Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know – When Jaya Thursfield found a house he wanted to buy in Japan a few years ago, friends and family told him to forget about it. They said the place wasn’t worth the trouble. After all, after being abandoned about seven years ago, it stands amid a patch of shoulder-high weeds — one of millions of vacant homes across the country known as “akiya,” which means “empty house” in Japanese ”.

But Mr Thursfield, a 46-year-old Australian software developer, was undeterred. Through the overgrown garden, he could see what made it special: black roof tiles hanging down to slightly curved eaves that were much higher off the ground than most houses. The foyer has its own gable tile roof. If the 2,700-square-foot house looks more like a Buddhist temple than a farmhouse, that’s because it was built in 1989 by a temple architect.

Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know

Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know

Mr Thursfield and his Japanese-born wife, Chihiro, moved from London to Japan in 2017 with their two young sons, dreaming of buying a house with a large yard. The plan was to buy a vacant lot and build a house on it, but land in Japan is expensive and their budget doesn’t allow for that. So they turn to the growing supply of abandoned homes, which are more affordable and often have more land.

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Shortly after the Thursfields bought the house in 2019. The house was abandoned after the previous owner’s family refused to inherit it upon the owner’s death. Photo credit: Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

Mr. Thursfield did much of the renovation himself, including the carpentry. Photo credit: Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

The couple spent about $150, 000 on renovations, with more work to be done. Image copyright: Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

They’re far from the only ones. “If it weren’t for Akiya, we would never have been able to afford a house of this quality and size,” said Ms. Thursfield, 49. “While many Japanese don’t like second-hand houses, foreigners think the houses are cheap and prefer Reuse and renovate to suit your taste and budget.”

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As Japan’s population shrinks and more properties go unclaimed, an emerging group of buyers, no longer bound by overcrowded cities, are looking for rural properties that need care. The latest government figures from the Housing and Land Survey 2018 show there are around 8.5 million autumn homes across the country, or about 14% of the country’s total housing stock, but observers say there are currently many more. Nomura Research Institute estimates the number at more than 11 million units and predicts that by 2033, Akiya will account for more than 30% of all homes in Japan.

Nestled among rice fields in southern Ibaraki Prefecture, about 45 minutes from central Tokyo, the Thursfields’ house was abandoned after the previous owner’s family refused to inherit it after the owner’s death. The local city government took it over and put it up for auction with a minimum bid of 5 million yen ($38,000), but it failed to sell.

When it landed on the block again, Mr. Thursfield decided to try his luck. After a quick inspection with an architect friend found no major problems despite years of neglect, he bought the house for 3 million yen (about $23,000).

Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know

Japanese homes typically depreciate over time until they become worthless—a cultural legacy of post-World War II architecture and changing building codes—with only the land retaining value. Homeowners have little incentive to maintain an aging house, and buyers often seek to tear them down and start over. But this can be expensive.

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Others aim to protect what is there. “There was no way we were going to tear it down and build something new. It was so beautiful. So we decided to renovate it,” Mr. Thursfield said. “I’ve always been someone who likes to jump in the deep end, take some risks and learn new things, so I believe we can manage it somehow.”

The couple has spent about $150,000 on renovations since purchasing the farmhouse in 2019, and there’s still more work to do. Mr Thursfield documented the project on YouTube, attracting more than 200, 000 subscribers.

While the Thursfields’ homes have been abandoned by the heirs of previous owners, some owners die without naming heirs. Others left their property to relatives who refused to sell family land out of respect for their elders, leaving the houses withered.

“In rural areas, there is a long history of Akiya’s ancestral owners living on the house and land,” said Kazunobu Tsutsui, a professor of rural geography and economics at Tottori University who lives in a house built more than a century ago. Century renovated autumn house. forward. “Therefore, even after moving to the city, families will not give up their autumn homes easily.”

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“Akiya is poorly maintained and if it collapses, it will not only destroy the scenery but also endanger the lives and property of residents,” said Kazuhiro Nagao, an official in Sakata City on the west coast, where heavy snowfall could damage unattended buildings. . “We partially subsidize demolition work, collect reports from neighborhood associations on fall homes and try to make property owners aware of the issue by holding briefings.”

Datong Ming, the company’s chief consultant, said that although the fall home problem has not had a direct impact on sales in urban markets where high-rise buildings continue to go up, the potential harm caused by vacant homes to communities has increased with the increase in the number of vacant homes. . Nomura Research Institute Consulting Department. Mr. Datong pointed out that a recent change in the law allows local authorities to effectively raise property taxes on neglected homes if the owners ignore city requirements to maintain or demolish them. In another worrying sign, the government approved a plan by the city of Kyoto to tax the owners of these vacant homes, the first of its kind in Japan. Inventory in Kyoto City is tight, but there are still about 15,000 vacant houses.

Autumn houses are increasingly seen as a threat not only to suburban and rural markets but also to the nation’s emotional well-being, sparking family disputes over inherited property. This in turn has led to a cottage industry of Akiya consultants, such as Takamitsu Wada, the chief executive of Akiya Katsushiro, who acts as an adviser to squabbling relatives, often urging them to take action before their estates go bankrupt.

Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know

“In many cases, parents die without clearly expressing their wishes for the family home, or they develop dementia and it is difficult to discuss these things,” Mr. Wada said. “In this case, children may feel guilty about getting rid of the family home and may often choose to leave it unused.”

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Municipalities across Japan are also compiling lists of vacant homes for sale or rent. They’re called “akiya banks,” and they’re usually sketchy web pages with bland photos. Some work with private companies such as At Home, which currently lists autumn houses in 658 of Japan’s 1,741 municipalities.

Akiya & Inaka, founded by Matthew Ketchum and Parker Allen, is located in the Hachioji district of Tokyo. The company is taking advantage of the fall housing glut by matching vacant homes with curious buyers. Photo credit: Andrew Faulk for The New York Times

“Akiya Bank is run by city office workers, most of whom often don’t have any real estate experience,” said Matthew Ketchum, a Pittsburgh native and co-founder of Tokyo-based real estate consulting firm Akiya & Inaka. “Existing solutions don’t meet the needs of modern buyers and sellers.”

Ketchum’s company is one of several that have sprung up to take advantage of the fall housing glut, matching vacant homes with curious buyers. Akiya & Inaka’s listings include a 2-bedroom, 195-square-foot home built in 1983 in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji with a small garden and reception room with raised tatami flooring, alcoves and rare cedar wicker Woven ceiling. The property is listed for 36 million yen, approximately $272, 000.

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“Every Japanese agent we spoke to suggested we demolish the place,” said the house’s owner, 85-year-old retired journalist Takahiro Okada. He and his wife, Reiko, 86, had been renting the house but decided to sell after the tenants left last year. Their children were not interested, so the property stayed. A different owner might tear it down and sell the land.

“If we all do this, we will lose Japanese culture,” Ms. Okada said. “From an international perspective, through foreign eyes, Japanese things can have inherent uniqueness and value.”

Mr. Ketchum and his partner, Parker J. Allen, said they are receiving about five times the number of inquiries now than when 2020 began. “Initially, most of the inquiries we received were from Japanese residents, Australians and Singaporeans,” Mr Ketchum said. “Now that has changed, the vast majority of our international customers are in the United States.”

Navigating Home Insurance Claims In Japan: What You Need To Know

Reiko (left) and Takahiro Okada in their house for sale through Akiya & Inaka. Mr Okada said: “Every Japanese agent we spoke to suggested we dismantle the place.” Picture: Andrew Faulk

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