Frequently Asked Questions

Who Runs This Website?

Hi, I’m Michael, founder of CheapHousesJapan.com. 

Since studying in Japan for a year in my university days, my dream has always been to buy a vacation house there. 

A few years ago, after many hundreds of hours of research, and multiple trips to Japan to look at houses, I bought my beautiful vacation house — for the grand sum of $31,650. I love visiting my house in Japan, and have spent months at a time there, even getting ‘stuck’ there for 6 months in 2020 (good thing I was working remotely!). 

You can see more pictures of the house I bought on my instagram — click the story highlight titled “My House”.

My goal with this website and newsletter is to help YOU realize your dream of owning a house in Japan — for cheap! 

Are you a Real Estate company? Do you get commissions?

No. I’m just a guy who’s spent way too many hours researching the housing market in Japan, and I own a vacation home there myself.

I have a day job, so this site is a passion project for me. The $10 per month that I charge for the newsletter helps to support the hundreds of hours I put into this project. If you enjoy the instagram, please consider subscribing — it helps me spend more time on this project, and hopefully turn it into a full-time business in the future. 

I don’t receive any sort of commission for recommending a particular listing in the newsletter, so I am 100% impartial with my selections. My goal is simply to pick properties that are good value and might be interesting to you. 

How do you choose the properties for the newsletter?

When I look at a house listing, I generally ask myself three questions: 

1. Is it (relatively) cheap? (ie. Is it under $100k? Under $50k?)

2. Is it excellent value?  (ie. What would the same house cost if I bought it in the US or Canada? Or even in another part of Japan)

3. Could I see myself living there? Would it make a good residence or vacation home?

If I like the answers to those questions, it gets put on a short list to be considered for the newsletter. I try to narrow it down even further to show you only the best listings.

What do the Newsletters look like?

Here’s an example of a recent newsletter (#25):

 

Each photo links to the original listing, and there’s a google map link below with the exact location of each property. There’s also an interactive map with all the listings that I’ve featured in past newsletters that are still available. I also include articles with useful information for buying / owning property in Japan.

By subscribing, you get access to ALL previous newsletters and properties. You can subscribe to the newsletter here. 

I am not a resident of Japan. Can I buy a house there?

Yes, you can. Unlike many other countries, there are no legal restrictions for foreigners buying property in Japan.

You can even buy a house while visiting on a tourist visa, which is what I did. 

Further reading: Can A Foreigner Buy Property In Japan?

Do I get any residency or citizenship benefits from buying property in Japan?

No. Owning property in Japan does not entitle you to any special visas or residence options. 

There are many visa options — student, business manager, work, spouse visa — but you’ll need to figure that out first if you plan to live there year round. Otherwise, you’re limited to 90 days per visit as a tourist, up to 180 days per year.

Does the house come with the land?

YES. All houses I post here are ‘freehold’ properties, meaning that the land is included in the sale. 

There are also some ‘leasehold’ properties in Japan, meaning the land is not included and must be rented. But in general, I don’t post ‘leasehold’ properties on Instagram, nor in the newsletter.

Why are some houses so cheap in Japan?

Japan has a number of factors that make *some* real estate relatively cheap. Namely:

  • An aging / declining population
  • Urban migration away from the countryside, moving to cities like Tokyo
  • Japanese buyers preferring new homes to older ones (85% vs 15%) 

Many (though not all) of the houses I feature are in more rural areas that have limited job options and less buyer demand. 

This seems too good to be true. What’s the catch?

This is an incredible deal — for the right person. If you love Japan and spend a lot of time there every year (or if you live in Japan already!), then buying a house is certainly an option worth exploring.  

That said, buying a house in Japan is usually NOT recommended as a financial investment. For various reasons mentioned before, property values in Japan don’t appreciate like they do in other countries — they often decrease.

However, for the right person and circumstances, owning a house can be an ‘investment in joy’ in the country you love.

I'm interested in one of the houses you posted. How can I buy it?

Step 1: All of the seller contact information for the houses I post on Instagram (as well as many more properties) are available in my weekly email newsletter:

Step 2: If you are fluent in Japanese (above JLPT level N2) you can directly reach out to the agent to arrange a viewing. 

