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Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003

LIFELINES

Lease rights, house-buying and classes


Contract issues

On the subject of Amy's renewal of lease (Lifelines; Oct. 12), Robert writes in that under the "old" contract system, if the landlord wants her to move, he/she should offer to pay for the costs related to same, including agent commission, etc.

Buying a house

David thanks us for the information supplied (Lifelines; Nov. 4), but says he is still seeking practical advice on buying a house in Japan. With no books, nor any Web site in English (apart from some input on http://forum.japantoday.com _ any_info_about_buying_house) there is a niche here for some writer to plug.

I quizzed some friends who have taken the plunge. Alex and his Japanese wife are completing a house in Zushi; Patricia and partner bought a house in Hayama earlier this year.

Alex says: "We went to a local "fudosanya" (real estate office) and told them what we were looking for in terms of budget, etc. After that, the realtor sent us a steady stream of faxes containing house information.

We looked at houses in various stages of construction to get an idea of construction practices and disrepair when thinking about DIY. We looked at many vacant lots and thought about building ourselves. This is what we ended up doing -- a good solution as it gave us more flexibility with design, construction company and even cost."

Guidelines:

Take a year or so to get to know the market before purchasing.

Fixer-uppers are plentiful but the value of a house/land is always based on the land. So an old house may only be cheaper because the realtors subtract the cost of tearing it down. Therefore, buying new often, but not always, makes economic sense.

The further you get from a train station the cheaper the cost.

You have to have at least an "eijyuuken" (permanent residency) to qualify for a bank loan as a foreigner, and you should have a registered "hanko" (name seal).

Work with a realtor you like. In our case the architect and construction company were chosen based on introduction. This is often the best approach in Japan because of trust and established working relationships.

Patricia adds: "It's important to get a good idea of the market, not only where the prices are high/low but also the reason for differences in price.

There might be some aspect unacceptable to a Japanese buyer, and this would be a good opportunity to acquire a property at a bargain.

Examples are properties without parking or requiring a steep climb, next to a cemetery, or in a "wild" area (e.g. having no neighbours within 20 meters, no street lights, or approached past a grove of trees). For investment purposes, however, this sort of property might be unsuitable.

One way to save money, she says, is to buy an old house. Because houses older than 30 years usually have no official value, you pay only for the land and get the house free. Usually such houses are not even listed with the prospectus. If you are looking for a house sturdily built in the traditional manner, show photos of the type you have in mind. Otherwise the real estater is likely to take you to see "old" houses of the matchbox variety.

Buying or building is popular right now because of the advantageous interest rates. When applying for a loan, the amount you can get will be based on your tax returns of the previous year as well as on your age.

Check out every bank: Some are more lenient than others. Usually the realtor will help procure the loan and will even accompany you to the interview. By applying for a loan you will also find out any problems associated with the property as the bank will scrutinize it very carefully.

Calligraphy

Makoto has a French friend "looking for a good calligraphy class. She speaks fluent Japanese." Since her language skills are good, tell your friend to ask at her local chuo kuminkan" (community center). That or seek help at the city office.

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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