Olympic Housing Boom Fades Before Tokyo Games Even Begin

  • Apartment prices set to fall more than 20%, Deutsche Bank says
  • Chinese demand slumps amid slowing economy, capital controls

Residential buildings in the Kachidoki area of Tokyo.

Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Evidence is mounting that Tokyo’s housing boom is nearing an end.

In the Kachidoki area facing Tokyo Bay, home to the city’s hottest market given its proximity to venues for the 2020 Olympic Games, real-estate broker Hayato Jo has a wall full of notices of apartments for sale, with a 20 percent increase in the number of people looking to sell in the area in the past year. Prices in the neighborhood, which surged 25 percent since Tokyo won the Games in 2013, have started to fall from their peak.

Elsewhere, more cracks are appearing.

The number of unsold new apartments in the city reached the highest in seven years in 2016. Inquiries from Chinese investors, who helped fuel property market gains, have halved since August 2015, according to Noboru Takimoto, senior manager of overseas residential sales at Jones Lang LaSalle K.K., as the world’s second-biggest economy slowed.

A Chinese government clamp down on citizens moving money offshore has thrown up another obstacle. Under changes announced on Dec. 31, Chinese citizens buying foreign currencies must sign a pledge that they won’t use their $50,000 annual quota for offshore property investments, making it harder to finance purchases.

A surge in inventory may foreshadow gloom across the city, with Deutsche Bank real-estate analyst Yoji Otani forecasting prices will fall more than 20 percent in the next two years. The glut of unsold new and existing apartments topped 50,000 last year, a level that in the past has preceded price declines, said Otani.

“Inventory is climbing and the property market has already started to deteriorate,” Otani said. “This year we will see the pace accelerate.”

The average price of a newly-built three bedroom apartment in Tokyo rose 24 percent in January from a year earlier to 69.1 million yen ($612,000), the highest since the Real Estate Economic Research Institute started compiling the data in 2000. The percentage of apartments sold before completion, which has been on a downward trend for two years, fell to 62 percent.  

Wages haven’t kept up with home-price increases. Even after showing the biggest jump last year since 2010, total pay was still less than in 2014.

“There is no demand,” Otani said. “No one can afford properties, only rich people. There is no way to help this market.”

Mansion Research Ltd., a consulting service which tracks sales in the secondary market, is forecasting apartment prices are set to fall 10 percent in the next two years.

“We have been hearing from people saying how expensive and how hot the market has become as early as 2015, and that sentiment carried forward through 2016,” Director Riki Yamada said. “Buyers just can’t follow.”

Sinyi Realty Inc., a Taiwanese realtor which markets apartments in Japan to overseas buyers, said the number of units sold fell 30 percent to 350 last year, as the yen’s volatility unsettled investors. The currency traded in about a 20 percent range from its high to low in 2016.

After pushing prices higher for the past three to four years, developers “started selling new condos with rather conservative prices in the second half of last year,” said Kenny Ho, Tokyo-based managing director at Sinyi. “They don’t want to see a further accumulation of inventory.”

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