Whether you are looking to buy a freestanding house or a condominium in a high-rise building in Japan, the first question to ask is always the same: what is the purpose of your purchase? Is the property going to serve chiefly as your primary residence? Or will it be an investment, a store of wealth for your portfolio or a vacation home?
For most buyers, the next two questions are also the same: how much can you afford and what happens when you want to sell?
The reason why these three questions are so important is their answer determines the parameters of your search: location, size, type of property, etc.
The Best Location Varies with Personal Preference
It’s easy to compare properties according to the size of rooms, total living area, differences in layout and the year built. Location can be a little harder to compare and depends on personal preferences and your commute, among other factors. What is the neighborhood like and who are your neighbors? How close are you to parks and green areas, and how important is this to you? How quiet is it? Do planes fly overhead regularly? (This happens with growing frequency in downtown Tokyo.)
Further, if the property is on a road four meters wide or less, it’s a safe bet that it’s not very busy (although you may want to check if there are any plans to widen it). If you live on a road that is six meters or wider, you may need to be prepared to hear some traffic, since streets less than that are generally not passable by fire trucks, moving trucks, ambulances, etc.
How close are you to shops and the nearest train station? Can you walk to Ginza? This has value, too. Regarding the station, it’s important to consider not just how far away from it you are, but also how many train lines go through that particular station. Is the station a local stop or an express stop?
Express trains don’t stop at local stops, so express stations are faster.
If you live close to an end station, you may be able to find a seat on the train more often than not. Furthermore, not all train lines are the same. Some are slower and very crowded, with fewer trains running in a 24-hour period. Every year, Japanese property magazines rate the different train lines in Tokyo—and you should research which ones receive the best grades and why.
Do You Have a Car?
Not everyone takes the train, so you may want to ask the real estate agent about parking.
Is a parking space available at the time you’ll move in? How much extra will it cost per month? Is the parking space large enough to park your SUV? Are there flat spaces or is there machine parking (which tends to be cheaper)?
Also, currently, it may be hard to find a place with an electric car charger, but chargers are being required in Tokyo for all new residential buildings beginning in 2025.
Tower Mansions: One Size Does Not Fit All
For convenience and “curb appeal,” a condo in a high-rise building—or タワーマンション (tower mansion)—is hard to beat.
Residences in high-rise buildings are more likely to have a nice view and also tend to be in the most convenient locations (for example, closer to stores, train stations, etc.). A stunning view, beautiful entrance hall, concierge service, top-class amenities such as gyms and guest rooms and shopping directly in the building can all be expected in the highest-rated complexes. High-rises must also pass special earthquake resistance tests, so construction quality is better, too.
There are, nonetheless, downsides to living in a tower mansion. Perhaps you have a fear of heights? Also, when an earthquake does happen, top floors can sway excessively and the earthquake-resistant design can let out loud, scary creaking sounds.
If the electricity is out due to an earthquake or even basement flooding from a typhoon, you may not be able to use the elevator and be forced to use the stairs—not to mention the toilets not working.
Also, don’t forget the dangers of liquefaction if the building sits on reclaimed land. In addition, if you want to design your own living area, nothing beats having a new house built-to-order by a brand-name developer.
International investors see luxury real estate in Tokyo as underpriced when compared to Singapore or Hong Kong.
At present new condo prices in Tokyo are at all-time highs and prices for existing properties are historically high, as well. A big reason for this—besides the creature comforts they provide—is that over time they have proven to be good investments. Prime land in Japan is scarce and the best sites for housing continue to go up in value. International investors see luxury real estate in Tokyo as underpriced when compared to Singapore or Hong Kong.
Although buildings depreciate over time—land does not. In fact, land prices in Tokyo are up 3.2% year-on-year according to this year’s rosenka, an annual survey of land prices published by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Since land is both scarce and the main store of value in a typical real estate deal, the average resale price of prime residences in Tokyo continues to climb.
Jeff Wynkoop is a fully bilingual certified real estate broker with over 15 years of experience working in the Japanese real estate business. He is a U.S. attorney (Washington), U.S. CPA (Delaware), U.S. CCIM, ARES Japan Master and author of “Legal Issues in Japanese Real Estate Investment.” Please feel free to contact him for real estate brokerage and consulting at email@example.com.