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The rising cost of property maintenance in Japan is a new worry for many elderly homeowners.
Datawatch

Japan's elderly homeowners grapple with inflation and prejudice

Home repair costs rise 20% due to labor shortages and higher materials prices

DAISUKE HORI, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Many elderly Japanese face an uphill battle to keep their home as the costs of repairing and maintaining property continue to rise amid chronic labor shortages and higher materials prices.

More than 90% of those in their 60s and older who head families of two or more owned homes as of 2021, according to a survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. But many seniors find it hard to finance the growing cost of home maintenance.

The nationwide consumer price index shows that the cost of "work and other services for repair and maintenance," which relate to the upkeep of the house, such as exterior painting and plumbing work, rose 20% or so in about 10 years through 2021.

This primarily reflects a rise in the construction cost of single-family houses. Building costs have risen "almost consistently" over the past decade due to a shortage of labor and other factors, said Kei Tamura, a home inspector at real estate consultancy Sakurajimusho. "The rise gathered steam in 2022 due to higher materials prices caused by the Ukrainian crisis, among others," he said.

Outer walls, roofs and many other parts of houses need repairing at an interval of about 15 to 30 years. "The frequency of work needed over the course of an owner's life has increased due to longer life spans," Tamura said.

Repair costs have also become a heavy burden on residents of condominiums. 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, according to real estate appraiser Tokyo Kantei.

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

Elderly home renters do not face this problem and have seen only marginal increases in rents, but they are faced with a different problem -- unfriendly owners. The land ministry's fiscal 2020 survey found some 70% of rental home providers are reluctant to take on older tenants, especially single individuals. They are worried that it may not be easy to deal with the solitary death of an elderly tenant, or that seniors become senile and cause trouble with other residents.

Many rental owners are not eager to equip their properties with senior-friendly equipment and facilities because of the time needed to recover the initial investment. "Many rental owners are getting old themselves," said Ken Miura, a professor at the Department of Architecture and Architectural Engineering of Kyoto University.

Moving into nursing homes may not be an option for many elderly, due to the costs. There are affordable care facilities, but one has to compromise in terms of location and services.

The number of single-person households is also on the rise, with many elderly living alone. The ratio of single-person households among all family types increased from 19.8% in 1980 to 38% in 2020, while those of other types of households fell sharply. This has led to a decline in the number of cases where younger generations take over the burden of home repair from older generations.

Some businesses find opportunities in this shift. Flatagency, a Kyoto-based real estate company, plans and develops dwellings shared by the elderly, young students and child-rearing parents. The shared houses feature attractive communal spaces to promote intermingling and mutual support among tenants.

Flatagency's project to turn former corporate dormitories into share homes has recently won the backing of the national government.

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