Japan’s elderly homeowners grapple with inflation and prejudice

TOKYO – Many older Japanese face an uphill battle to keep their homes as the costs of repairing and maintaining property continue to rise amid chronic labor shortages and higher material prices. students.

More than 90% of people in their 60s and over who lead families own two or more homes in 2021, according to a survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. But many seniors struggle to finance the rising cost of home maintenance.

The National Consumer Price Index shows that the cost of “works and other repair and maintenance services”, related to home maintenance, such as exterior painting and plumbing work, rose by about 20% in about 10 years until 2021.

This mainly reflects an increase in the cost of building single-family homes. Construction costs have risen “almost steadily” over the past decade due to a labor shortage and other factors, said Kei Tamura, building inspector at real estate consultancy Sakurajimusho. “The rise accelerated in 2022 due to rising material prices caused, among other things, by the Ukraine crisis,” he said.

Exterior walls, roofs, and many other parts of homes need repair every 15 to 30 years or so. “The frequency of work needed during an owner’s lifetime has increased due to longer lifespans,” Tamura said.

Repair costs have also become a heavy burden for condominium residents. According to real estate appraiser Tokyo Kantei, the average monthly contribution to repair funds made by residents of new condominiums in the Tokyo metropolitan area was nearly 40% higher in 2021 than a decade earlier.

The amount fell slightly year on year in 2021 as fewer luxury condominiums were built that year, but “the overall trend remains unchanged,” said Tokyo Kantei senior researcher Takeshi Ide.

Tenants in older homes don’t face this problem and have only seen marginal rent increases, but they do face a different problem: hostile landlords. The Department of Lands’ Fiscal Year 2020 survey found that around 70% of rental housing providers are hesitant to hire older tenants, particularly singles. They fear that it will not be easy to cope with the lonely death of an elderly tenant or that the elderly will become senile and cause problems with other residents.

Many tenant landlords are not keen on outfitting their properties with age-friendly amenities and facilities due to the time required to recoup the initial investment. “A lot of homeowners age themselves,” said Ken Miura, a professor in the Department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering at Kyoto University.

Moving into nursing homes may not be an option for many seniors, due to cost. Affordable care facilities exist, but there are trade-offs in terms of location and services.

The number of single-person households is also on the rise, with many older people living alone. The proportion of one-person households among all family types has fallen from 19.8% in 1980 to 38% in 2020, while that of other household types has fallen sharply. This has led to a decrease in the number of cases where younger generations are taking over home repairs from older generations.

Some companies find opportunities in this change. Flatagency, a Kyoto-based real estate company, plans and develops shared housing for seniors, young students and parents raising children. Shared houses have attractive common areas to promote mixing and mutual support between tenants.

Flatagency’s plan to turn former corporate dormitories into shared accommodation recently gained support from the national government.

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