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Building Your Dream Home

Advice from homeowners on creating a place of your own in Japan

By John Ghanotakis, Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan

As many Japan residents can attest, house hunting is not an easy or straightforward process in this country.

It is especially difficult if you are a young, foreign professional with limited means, and are seeking a mortgage.

Amir Khan, vice chair of the Young Professionals Group Subcommittee, and Andrew Shuttleworth, another young professional, have experience in this area, and shared with us some insight into the process.

Research is key
The initial selection of land or property can be daunting.

Things to consider include commuting and transportation links, price, potential resale value, local amenities, building materials and design, as well as ways to ensure the investment is “future proof.” All this adds up to a time-consuming decision-making process.

Khan and Shuttleworth spent about a year doing extensive computer-based research and physical scouting. Each visited over 100 properties and plots of land, assessing their pros and cons.

Through this exhaustive process, they said, you really begin to distinguish among things you must have, would like to have and, most important, cannot tolerate.

You’ll probably find that many criteria you initially deem essential become less important, and that many things you hadn’t considered prove to be vital aspects.

Get help and use connections
A good construction company or real estate agent can be worth their weight in gold.

Sadly, however, very few have much experience assisting young foreigners, and even fewer are able to help with the most difficult part of the process: obtaining a mortgage.

Many Japanese banks advertise foreigner-friendly loans, but the underwriters often will not support an application if the foreign applicant is not a permanent resident.

Even with a Japanese spouse, getting a mortgage is still a big challenge.

Shuttleworth chose Adcast, a real estate broker and consulting firm, to help with a mortgage and the land purchase. The company’s established connections helped ensure both processes were quickly completed.

He could then seek a recommendation for someone to actually build the house.

For Khan, the entire process was handled by Sanyo Homes (a subsidiary of Sanyo Corp). Because the firm was the landowner and is also a builder, he was able to bypass much of the stress of having to find a landowner and, separately, a suitable builder.

Sanyo’s size and connections also helped ease the mortgage application, which was automatically approved with zero fuss. In addition, the architects ensured a flawless build from the rough sketches they received.

It should be noted, however, that for both Khan and Shuttleworth, every step of the process was conducted in Japanese. Thus, people without fluency in Japanese will need language support.

Saving money on building
With any house construction project, you will be presented with a host of options, and often encouraged to go with the priciest alternative.

The key is to identify the priorities that suit your lifestyle.

Do you really need extravagance in every room of the house? When entertaining, will guests really notice the workmanship of the walk-in closet?

Where possible, go for practical, inexpensive options in most of the house, and only splash out in those areas that matter most.

In addition, remember that you can always upgrade later. Or, if you are good with DIY (do-it-yourself) modifications, take on some tasks yourself, such as garden landscaping or outdoor decking.

Last, make sure you thoroughly check the building work for defects and/or omissions before you dismiss the builders. Further, ensure your guarantee is valid over many years, and that the terms include regular check-ups.

With the correct planning and support, you should have the house of your dreams in no time.




John Ghanotakis (chair), Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan (vice chairs) are members of the ACCJ Young Professionals Group Subcommittee.