Ben Y., a 40-year old Australian telecommuting computer engineer, has been eager to purchase a home for his growing family (a Japanese wife and 2 children under 5) for several years. He already owns a house in Australia, but wants to live in the Kansai area near his wife’s aging parents. Ben has limited Japanese skills, and even less knowledge about buying property in Japan. From the outset, he has been concerned about the differences between Japan and Australia in this regard.
We spoke with Sachiko Inoue and Fumihiro Saeki, both shihoushoshi-lawyers and co-founders of Kobe Legal Partners, to get the scoop about the various players involved in a home purchase in Japan. Mr. Saeki is also a qualified gyouseishoshi-lawyer.
Kobe Legal Partners
Kobe Legal Partners was founded 2 years ago to combine the complementary practices of the two founders, who have 20 years combined experience. Kobe Legal Partners is considered the pre-eminent English-speaking shihoushoshi-law firm in the greater Kobe area. See http://kobelp.com/en/ouroffice.html. In addition to the 2 co-founders, Kobe Legal Partners has a staff of 4, many of who are proficient in English.
Kobe Legal Partners provides a range of services pertaining to visas, marriage and divorce, setting up companies, inheritance matters, and the purchase and management of residential and commercial real estate. More than 90% of their real estate practice involves the purchase of residential property, including the purchase of second homes (among others) for foreign clients.
Recently, Kobe Legal Partner’s representation of foreign clients has risen dramatically—12 new foreign clients in the past six months alone! Many of their foreign clients come from Singapore, China, Korea, the U.S., the UK and Australia. Many are in their 40s and 50s, with varying reasons for wanting to purchase a home in Japan.
Kobe Legal Partners is on a fast track to expand to service their growing international client base. At present, they are considering the possibility of opening overseas offices in Asia.
What professionals are involved in home purchases?
Real Estate Agents. The real estate agent is generally the first point of contact for a home purchase. The real estate agent will assist the international client in identifying several potential properties that match the client’s criteria. The real estate agent will also help to negotiate favorable terms on behalf of the clients and provide advice about the general purchase process. English-speaking real estate agents are particularly helpful in bridging cultural and language barriers.
Shihoushoshi-lawyers are qualified, licensed legal professionals who specialize in preparing documents for registration of property transfers, which is required to give third parties notice of property ownership. Shihoushoushi-lawyers typically attend the closing when the final purchase price is paid in full.
Gyouseishoushi-lawyers are licensed legal professionals who specialize in visa and immigration-related matters as well as making filings for businesses and obtaining certain required licenses and permits.
Zeirishi, the equivalent of tax accountants, may often be required when a seller is required to report any profit from the sale of the house. The seller will need to pay about 20% tax on profits if the property was owned more than 5 years and about 39% if the property was owned less than 5 years. However, if the buyer converts the property to income-generating property, then the buyer will need a zeirishi-tax accountant for any profits.
Foreign Notary public. A buyer who is not a resident of Japan may need the services of a notary public in his or her home country to verify their identity and signature.
Insurance Representatives will likely be involved in the process as well since homeowner’s insurance is required in Japan.
Mortgage Lender will be involved if the foreign client needs to obtain a mortgage loan through a Japanese bank. This is not always an easy process. The foreign buyer must have permanent resident status in Japan and have a stable source of income.
What do foreign clients want to know about purchasing a home in Japan?
Current hot areas. Currently, the Midosuji area of Osaka is very popular because of its convenience and accessibility to major urban attractions and airports. Recently, Japanese clients are increasingly eyeing and buying in the Tennoji/Abeno area where the property prices are lower. In addition, the towns on the JR and Hankyu lines between Nishinomiya and Sannomiya remain ever-popular, particularly Shukugawa, Ashiya, and Okamoto.
Are prices likely to change any time soon? There may be a slight drop in real estate prices and values after the 2020 Olympics. Otherwise, any price changes will depend on the market and exchange rates. The purchase of real estate by Chinese and Korean clients is expected to continue.
Advice for foreign nationals who want to buy a home.
- Choose your professional team well. Generally, they should be good listeners, rather than talkers. If they don’t answer your questions directly and honestly, look around for someone else who will. Core Eight can help you put together a good team of English-speaking professionals.
- Japan tends to have more requirements for making filings and providing notices to various governmental agencies than other countries. This is mandatory and not optional. Failure to comply with these requirements may have serious consequences. Ask your shihoushoshi- lawyer or real estate agent for more information.
- If you may want to resell the property in a few years, please ask your real estate agent about real estate values in your neighborhood. Generally, real values do not appreciate in Japan as much as in the West.