• Freedom to move

    Up until recently, I had prized the idea that I had zero liabilities to tether me to any one location. I could, on a whim, decide to move to another country without concern about a house or car to sell and pay off the bank. It was sort of a luxury that I could simply book a flight to Europe and go. But now that I have my boys, I’m far more interested in “growing roots” as the old phrase goes. I’ve been in Japan for over 13 years now. Have a stable job and decent pay plus permanent resident status within Japan. All the hallmarks of a risk-free story that any bank would drool over to hand me money.

    Place to call home

    It’s a dream as old as time: a place that you can call home. Somewhere you can live and grow with your family. Especially now that I have twin sons to care after, I need a place that will enable them to flourish. Somewhere that can survive three generations (and hopefully more). A place that isn’t likely to be flooded by rising sea levels (thanks to Global Warming). Highly unlikely to be hit by a tsunami. A home that will be close to reliable food sources in an ever warming planet. And yet, be close enough to the snow that winter sports could be enjoyed every year.

    Buying a house - the process

    As I have never purchased a home before, I need to learn everything required to obtain a loan, build the house, and move my family to the new home. While I remember my mother doing the same when I was younger, the process will be slightly different between Japan and the States. I’m not sure that my history of vehicle purchases in the States would matter to Japanese banks. I heard the banks here employ an ancient system of scoring based on their emotional assestment of you. Completely different from the States where they have a credit scoring system run by a central database.
    I’m not willing to zero my investments just to pay cash for new land. I’m looking to finance as much as close to 100% as possible. Besides, the tax benefits and low interests rates make it very appealing to buy through a bank.
    From my research thus far, I need to:

    • Decide on the location.
    • Get the property plans (Land / building registry)
    • Assess the property’s geology (survey map)
    • Confirm preliminary “approval” for bank loan for desired land
    • Engage an Architect to design a custom home.
    • Find a builder that can provide an estimate for the construction and related fees.
    • Take that estimate with all documentation to the bank to get a final contract that includes a “bridge loan.”
    • After all contracts are finalized and signed, engage the builder, and watch the construction.

    Decide on location

    As I love the snow and hate the heat, moving north is the most logical choice. The factors I accounted in my decision were:

    • Must be within Japan
    • Elevation: over 100m from sea level
    • Land should be large enough to sit a 5LDK with 2-car garage (preferably over 300 sq-meters or 100 tsubo)
    • Town is large enough to support over two grocery stores and a small mall
    • Must have city sewer and water support (no septic tanks)
    • Must have high-speed internet (preferrably fiber optic lines)
    • Be within 3 hours drive/train-ride to international airport
    • Needs to have an international school to support my twin’s educational growth in both English and 日本語
    • Not too crowded (not in the middle of a big city)
    • No concrete jungles
    • Not too close to any active volcanoes
    • Not near any landfills
    • Not downhill from any land developments that could turn into landslides when the rain gets too heavy
    • Not within range of an availanche
    • Has a train station in town
    • Property is within 4km of the station
    • Not in a valley where the water from the river could overspill
    • Not within 200m of those large regional power lines
    • Minimum noise & light pollution
    • Easy enough for my wife to drive in town and to home (no dirt roads)
    • BONUS: close to ski resorts and mountains to climb
    • BONUS: big enough to have a micro-farm and garden.

    I’ve visited Hokkaido several times now and loved it each time. The food was better than I’ve had in Osaka! The slopes were a blast too. The parks in the summer are cool and the area rarely gets over 25°C in the middle of summer. Perfect for my network equipment that I always have running at home.

    Now that I’ve decided on the town of Kutchan, I need to find the property. From the Kutchan website, there’s a list of realtors that I could begin my search.

    Get property plans

    With the location decided, I need to engage the realtor to get the property details. Explain my financial situation and hopefully see if I can get this process moving.

    Engage an Architect

    While I know how to use and build software, I’m not aware of all the regulations and building codes required for property in Hokkaido. So, I will need to engage a residential architect. However, I can expect this won’t be cheap as I must pay out-of-pocket. Meanwhile, I need to decide on the specification of the house and a rough floorplan to have a meaningful discussion with an architect. I found https://floorplanner.com website and it seems like a well polished tool that creates 2D and 3D walk-throughs and even generates 360° Virtual Realities of your plan so you can get a good feel of it before building it. I’ll be working on this while negotiating with banks for a loan.

    Bank Challenges

    While initially SMBC approved a preliminary application for upto 1奥4000万円, when they realized the location was far from Sapporo, they told me they had no interest as it was “too far from a major city.” They have zero vision! Kutchan is expected to get a new Shinkansen line and station by 2031. (Current build status and http://hokkaido-shinkansen-navi.jp/) And, is in the bidding for the Winter Olympics of 2030 & 2034. Once the new train station is built and the world visits for the Olympics, the prices of land will be too high. Now is the time to buy! The risk is not so high when they factor in the fact the value will be higher should they be forced to resale it. Unfortunately, the banking agent was completely ignorant of Niseko and Kutchan…

    I’ve been searching for banks that would support me and researching the companies that could build what I desire at the budget I’m willing to afford. So far, I’ve heard that I need to check out:

    So, I’ll need to see if they have any online applications. I’m not sure I can get a preliminary approval via phone… Otherwise, I will have to visit the bank in person. Not something I would like to do considering the pandemic right now…

    Bank Requirements

    Based on current research with these banks, not only do I need to present myself in-person to request the loan, but I need to provide the following for the interview:

    • Location and property details outlined above
      • Full price details (全額で審査する)
      • including cost of building (全体家借入額)
    • Current & valid drivers license (日本運転免許)
    • Current & valid residence card (住民票 / 在留カード)
      • must have mark to indicate PR status (永住権)
    • Existing health insurance card (保険証)
    • Proof of employment (with date of work start)
    • Tax withholding slip from company (源泉徴収)
    • City residence certificate - from city hall (住民票記載事項証明書)
    • Confirmation from company that you can continue work after moving (住民票を移せるか)
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