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    Why Are Japanese Homes Disposable?

    I recently read an article that said in most countries houses get more valuable over time, but in Japan, a new buyer will often bulldoze the home.

    The article quotes Jiro Yoshida, a professor at Penn State University who specializes in real-estate economics, as saying, “There are nearly four times as many architects in Japan as in the United States, and more than twice as many construction workers.” There is also a huge demand for new homes. When you put all those numbers together, it sounds like a pretty typical housing boom and yet Japan has a shrinking population and a stagnant economy.

    It turns out that half of all homes in Japan are demolished within 38 years, compared to 100 years in the U.S.  There is virtually no market for pre-owned homes in Japan, and 60 percent of all homes were built after 1980. The article explains that in Yoshida’s estimation, while land continues to hold value, physical homes become worthless within 30 years.

    Other references that I found, indicate that the average life of a detached wooden house in Japan is between 30-40 years. Some of the data indicates that the average life has been increasing over the years; however, Japanese houses are still young by Western standards. One source notes, “homes last an average of 30 years in Japan, 55 years in the US, and 77 years in the UK.”

    In Western countries, older structures like brownstones and Victorian homes have appreciated in value over time due to charm, sentiment, and appreciation for historical architecture, Japanese people appear more comfortable with letting go of aging buildings.

    As Japan’s population shrinks and shifts, the demand for space has become increasingly uneven, which also adds to the interest in knocking down older, smaller homes to build larger more luxourious homes for todays modern families.

    The vast majority of residences built after World War II were constructed rather hastily, with cheaper building materials and less strict building codes. The frequency of earthquakes and natural disasters have also challenged the permanence of residences in the country, too.

    Another writer noted, “The government updates the building code every 10 years due to the earthquake risk. Rather than spending money on expensive retrofitting, people just build new homes.” This explanation seems reasonable enough. I suspect, though, that the average age of houses will continue to increase as time passes.

    As a real estate agent in the US, many people buy a home because of its ability to create personal wealth. According to Richard Koo, an economist in Tokyo, the continuous cycle of demolishing homes prevents families from building wealth on top of wealth, often selling their homes for less than they paid, preventing what he calls the construction of an “affluent society.”

    It is always fascinating to learn about cultural differences in other places of the world. I suppose if I lived in Japan I’d have to become a new homes expert. Either that or own a demolition company.

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