Wassenaar, with a population of 25,000, is a suburb of The Hague and one of the most prosperous municipalities in the Netherlands.
Its picturesque streets and affluence are the ideal of what you might imagine a small, prosperous Dutch town to be.
Wassenaar is also the name of a small gated-community of canal-fronted homes and condominiums built in 1992, next to the Huis Ten Bosch Dutch-style theme park in Sasebo, Japan.
Huis Ten Bosch is located on Hario Island in Sasebo in Nagasaki prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu. The location reflects the historic relationship between Japan and the Netherlands, which was granted the right to establish a trading post in nearby Hirado in 1609.
The 152-hectare Huis Ten Bosch park features 17th century Dutch-style buildings, including hotels, villas, theaters, museums, shops and restaurants, as well as canals, windmills, and amusement rides, and of course, well-manicured gardens. Huis Ten Bosch means “House in the Forest,” and is named after one of the official residences of the Dutch royal family.
Huis Ten Bosch is about a 30-minute train ride from central Sasebo.
Adjacent to the theme park is the small community of Wassenaar, which is anything but a Potempkin recreation of its namesake.
Wassenaar (the one in Japan!) consists of about 130 houses and 10 buildings containing 120 condominium units and is home to about 800 residents. About seventy per cent of the residents use the dwellings as weekend homes, with the remaining thirty per cent living there full-time. Some of the units are also owned by companies, which use them as employee housing.
All the homes are designed with a traditional Dutch theme and about sixty percent of the houses include a dock. There are strict rules regarding landscaping and the exterior look of the homes to maintain the theme and uniformity of the community.
Burst bubble but Retaining Value
When the homes were first put on the market in the 1980’s, 65-sqm (700 square feet) 2LDK (2-bedroom) condo units averaged about 50 million yen (about $400,000 at today’s exchange rate) and 299 sqm (3,218 square feet) single-family homes on huge lots of 893 sqm (about 9,600 square feet) averaged about 70 million yen (about $569,000 at today’s exchange rage).
The small Dutch-inspired development proved hugely popular. Apparently there were long waiting lists for units, but Wassernaan did not escape the bursting of the real estate and asset bubble, and the 130 houses and 10 apartment buildings that were completed in 1992 were the final installment in what was meant to be several thousand residences.
Unlike in many countries, much of the value of a single-family residential dwelling in Japan is actually held in the value of the land, and in general, after about twenty years the value of a single-family home as an asset is usually considered to be near zero.
According to the Huis Ten Bosch Technology Center, the company that operates the Wassenaar development, the average 2LDK apartment which was priced at about 50 million yen in 1992 had a market value of about 13 million yen in 2002 and actually increased in value to about 18 million yen this year. The average single-family home that was priced at 70 million yen in 1992 was worth about 20 million yen in 2002 and actually increased in value to about 30 million yen in 2015.
In short, the value of the homes in Wassenaar managed to retain some value even after a twenty-three year lifespan, in contrast to the typical case.
Home Owners Association
The company that operates and manages Wassenaar explains that one of the unique features of the development is that it is managed as a Homeowner Association (HOA), which is unusual in Japan, especially with respect to single-family residences.
In the United States, an HOA is a corporation formed by a real estate developer for the purpose of marketing, managing, and selling homes and lots in a residential subdivision.
Homeowners pay fees that cover the expenses of the development, which can include such things as landscaping common areas, maintenance and upkeep of the amenities (such as swimming pools or tennis courts), security personnel and gate maintenance, etc.
Depending on the size of their home, homeowners in Wassenaar pay between 20,000 yen ($163) and 50,000yen a month in HOA fees.
The HOA allows members to have a formal venue for exchanging ideas about the community, to enforce rules for living in the neighborhood and to minimize ownership maintenance responsibility.
In the U.S., HOAs are sometimes criticized for having excessively restrictive rules about how homeowners are allowed to use their own property.
Apparently, however, the residents of Wassernaan credit the HOA with helping to maintain the high quality of life in the development, which they cite as a key factor in keeping up property values.
Even in a country that prides itself on the cleanliness of public places, Wassenaar takes cleanliness to a higher level.
According to the management company, common areas are maintained as if they were located in a national park, down to the quality of the water that flows through the canals.
What do you think? Would you consider living in a town like Wassenaar?