Foreign buyers of real estate in Japan still lack adequate support from agents

As a foreign buyer of real estate in Japan, whether living abroad or in the country, you may find that there are only a small number of real estate agencies that are capable and experienced in working with foreign clients. Even if the language barrier is not an issue, finding an agent who has worked with foreigners and can understand and explain the key differences and intricacies about Japan’s property market is essential.

We have heard of nightmare stories from buyers who have purchased properties without receiving full explanations or even incorrect explanations of property details, resulting in some very bad investments. With a growing number of foreign buyers, these bad practices are only going to increase.

Foreign investment in Japan reaches 19-year high but still low by international standards

Foreign investment Japan 2015 2
[Left] Meguro Gajoen; [Right] Kirarito Ginza.

Investment by foreign-based funds and corporations in Japanese real estate has reached the highest level since 1996. Between January and September 2015, foreign funds acquired 706.5 billion Yen (5.91 billion USD) of property, an increase of 41% from the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, some last minute transactions at the end of 2014 put the annual acquisition volume for 2014 at 981.8 billion Yen.

Some of the funds have been seeking capital gains, while others, including government-related funds, have been seeking high yields with a long-term view for holding their assets. In September, average office rents in central Tokyo increased for the 21st month in a row. The average spread between the office yield in central Tokyo and the long-term interest rate is around 3%, versus 1% in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Chinese developer sets sights on Japanese real estate market

Chinese developer, Greenland Group, are planning to invest in Japan’s real estate market. On September 21, Mizuho Financial Group entered into a business partnership with the developer. As part of the agreement, Mizuho will provide support and assistance for Greenland’s investments in Japan.

With the lower Yen, and an oversupply in some sectors of the Chinese property market, Greenland is looking at participating in some urban planning projects in Japan, as well as investing in existing residential and office buildings. Mizuho will supply necessary information on suitable land for potential projects and assist with fundraising.

China’s Wanda Group to develop luxury hotel in Tokyo

According to an article in Business Journal, Chinese property developer and cinema chain operator, Dalian Wanda Group, plan to develop a mixed-use hotel and cinema complex in Tokyo.  This will be the first project in Japan to be developed by a major mainland Chinese property developer.

It is hoped that the hotel will be open in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The group has developed 109 large-scale shopping malls and 71 hotels (including 69 five-star hotels) across China. In early 2014, the group acquired a 90% stake in plans for a mixed-use condo, hotel and commercial project in Chicago. Construction of the $900 million project is scheduled to start in 2016. There are also plans for Wanda Hotels in London and Madrid.

Foreigners buy 174 ha of forestry in 2014, down 10% from 2013

According to the Forestry Agency, there were 13 cases of foreign funds acquiring a total of 174 hectares of forestry across Japan in 2014. The buyers, which were private individuals and corporations, were primarily from the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore, and the reasons for purchase were either asset holding or development.

Buyers from Hong Kong accounted for just 8% of the land acquired by foreigners, while buyers registered in the British Virgin Islands accounted for 78% of the land acquired.

Hokkaido is the main destination of foreign funds

Over 99% of the forestry was located in Hokkaido. Buyers from the British Virgin Islands acquired 135 hectares of forestry in Hokkaido’s Iburi sub-prefecture for the purpose of real estate development. The British Virgin Islands is a popular tax haven that may also be used by Japanese investors, so the actual nationality of these buyers is unknown.

Malaysian pension fund makes first investment in Japan

In their first investment in Japan, Malaysia’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has acquired several logistics facilities in the greater Tokyo area. This is the first case of an Asian public pension fund investing in Japanese real estate.

EPF acquired five distribution centers in Saitama and Chiba from Mitsubishi Corporation for 14 billion Yen (117 million USD). Management has been entrusted to Diamond Realty Management, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi. The buildings are around 20 years old and attract lower rent than newer facilities, but are located in prime positions with strong tenant demand. Yields are expected to be around 10%, which is higher than the 4 ~ 5% offered by private REITS.

Chinese buyers lured by Tokyo property prices and yields

In mid-September, the CEO of a real estate brokerage held an investment seminar in a function room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Shanghai. The 40 attendees listened carefully to every word. This seminar was not about investing in Shanghai or Hong Kong, but was focused on the Japanese property market, in particular the areas in Tokyo and Osaka.

Promotional material handed out to attendees provided detailed information on the merits of investing in Japanese real estate, the purchase process and taxes, as well as information on ‘Abenomics’ and currency markets. With the recent weakening of the Yen, the pamphlet explained that a 30 million Yen apartment that would have cost 2.5 million Yuan in January 2012 could now be bought for 1.765 million Yuan (at January 2014 exchange rates). Note: As of November 24, it is the equivalent of 1.56 million Yuan. 

Major companies right down to small agencies dealing only with Chinese buyers are busy organising property tours in Japan, with bus tours held almost every day.

A representative from a major brokerage said they have seen the number of inquiries jump by 1.5 times over the past 12 months and have attributed the strong interest to the falling Yen. Approximately half of the participants in their tours end up buying a property.

Taiwanese brokerage Sinyi plan to double their presence in Japan next year. They have already sold 20 billion Yen (170 million USD) worth of real estate in the first 10 months of 2014 and are expecting to close 450 deals worth  31 billion Yen in 2015.

An unnamed source in the the Nikkei Asian Review suggested that Taiwanese agencies could sell between 50 ~ 60 billion Yen (423 ~ 508 million USD) worth of Japanese real estate in 2014. This is still a small figure when compared to other destinations for Chinese money, such as the US where Chinese citizens bought 22 billion USD worth of homes in 2014.

What makes Tokyo appealing?

Tokyo Star Bank considering home loans for wealthy Taiwanese

In an interview with the Sankei Shimbun on October 20, Mr. Pin-kung Chiang, Chairman of the Board at Tokyo Star Bank, mentioned that the bank was considering offering low-interest home loans to wealthy Taiwanese for the purchase of real estate in Japan.

While Taiwan has seen steep increases in home prices, the Japanese property market has remained relatively stable for the past 20 years. With the weakening Yen and 2020 Summer Olylmpics, Taiwanese are becoming more and more attracted to real estate in Tokyo, particularly high-rise apartments. Mr. Chiang said that buyers are not only interested in properties for investment, but are also looking at homes to use as a base when they visit Tokyo.

Source: The Sankei Shimbun, October 21, 2014.