Sunday, November 05, 2006

More housing fun

We are somewhat interested in the house mentioned at the bottom of this post, and the estate agent said it would take about 2 hours to explain its special circumstances, so we enlisted a couple of friends to act as interpreters and trooped off to their shop on Saturday morning, not really having any idea what to expect. In the UK, the estate agent is basically a con-man who tries to shift boxes at any price and most people rely on a solicitor to make sure the Is and Ts are properly dotted and crossed, but it seems that in Japan, it is relatively rare to employ legal assistance and the agent takes a much greater responsibility (and so they should, given their fees).

So, he seems to have looked into the land search and local regulations in quite some detail, and it took well over 2 hours to go through the details. Most of the substantive "issues" relate to the rebuilding rights - since houses are not expected to last more than about 40 years, this is crucial for the long-term value of the site. The house is in the middle of a non-residential area of woodland where rebuilding is generally not allowed, but the plot has a special exemption due to there already being a house there (two, in fact) when the land was so designated a few decades ago. That's great as it means there could not be an appartment block erected on the boundary. A bigger fly in the ointment is that there appears to be a strip of unowned land (in practice that means in national ownership) which separates the plot from the road, and this discontinuity prohibits a rebuild (and could in extremis even cause access problems if someone else bought it). Possibly it could be claimed for free after 10 years of occupancy (the previous owner is already at 8, and this count is not re-set on selling), and the strip can certainly be bought, but the whole area is unsurveyed which is a non-trivial expense that the buyer would have to bear. On top of that, 2 of the neighbouring landowners appear to be disappeared or deceased, which would make it problematic to arrange the surveying permissions. There are further issues due to the fact that the road is not an officially adopted one, and the land is dangerously steep, all implying more hoops to jump for a rebuild (but just paperwork and restrictions, not a ban).

After lunch we all went to have a look round, to see how the paper description matches the reality on the ground. It's still an amazing site with a well-built house that would be very pleasant to live in. Land rights problems are a bit of a red flag (certainly in the UK) and the sensible action is generally to walk away or wait until the current owner sorts it out. At the least, we need to find some legal advice about how much trouble and expense it would take to sort out. It might be easy, and it would certainly be interesting...

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