Interview with Bilingual Real Estate Agent in Kyoto

Buying a Renovated Traditional Wooden House in Kyoto: Answers to FAQS about Kyoto Machiya

Real Estate Japan recently conducted an email interview with Hachise, a leading bilingual agent, renovator, and property manager of Kyo-machiya (traditional wooden houses) in the city of Kyoto. In the past few years, the number of people interested in buying investment properties and vacation homes in the “city of 10,000 shrines” has grown exponentially.

Rarity, expert craftsmanship, and harmony and beauty in design are perhaps the main reasons that many foreign buyers are drawn to a special kind of property in Kyoto: renovated traditional-style wooden homes. If you are considering buying a renovated machiya, however, there are some important considerations to be aware of. In this interview, Hachise has very kindly answered readers’ frequently asked questions on the ins-and-outs of purchasing a Kyo-machiya.

 

Renovated traditional wooden house - Kyoto

Example of a renovated Kyo-machiya. Photo: Hachise

Q1: What exactly is a “Kyo-machiya”? Why is the interest in buying machiya so high?

Generally speaking, machiya are traditional Japanese wooden houses that were built before 1950 using traditional construction methods. Kyo-machiya are simply machiya located in the city of Kyoto. You can find all the features here on our website.

Different from how houses are built nowadays, machiya were built on stone foundations and the wooden columns and beams were connected without the use of nails (only possible with skilled craftsmen). As the Building Standard Act in 1950 basically prohibited houses to be built using traditional construction methods due to earthquake safety concerns, machiya have been decreasing at a rapid rate.

Besides the aesthetics and the feeling of nostalgia, the scarcity is also a big factor on why machiya are so popular these days.

Q2: What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a renovated machiya, as opposed to living in an apartment or more recently built single-family home?

With a fully renovated machiya that is equipped with modern amenities, the comfort of living is pretty much the same as any other type of house or apartment. That said, machiya are built entirely with wood so the winters can be colder without proper room or floor heating.

Another big concern relates to earthquake resistance. The explanation can be long but simply put, machiya are built with traditional construction methods and sway with earthquakes forces rather than fighting against forces. You can read more here on our website.

There are many temples and shrines in Kyoto built with the same method. They have stood for over a few hundred years so I wouldn’t say that machiya are that vulnerable to earthquakes.

Kyoto vacation rental - Renovated machiya

Example of a Kyomachiya renovated by Hachise and currently managed as a “KyoTreat” vacation rental. For inquiries on renting this property, please click on the photo for the full listing and to inquire directly to Hachise.

Q3: Can you tell us a little about Hachise and how your company became involved in the business of renovating machiya?

Hachise started as a textile wholesale company back in 1956 and later on switched to the real estate business (within Kyoto city) from 1962. As Japan was going through periods of high economic growth, the concept of “renovating” old houses or machiya didn’t appear until the late nineties.

Our first attempt at renovating a Kyo-machiya was back in 2001, and to our surprise, the first open house event attracted more than 40 people. That was basically the turning point for our company to focus entirely on renovating and selling Kyo-machiya properties.

Q4: Can you tell us a little about Hachise’s process for renovating a machiya for sale?

Basically, each machiya property is assigned to a producer within Hachise who will look over the entire renovation project. The producer works together with our partner architects and building contractors to come up with a renovation plan. The renovation process usually takes from six months to a year. If you want to learn more, please visit this page.

Q5: Is the purchase process for a machiya the same as for buying a condominium or more recently built free-standing house?

Yes, the process of purchasing a machiya is the same as for other properties in Japan.

Q6: Are there any special considerations involved in buying a machiya property? What are the main things that buyers should be aware of? For example, can the property be further renovated or can the land be rebuilt on?

First of all, if the buyer does not reside in Japan, they will not be eligible for housing loans from Japanese banks. For this reason, many of our buyers (from overseas) purchase with cash.

When a property says “This property is un-rebuildable”, you cannot built a new house on the land if the currently standing house is completely demolished. However, if the house is only partially destroyed, you can still repair/renovate it.

Most of the time properties are un-rebuildable in Kyoto because they are located in narrow alleys that cause problems, such as interfering with firefighting activities.

Q7: Does Hachise provide after service for the machiya that you renovate and sell?

Yes, for properties that are renovated by Hachise, we provide services such as Vacant Home Maintenance, Monthly Vacation Rentals, and Lease Management.

Q8: Can I buy a machiya to live in part of the year and rent out the rest of the year as a vacation property? Are there any restrictions on this?

We provide a Monthly Vacation Rental service called “KyoTreat” to our customers who have purchased properties renovated by Hachise.  There are currently 12 “KyoTreat” properties that we manage.

Vacant Home Maintenance

Monthly Vacation Rentals

Lease Management

This service is ideal for owners who would like to have their Kyoto second home for a long time to come, and who — though they do not live in the house at the present time — have set their sights on living in Kyoto at some point in the future.

Kyoto vacation rental - Renovated machiya

Example of a “KyoTreat” vacation rental managed by Hachise. This property, located in Higashiyama Ward, is currently available for vacation rental. Excellent location, about a 10-min walk from Shichijo Station and about a 20-min walk from Kyoto Station. Please click on the photo for the full listing and to inquire directly to Hachise.

Q9: What are some things I should know about buying a home in Kyoto, as opposed to buying a property in another part of Japan? How is the residential real estate market in Kyoto different from other cities?

As more and more tourists visit Kyoto each year, Kyo-machiya properties have become extremely popular among overseas buyers in the last five to ten years, mostly as investments for guest house operations. However, restrictions on guest house operations have become stricter each year as a solution to alleviating the over-tourism problem in Kyoto.

For these reasons, we are seeing fewer foreign buyers looking for machiya to transform into guesthouses, but many are still interested in buying them as vacation homes or as future homes for their children (as there are many universities in the city of Kyoto).

There are actually many well-preserved machiya even outside of Kyoto, but since many of them are located in smaller cities or towns, they are not seen as viable purchasing options for foreign investors.

Q10: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

Buying properties in a foreign country can be quite challenging, but as a start we do recommend that buyers stay in one of our monthly vacation properties “KyoTreat” as these are properties renovated and managed by Hachise.  During the stay you can really get a sense of what it is like to live in a machiya while being able to explore the local neighborhood in depth.  

Kyoto Vacation Rentals Managed by Hachise

Full list of renovated Kyo-machiya vacation rentals produced and managed by Hachise.


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Lead photo: Traditional-style wooden houses along Sannen-zaka street, Southern Higashiyama area, Kyoto via iStock.