- Japan has a glut of abandoned homes in rural areas and small towns.
- Government officials are auctioning them off for as little as $500.
- Americans are getting in on the deal.
With home prices and rents increasingly unaffordable in the US, some Americans are looking for their dream homes abroad. In Japan, a growing portion of the country’s housing stock is unoccupied and increasingly attracting American buyers.
Japan has a glut of older, abandoned homes in rural areas, as Insider has previously reported. With the country’s population in decline, there simply aren’t enough people willing to purchase these houses.
The country has at least 8.5 million such “akiya,” the Japanese word for unoccupied home, according to government data from 2018. Some experts believe there are as many as 11 million empty houses. When owners of these traditional homes die, those who inherit the properties often don’t want them or are unable to maintain them. In Japan, land remains valuable, while houses lose value over time and are often torn down and rebuilt.
Government officials are concerned that growing numbers of akiyas are hurting their efforts to revitalize rural parts of the country. So they’re subsidizing renovations and selling homes often for around $25,000, and sometimes for as little as $500.
Americans are getting in on the deal. They’re increasingly buying up these houses and restoring them, the New York Times reported.
Matthew Ketchum, a Pittsburgh native who lives in Tokyo, is taking advantage of the akiya market in a different way. In 2020, he co-founded a real estate consultancy, called Akiya & Inaka, that markets and sells akiya and other traditional homes, the Times reported. Ketchum said he’s seen a strong growth in interest from American buyers.
“At first, we were getting most of our inquiries from Japan residents, Australians and Singaporeans,” Ketchum told the Times. “That has changed now, with the vast majority of our international clients being based in the U.S.”
Jaya and Chihiro Thursfield, whose experience Insider reported on in 2021, moved to Japan from London in 2017 and bought an abandoned akiya less than an hour outside Tokyo for $30,000, or three million Japanese yen, in 2019. They spent about $150,000 and two years renovating the home, where they’ve lived with their twin sons and cats since December 2020.
The Thursfields, who were also profiled by the Times, have documented their renovations on Youtube, where viewers can see how they transformed a home largely in disrepair into a beautiful, minimalist property.
“This was truly an abandoned house in terms of the declined inheritance and everything left behind by the previous owners,” Jaya, who’s Australian, told Insider.