Buying real estate in Japan need not be much more difficult than it would be in one’s own country. Here we’ll take you through the process step-by-step from start to finish, so you know what to expect.
Step 1: Get educated. For most people, a house is their single biggest investment. As with any investment, buying real estate means consulting a real estate professional or, better yet, several. Find someone with whom you are comfortable, do your homework and ask plenty of questions. Decide what things (the cost, the view, the commute) are most important to you and go for it.
Step 2: Get a licensed agent. Agents must have their licenses displayed on the wall of their offices. (Builders and construction companies are required to do so as well.) This doesn’t always guarantee mistakes won’t occur, but it does offer a better chance of protection against unscrupulous and substandard practices (particularly earthquake resistance).
Much of the work done by the agents will overlap that normally done by lawyers in other countries (such as contract preparation and requisitions on title). That makes choosing a competent agent doubly important.
Step 3: Once you find the property you like, make sure you understand any zoning or other restrictions that might hamper your efforts. Building height restrictions, setback restrictions and any quirky local ordinances (such as snow shedding rules) should be understood prior to building. Even the location of the telephone poles and garbage drop-off should be taken into account (particularly if either is in front of your property).
Step 4: Before building, development approval is needed prior to offering the contract. Once approved, the contracts can be exchanged and the deadlines set for returning the contracts and the deposit.
Step 5: Transfer of the deposit is handled through the seller’s side with a fixed deadline for complete settlement. Once the funds are transferred from buyer to seller, you are in the home stretch.
Step 6: Construction can commence. Don’t forget to agree on a timetable for progress reports. These are particularly helpful if you are out of the country during construction. For existing houses, the keys will be handed over and the new owners are free to move in.
One last piece of advice, “Be nice to your agent,” says Charlie Dawson of Niseko Real Estate. A good relationship with your agent can get you first crack at a prime piece of real estate or your dream house.