If you are not fluent in Japanese, you’ll need the services of a translator or intermediary to help with the transaction. DM me for an intro to a trusted intermediary.

Step 3: If you’re working directly with an agent, there are a few challenging steps. Please read this article for more details.

If you’re working with an intermediary* or English speaking agent, they will guide you through the process, including which documents you’ll need, arranging a building inspector, etc.

*Intermediaries usually charge between 3-6% of the house price. I think for most people they are 100% worth the cost — to save time and avoid more costly mistakes and headaches. 

I need an intermediary to help with the process.

If you’re at the point where you’re seriously looking to make a purchase, and aren’t comfortable doing it in Japanese, I can make an introduction to a trusted intermediary. I personally use them to manage my property while away. Send me a DM or email and I can make the introduction.

10% Discount On Intermediary Fees

They’ve generously offered 10% off their fees to my newsletter subscribers.

Read more about my recommended intermediary in number 9 of this article. 

Do I need to physically be in Japan to buy a house?

No. You can use an intermediary who will act as your power of attorney throughout the process.

That said, I would *highly* recommend visiting the property in person before putting in an offer. It’s hard to get the ‘feel’ of a house and neighborhood from only photos or video.

How long does it take to close on a house purchase in Japan?

Usually the whole process takes about 2-3 weeks — if you have all the proper documents ready, and don’t run into any issues. If you run into a snag, or don’t have the right documents, it could take much longer. I’ll be writing soon about which documents are necessary, so stay tuned.

Can I get a mortgage in Japan?

Unfortunately, for non-residents it’s nearly impossible to get a mortgage from a Japanese bank. So you’re limited to either a cash purchase (most common) or financing in your home country.

Please see this article I wrote for specific mortgage requirements: Can A Foreigner Buy Property In Japan?

 

What about property taxes and ongoing costs?

Ongoing costs can vary quite a bit depending on the house and your personal circumstances.

The basics are:

1. Yearly property taxes:

1.4% of the assessed value plus 0.3% for city planning tax. For a benchmark, I pay about $500 per year in property taxes for my house in Japan. Further reading. 

2. Property management fees:

If you’re away for extended periods, you will need someone to pull the weeds, air out the house, etc. Budget between $50 to $200 per month depending on the size of your yard and the level of ongoing work needed.

3. Utilities:

The average cost for utilities for one person is just under $100 a month: about $40 for electricity, $30 for gas and $20 yen for water.

When you’re away, some water companies allow you to pause your contract and not incur charges. Electric companies often charge a base rate of $10 to $20 per month even when there is no usage.

4. Fire Insurance:

$200-$400 per two year contract. This insurance is not mandatory, and for very cheap houses it may not make financial sense. Further reading.

5. Maintenance:

Case by case, depending on the house. My house was in good condition, so I’ve only spent about $1.5k on renovations (new tatami mats and a quick roof fix). Always hire a building inspector before buying so you know what you’re getting into.

Can I buy a house in Japan and rent it out as an Airbnb?

It’s possible in theory, however the new minpaku law (2018) makes it quite difficult to comply with all the laws to rent it out as a short term rental. Google “minpaku law airbnb” for more info.

The Japan Real Estate Podcast has some great episodes about this topic.

If I buy an apartment, how much are condo / HOA fees?


Usually apartments in Japan have both management fees (管理費) and a repair reserve fund (修繕積立金). These can vary a lot, from as low as $30 per month, all the way up to over $1,000 per month for some luxury buildings.

Most of the apartments I post here are in the $70 to $150 per month range.

How do you pay taxes and utilities for a vacation home? How do you manage without a bank account?

For the initial house purchase, usually you can transfer the funds directly to the real estate agent from abroad. 

Alternatively, an intermediary or property management firm is often able to accept the funds for the initial purchase. They can also arrange bills to be paid while you’re away. 

I have a question that wasn't answered here.

Send me an email and I’ll see what I can do. I get a lot of emails, so please be patient.

Note: If you’re a newsletter subscriber, please write that in your first email so I can get back to you ASAP.

 

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Every week, I handpick 20 of the absolute best cheap listings in Japan from a wide variety of real estate sites. Almost everything I pick is under $100k USD (some as low as $15k!), and I’m focused on great value houses that have potential as your dream vacation home in Japan.