Japan's Real Estate Renaissance: Foreign Investors Flock To Land Of The Rising Sun

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Countries worldwide have been focusing on raising interest rates to counter skyrocketing inflation over the past couple of years. Japan, the third-largest economy in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), maintained its benchmark interest rates, which caused the Japanese yen to depreciate in terms of the U.S. dollar and other major currencies. 

This has proved to be a boon for the Japanese housing market, as investors have been pouring money into the East Asian country's relatively cheaper real estate sector. 

"It is a golden period of Japanese real estate," said Henry Chin, head of Asia-Pacific research at CBRE Group.

Japan's Trump Card: Ultra-Low Interest Rates

Bank of Japan has maintained its short-term interest rates at negative 0.1% despite inflationary pressures and concerns regarding a potential global recession. 

"With extremely high uncertainties surrounding economies and financial markets at home and abroad, the bank will patiently continue with monetary easing, while nimbly responding to developments in economic activity and prices as well as financial conditions," the Bank of Japan said in its policy statement released on Sept. 22.

While Japan's dovish policy has resulted in a weaker yen, investors remain bullish on the country's growth prospects because of its "strong fundamentals," especially in the retail and multifamily sector, Chin said. 

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"Japan benefits from an ultra-loose monetary policy while global economies are in the tightening cycle," Chin said. 

Notably, total foreign investments in the Japanese real estate market rose by 45% year over year in the first half of 2023. 

"Foreign investor volume saw 100% increase in Q1 2023 on a year-on-year basis," said Koji Naito, JLL's research director of capital markets in Japan. 

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Favorable Lending Terms

Real estate activity in Japan has been the strongest in the world as of May, with foreign investors doubling their investment year over year to $2 billion in the first quarter. 

The growing interest in Japan's property market is driven by the nation's attractive lending conditions. This includes a 70% loan-to-value ratio and a low borrowing cost of approximately 1%.

In comparison, investments in the real estate sector plunged by 61% year over year to $66 billion in the first quarter across the Americas. Real estate activity across Europe plummeted by 58% over the same period to $35 billion. 

"Foreign investors have been actively trying to enter Japan because of its favorable interest rate differentials over other key markets," Naito said. "Japan's strong fundamentals remain the primary appeal for investors injecting capital into the country."


Commercial Real Estate For The Win 

Investors have been betting on the back-to-office trend, which led to a 110% year-on-year increase in office investment volumes in Japan during the first quarter, reaching $4.5 billion. According to data from JLL, offices constituted half of the total investment volumes and remained the primary choice for investment.

One of the areas showing positive growth is Japan’s office sector, where transaction activity has picked up pace.

Notably, Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC bought Osaka’s Kitahama Nexu building for 24.85 billion yen ($180 million) in the first quarter. 

In April, private equity behemoth Blackstone completed the sale of a portfolio comprising six warehouses in Japan to GIC for $800 million. U.S. developer Hines bought five multifamily properties in Tokyo and Kyoto to boost its net asset value to $1 billion within five years.

Singapore has emerged as the leading contributor of cross-border investments in the Japanese commercial real estate market, with a total of $3 billion in acquisitions this year, as of Oct. 2. U.S. investments in Japan reached $2.58 billion, while Canada secured the third spot with investments totaling $1 billion. 

While the lending terms are becoming more stringent globally, many analysts believe demand in the Asia-Pacific region to remain robust in the near term. 

"The market continues to be challenging, with many investors reasoning that the tightening of lending standards will provide further uncertainty for the commercial real estate market," said Stuart Crow, CEO of Capital Markets for Asia Pacific at JLL, "However, Asia Pacific remains more insulated, and we're confident that liquidity risk is well contained in the region and a resumption of activity is a matter of when, and not if."

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