If you’re a prospective homebuyer who is struggling to gather up the money for a downpayment or to be approved for a mortgage, you may want to consider moving to Japan. To keep good homes from going to waste, Some towns and home-owners in Japan are trying to reduce the number of abandoned homes across the country by offering them up for free, or selling them for as low as $500. Perhaps surprisingly, there are tons of abandoned and empty houses on the outskirts of Japan’s major cities — eight million of them according to a 2018 government report, up 3.2 percent since 2013. The same report found that 13.6% of Japan’s homes were unoccupied, particularly in the prefectures of Wakayama, Tokushima, Kagoshima, and Kochi.
Japan’s aging population is partly responsible for the high number of abandoned houses in the country. There are few young people to purchase the homes of those who left them for retirement homes or who passed away. And the young people who are present take longer to have families for which they would need a home.
Many homeowners are simply left with no choice but to give the houses away for free, with some local governments offering subsidies to encourage potential new owners to renovate the properties. The provincial governments have set up akiya banks, databases of abandoned homes for sale, which are generally organized by region. Most of the listed homes are available for as little as $455 each, while others are being given for free. Some of the governments are even offering remote workers cash grants to stay in the countryside, according to Insider. In Okutama, the town distributes old and abandoned buildings to residents at no cost, and many new tenants have creatively repurposed them into restaurants, workshops, and other venues.
“The program not only helps the old owners, who were struggling to utilize the properties and pay taxes, but also for the town by reducing the number of abandoned buildings that could collapse or otherwise pose risks in the future,” a spokesperson for the Okutama government office told Nikkei.
Japan is also tapping into the remote work trend to boost its population of gainfully employed prospective tenants. Last year Nikkei reported that an incentive program was being introduced for remote workers employed in Tokyo to move to the countryside. Each worker would be given a grant of just over $9,000.
A version of this article was previously published on November 16, 2018, and was updated on June 29, 2021, with more information.