Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Ideal Home

Sometimes people in NZ ask me questions about my experiences here. Just the other day one acquaintance said "What does a Japanese house look like? I can't even imagine it". He look slightly disappointed when I showed him a picture so I guess he was expecting something constructed entirely of rice paper and bonsai trees with a Zen garden full of Geisha's. If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be this....everything you know is wrong

Kiwi economics 1.01. 
Everybody knows that house prices only go up. Sure you get recessions and crashes which cause prices to dip for a bit but before you know it they're back up there breaking new records. The idea that a house could lose 90% of it's value over a 20 year period is something Kiwis find inconceivable. When I tell them that this is invariably what happens in Japan they just cant believe it. For us a house is so much more than just a place where you crash each night. As well as being a home, its a status symbol(sometimes), an investment in your future, a compulsory savings plan, a retirement fund, a legacy and most's a place to store and grow your wealth. As rising property prices are a surefire bet, home ownership is your ticket to financial success. If you can buy in an area that's soon going to be the next big thing that's as good as winning the lottery. You can bet your life savings on it...everybody else has.

Location, Location Location.
Next up for review is our concept of whats desirable. A "good area" is top of the priority list. Nice places have things like trees. Oaks and Pohutakawa's for established old money areas, Palm's for trendy new ones. Views are self respecting million dollar house is without a million dollar view. Tops of hills are good. Coastal is even better. Waterfront property? now you've really made it. If it's an apartment you want the highest floor possible. With a big balcony. Everybody loves a garden, the bigger the better. If you live on a 10 acre lifestyle block you will be the envy of all your mates. God knows what you are supposed to do with 10 acres but hey, you've got them. Privacy is very important. We don't want to live on top of each other. The best neighbours are the ones you cant see or hear.

House and chattels.
Further down the list you've got things like Sunny aspect, prestigious school zones, indoor outdoor flow, BBQ/entertainment areas, period features, garages, parking for boats/RV's/classic cars/horses and designer kitchens and spa pools . Historically listed and Heritage buildings are all the rage. Eco stuff is also catching on. Insulation, heat pumps and double glazing are becoming the new "must have features". So called "Do-ups" fetch more money than renovated houses as people hyped up on home makeover TV shows seek to stamp their personality on the property.

The rest.
Right down the bottom of the list tend to be things like proximity to work public transport, hospitals and transport links. While Yuppie types tend to want to live near the pubs and clubs in the city, they tend to abandon that lifestyle as soon as they grow up and get a clue. Or have kids.  Most people are prepared to travel to work in order to have that ideal house. The last thing you want is a bus stop right outside...think of all those car less losers loitering around. Nobody really cares too much if there isn't a supermarket close by. Age of the building is not very's all about condition. Builders brand names don't count for much.

Deal breakers.
Railway stations, busy roads, neighbours in close proximity, electricity lines, Ugly industrial buildings.

So there you have the rationale and thought processes that are behind probably 95% of real estate transactions in NZ

Just like the grammar, everything in the Japanese market is opposite.

Here, when you buy a new house the value goes only one way....down. If you are lucky the land will retain it's value but the building will be practically worthless in 20 years time. Forget about the property ladder. Here home ownership is more like an escalator to the basement. Unfortunately negative equity is a fact of life for many in this land. 
Convenience is linked so closely with location here that both words mean the same thing. I have been to good areas and bad areas in Japan but I'm buggered if I can tell one from the other. The presence or absence of trees or lawns indicates nothing. The most expensive areas tend to be the ones closest to train stations, schools and supermarkets. Views add nothing to the value of the property. Rusty old sheds and dirty factories are so much part of the landscape that they don't detract from the value. Like wise, tangled masses of phone and power cables hanging everywhere are not a consideration. Coastal land is unwanted due to the perceived risk of a Tsunami. Gardens are tiny are are used mainly for parking bicycles in. 10 acre blocks are called farms here. Privacy is non existent as in the most sought after areas people live mere centimetres away from each other. When they look for apartments they seek the lowest floor's that convenience thing again. It trumps everything. Balconies are just used for hanging out laundry and storing rubbish so nobody cares how big they are.

School zoning does seem to have some effect on purchasing decisions as does proximity to work but all the other stuff that's important to Kiwis counts for very little here. Outdoor living is something that exists only in glossy housing company brochures and things like boats and camper vans never figure in the wish lists of the vast majority. 

As with most things here age means everything. The newer the house is the better. Old house's have little appeal. Old means rubbish and most people are of the opinion the the best renovations involve bulldozers. The brand name is also important. A Toyota house is better than a Panasonic house. Yes Toyota does make houses. And beds too. Bet you didn't know that! 

For Japanese the real showstoppers are upper floors in high rise buildings, old houses, more than 5kms from a railway station, near the coast, or up a mountain away from main roads and hospitals. 

So now can see how the two countries have diametrically opposed ideas when it comes to property and homes and how they are traded and developed. For Kiwis the house is a piggy bank that they live and play in and a place to be cherished and constantly improved. For Japanese its a  machine for sleeping in and storing your possessions and family and that will be discarded when it is no longer able to do that.

Of course all of the above is firmly based on generalizations and stereotypes and there are exceptions to these rules. But you get the idea....

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