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Coronavirus and natural disasters turning home ownership from dream to nightmare

18 Comments
Condos in Tokyo Photo: Real Estate Japan

Where we live is shaped to a large extent by how we live. The coronavirus pandemic represents the biggest change in living memory to how we live. “Home,” says Shukan Post (Oct 2), no longer means what it used to.

Telework is what springs immediately to mind. Pre-corona, home was where we lived, not where we worked. Now, increasingly, it is both. A home must be a workspace as well as a living space.

The first casualty of this shift in thinking is the urban “tower mansion” – high-rise, high-priced, hyper-convenient, centrally-located domiciles close enough to the downtown business core to spare you a long commute and, in other respects, comfortable enough as far as the old way of living went.

You probably never noticed before, when you were out all day, how thin the walls of a typical tower mansion can be, how easily the sounds from neighboring apartments penetrate – kids playing, grownups talking, TV droning and so on. Now, home from morning to night, you do notice. What can you do about it? Nothing.

If you had it to do over again, you’d think more favorably about an option that you never took seriously in the days before telework: buying a single-family home out in the remote suburbs, or even beyond them in the country, where quiet reigns and walls don’t hem you in. What difference does it make how far it is from the office? Other advantages aside, suburban or rural real estate is so much more economical.

Actually, Shukan Post notes, tower mansion rates are falling dramatically as consumer interest shifts outward. Presumably rural rates are rising. If you’re in the market – act now; bargains are still to be had.

It’s not just corona. Natural disasters are another factor. Japan’s nature has always had a destructive streak, but never as pronounced as in the past few years, goaded by global warming. A turning point, the magazine says, was Typhoon 19 last October. As it ravaged a broad swath of the nation with winds and flooding, one of the worst places to be, it turned out, was a tower mansion. Imagine being on an upper floor, with the elevator not working because the power is down and the toilet not flushing because the plumbing is overwhelmed. If this goes on for a week or more  – as in fact it did – you might well wish you had invested in different real estate.

Coronavirus is having its impact on elevators too.  They work but how safe are they? A key defense against the disease is avoiding close contact. Contact gets pretty close in an elevator.

For most people, a home is the major investment of a lifetime. You make it because it represents comfort, security and possibly, as you edge into the latter stage of life, an asset whose value has increased over the years and which will help finance your retirement.

But what if in fact it turns into a source of anxiety and financial loss?

“I purchased my (tower mansion condominium) thinking of it as my final nest after retirement,” a rueful man in his 60s tells Shukan Post. Now he finds himself in a bind. “I’m at an age where moving isn’t easy; nor can I sell. I sit here waiting for the next typhoon, wondering what I’ll do when it comes.”

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
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Another doom and gloom article which is totally false and unsubstantiated, wonder why they even bothered to print it.

Open your eyes look around for the truth, it's easy to see

-10 ( +4 / -14 )

I always prefer 2nd or 3rd story at most. Don't want to be in a tall building in case of a fire or the inevitable big earthquake.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

You probably never noticed before, when you were out all day, how thin the walls of a typical tower mansion can be, how easily the sounds from neighboring apartments penetrate – kids playing, grownups talking, TV droning and so on.

I noticed way back 45 years ago living in a high-rise in NYC and that's why I chose to never live in one again. Not as warm in winter and a bit colder in summer. I can hear people outside and cars on the street but our walls are a couple meters apart so I can't hear a sound from my neighbors or their kids. A house is bliss!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Those giant tower mansions kill neighborhoods. A few thousand people packed vertically on top of each other, do not by nature, socialize as easily as people who live in a horizontal and eye level environment (low height buildings and single family homes). The neighborhoods around these towers are dead. There's so little life or interaction between neighbors in areas with many of these buildings.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Totally agree with you Speed, I hate those tower block neighbourhoods and will never live in one.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

boToday  08:55 am JST

Another doom and gloom article which is totally false and unsubstantiated, wonder why they even bothered to print it.

Open your eyes look around for the truth, it's easy to see

If you have any involvement in the residentials sales market in Tokyo at the moment you'll know it's true. Outside of the Yamanote line some areas are seeing the highest demand for houses in the last 10 years, mostly from people looking to move out of central neighbourhoods and bayside tower blocks. I sold my house for a healthy profit after just 4 viewings.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Surely the title should be 'Turns owning an overpriced Tokyo Mansion into nightmare'.

All we are seeing is the inevitable from the Japanese lack of demand of quality housing. Living in a dog-kennel was always going to become a problem. I'm so tired of hearing 'but Japan is a small island, that is why the places are small'. The places are small because developers build them and people buy them.

