Would you live in a so called “ghost village” if you only had to pay $ 500 for a house? Here in the United States, you can hardly get a studio for that price. So why these akiya (unoccupied houses) to sell for such a bargain in Japan?
While the US housing market has only recently become warmer, in Japan negative population growth, combined with massive migration to urban areas, has created a housing void, resulting in a rural vacancy rate of around 16%, according to a May 2021 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
According to the most recent Japan Housing and Land Survey of 2018, the result of this rural vacancy rate is around 8.49 million akiya – perfectly normal rural houses that exist in empty neighborhoods often referred to as “ghost villages. “
Local governments have tried to encourage people to buy these properties in order to stimulate rural populations. Officials believe that restocking efforts (like the low price) will help revitalize these rural areas and eventually lead to a possible national economic windfall. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga began his tenure with an urgent mandate to bridge the country’s urban-rural divide. Subsequently, many regional regions respond by offering everything from home improvement grants to tax breaks for those who buy. akiya.
Recently, another strategy has been applied to attract akiya buyers: “akiya banks”. These are real estate websites that exclusively offer these ghost village houses in specific communities at rock bottom prices. The project has proven to be extremely successful in places like Wakayama Prefecture, where about a third of the area’s available housing has been sold since 2015. Listings on Wakayama’s akiya bank range from $ 800 to over – an argument. solid selling for those looking to own a home that is not too far from a big city (Osaka).
Granted, many of these abandoned homes are what we in the United States would consider ârepairers,â a prospect that many young Japanese people don’t necessarily like. Douglas Sutherland, senior economist for Japan at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, believes that the failure of the akiya program could be due to “generally less interest in DIY home renovations [here] than there is in the United States. This translates into the fact that these properties are not worth the time or money, making it less than popular for young professionals.
And that might be true, as renovation costs (aside from those subsidized by the government) could quickly become expensive, especially since homes would most likely need to be upgraded. In addition, property rights in Japan make it extremely difficult to simply remove the akiya and start from scratch, because the potential buyer would still need the approval of the “technical owner”. Obstacles like these are just another reason why these homes remain vacant, unable to be demolished but impossible to renovate without excess funds.
In the future, the Japanese government may choose to modify some of these legal barriers in order to akiya even more desirable for buyers. Until then, those abandoned homes will remain vacant in their ghost villages – at least until the right buyer shows up and is swayed by the prospect of owning a home too good to be true for $ 500.