The Dark Side of Japan Property

Japan is a country where you can drop your wallet on a subway bench, and find it an hour later with all the cash and cards intact.  So it is hard to imagine wholesale industry theft, thousands and thousands of Japanese being duped out of their savings by unscrupulous real estate agents. The Japan bubble years must have been one big roller coaster, people so flush with cash, en masse they would buy property site-unseen.  Some property agents took advantage in a big way.

All around the Niseko area, you can spot the remnants of fraudulent development schemes.  Buyers in Tokyo and Osaka would be shown a subdivision plan in idyllic Hokkaido, often with photos of completely non-related developments, which displayed paved roads and infrastructure.  Only after settlement would the buyer realise they had bought a postage size piece of land on the side of a mountain.  

Have a look at the map at below, and you can see that within the nearby vicinity of Hirafu there are several such developments (circled in red).

Hirafu 1

The developer usually held ownership of the common road (although often it was not registered as such), and when they went bankrupt in the 90s (most did), the buyers were left with no clear access to the main road. And since the development was never property surveyed, even if access can be guaranteed, the property markers cannot be defined without contacting and confirming with the other 50 buyers in the sub-division. Many of whom have thrown away the worthless title. The end result - you cannot get a building approval on your land.

From time to time we get a request to list some lot with an address we have never heard of, and often it ends up being in one of these subdivisions. It is pretty hard to tell the poor owner that we cannot even list their land. Perhaps the only upside is that Japan is dotted with what I call "private parkland", since effectively it is impossible to do anything with it!

Suffice to say that with so many people getting burned during the bubble, many Japanese take a pretty dim view of realtors. Some of these jokers are back to their old tricks, and unfortunately some of the original victims are getting duped on the exit as well. Have a look at this interesting piece in Japan Property.

Anyone who has travelled in Japan has stories of how honourable most Japanese are. Yet even here, it all comes back to "buyer beware", asking the right questions and getting the right information.  When considering a purchase, be sure that the lot is registered with the town office, and has clear access to the road.  If the subdivision is connected by a private road to the main road, make sure the private road is actually registered as "road".  If not, then see if an easement can be put in place to your land, or joint ownership arranged for the private road.  And perhaps most importantly, fly over and have a look with your own eyes! 

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