I am building a new house (not in Tokyo) and it is literally a daily battle with my wife and the builder who want to make the house smaller and smaller. It is utterly bizarre.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

Stick to your guns Paul. One of the biggest myths in Japan is that buildings cost a certain amount per tsubo. It is nonsense. Since builders talk about price per area, people naturally assume a sixty tsubo (60 x 3.3 square meter) house will cost double the price of a 30 tsubo one. If it is two storey, it may only cost 30% more. Unless you have two separate kitchens, two separate complete bathrooms, two separate foundations, ... extra space will cost way way less than the idiotic "60 man a tsubo" type figure given in sales talks. Equipment-free spaces like bedrooms are cheap to build.

I wouldn't want a tower mansion myself, but I think this article and the thinking its talking about is knee jerk. No tower mansion dweller lost their home to flooding in recent years. A bit of inconvenience for a week is vastly preferable to that.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

If I ever find the time, I press a little tear out of my eyes, dear poor condominium tower owners...lol

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Paul

it is literally a daily battle with my wife and the builder who want to make the house smaller and smaller.

It could be related to the national allergy to home maintenance. The Japanese are loathe to upgrade a fence, beautify a lawn, extend a deck or re-paint a room. Whereas many Western homeowners see such tasks as creative, value-creating projects - a form of recreation, even - the Japanese view them as costly inconveniences that must be done by high-paid professionals or no-one at all. Keeping the home small and humble minimizes the upgrades.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I don't think you can hear the neighbors in a tower condominium or any condominium. The construction standards are different for condos than apartment buildings, and the walls are like 10 cm thick of cement. You can't hear anything next door, above, or below.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Paul could it simply be that your wife doesn't want to do house work?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Japanese are loathe to upgrade a fence, beautify a lawn, extend a deck or re-paint a room.

"Loathe" implies laziness which is unfair.

When do they have the time? Up until corona hit, home for many was mainly a place to sleep after a long day at the office. Then wake up early, rush to a train, rinse and repeat.

Also, interior home renovation is disruptive, most especially so in a small 1 or 2DKL where there's no space to shift things around while living in it during an always messy renovation. Yard maintenance, though enjoyed by some, isn't everyone's cup of tea. Do you really want a suburban Japan soundscape of lawnmowers and leaf blowers every weekend?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

And that's why I have NEVER bought property here in Japan. Still looking for that cheap old house with many rooms and a wide garden.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

 I'm so tired of hearing 'but Japan is a small island, that is why the places are small'. The places are small because developers build them and people buy them.

Finally! someone else thinks like me!

Nihon wa semai!

Man, such a stupid thing to say! There is PLENTY of space in Japan and you don't even have to move far from the big cities. If you drive, you could build MASSIVE houses in Yamanashi Prefecture, which BTW has a smaller population than Saitama City and still commute into Tokyo. If the trains ran better between Yamanashi and western Tokyo, problem solved. Same goes for the Chichibu region in Saitama which is completely empty and still borders Tokyo. And that's not even mentioning the rest of the country which is really empty. If you drive and enjoy travelling around by car, you know what I'm talking about.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If the trains ran better between Yamanashi and western Tokyo, problem solved.

But the trains have never done that, and as we all know, the most important thing in Japan is to do things as they have always been done!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

But the trains have never done that, and as we all know, the most important thing in Japan is to do things as they have always been done!

Not anymore my friend! We have people working from home now and more and more people are looking to leave Tokyo. I'm excited about what the future may hold..

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I can believe people are considering a larger space, maybe some type of garden/outdoor space...but probably first choice of many would be just of a larger mansion with a larger veranda, in smaller "suburban towns" with more green parks around or in their family's regional city rather than Tokyo. The rest of the article's theories is absurd.

All cheap buildings -houses included- have carboard walls, but quality buildings with concrete frame have great sound insulation and there are many more quality mansions that quality houses.

The success of the mansions is precisely because PRIMO they are much safer and disaster resilient. Less accidental fires. At each typhoon, it's mostly small houses that slip away in landslide and are drown in mud. In case of big quake, most victims get stuck under collapsed houses. SEGUNDO most mansions are more comfortable than most city houses. Rooms can be larger on a single level. Neighbors are much further. It's only from a certain height that you can really be quiet (from street noise), have a clear view, less humidity/dust/mosquitoes/pollution, better ventilation, more light, more privacy.

Givien the rarity and the huge price of a well situated renovated antique machiya with a patio garden or of a nice hilltop house with a good amount of land around in Japan (and really there is not the space to build that many), the condo/mansion has a future.

If the trains ran better between Yamanashi

Yamanishi would become a new Saitama overnight.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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