have 2 house and a few land for investment, but still Japan is great place to live, I hope I can go to Japan to get my master degree, but if I can really get the recommendation from the professor hahaha, because they say you must have get recommendation to get college in there

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    kabikabi khadgi

    Brilliant video and very informative. I love all your videos. My favourite one is about "homeless in Japan" having spent fair chunk of my life in charity and begging around the world. NO MORE BEGGING. Thank you Greg.

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    Smarter Than You

    When I was in Japan, I saw many houses that were more than 100 years old. The oldest one I saw was more than 400 years old.

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    steve gale

    Littered with miss-information. If you you are in Japan as your screen title suggests then you are as ignorant as if you was never here.

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    Eduard Lang

    dont forget japanese often dont want to rent out to foreigners, so its partially their own fault for the vacancy rate

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    Ryan Cameron

    Meanwhile in New Brunswick, Canada. Abandoned homes are burned down by "accident" and the land owner gets a slice of that juicy insurance money haha.

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    Because I didn’t know much about Japan about the time every-time I hear 23/# etc wars I think of Tokyo ghoul

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    [email protected]

    Thanks for your detailed report. The bottom line is that most Japanese, including me, prefer to live in a brand-new house. It's kind of sad to think that in Japan, the "legal service life" of a wooden house is only 22 years and that building a "100-year house" is not very practical.

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    Matthew Madruga

    This is japan making trash for literally no reason. Leaps and bounds ahead of the US, but still dumb.

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    Scooby Skullx

    Either they are waiting for earthquake, tsunami, volcano or Godzilla to destroy their home that’s why they don’t value their home !

    I forgot a samurai fight in the house !

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    No Bozos

    This is what happens when government tries to run people's lives and perpetuate their inflated standard of living.

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    Stephen Tutton

    Location. Earthquakes. Economy.
    Building standards. There is a big problem with safety. Think KyoAni.
    New buildings need to be upgraded.
    Upgrading current buildings.
    As usual its the money.

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    According to all the research I've done into moving to Japan, the population decline has to do a lot with their own culture because how they are thought to live and work. Yet much of that could be fixed if they changed their laws a bit. I wouldn't mind moving there, but they are very nationalistic, which is not bad per say, but they tend to discriminate against non Japanese and specially non Japanese speakers, also, they don't allow dual citizenship which is kind of a deal breaker for me.

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    Greg Helton

    I don’t understand the Japanese thinking. Per this vlog, buildings codes are very strict for homes built within the last 25 years. I own one and it’s better built than homes in the US. With proper maintenance they’ll last well over a hundred years. And the Japanese craftsmen do such a wonderful job remodeling homes at a fraction of the cost. I think the mindset is the problem. A large percentage of the population want their own home and that means new.

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    bizarre watching this, currently sitting in a house which if I recall correctly, oldest parts are near 200 years old

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    Buster Biloxi

    Nice video. You got a new home because your wife insisted on one. Japanese think that "new" is better than "old".

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    Omar Kharnivall

    Wow, congrats on your new home, we have concrete made houses in Okinawa because of the frequency of typhoons though

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    Kognito Loop

    I've been living in the outskirts of Tokyo for 10 years and there's an abandoned house near me. My guess is it's been abandoned for about as long as I've lived here. About 5 years ago someone did a very bad job of cutting back the trees on the property. The letter box has the family name on it, but when I talk to neighbours, no one knows who owns it.
    I'd be willing to work out a deal with the owner to keep the property livable and pay the bills if I was able to rent it out. My problem is finding out who the owner is and getting a way to contact them as privacy laws prevent me from going to the ward office and getting them there.

    Any ideas how to solve this problem? I'm all ears.

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    6:25 “In Japan. 13.5% of homes are vacant, which equals out to 8.2 million homes. So that’s a lot of empty homes!” I do not know why but these sentence and the way it’s pronounced cracks me up! 🤣😂.

    Aside from that, great video! I very much enjoyed it. Thanks!

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    Rock not getting along with earthquakes is false. Just look at latinamerica. In the pacific fire belt and you will only see strong structures with brick, concrete and rock and many which have remained standing for hundreds of years.

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    kris Sharp

    This could actually make housing affordable. Are there parts of Japan where every house in the block is the same?

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    Aaisha QwertyQawerty

    من فضلكم إضافة ترجمة عربية مصاحبة من أجل أن نستفيد من قناتكم . شكرا لكم 🌲

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