Software engineer Tom and health coach Angharad (Hari) Mortiboy didn’t know that their dream-cabin-in-the-woods even existed until Tom stumbled upon it online one day.
The fact that it was sat half way between their two favourite Japanese ski resorts, up for sale and well within their budget was nothing but a bonus!
We caught up to chat about the process of buying in Niseko, the renovations they’ve done to make their new home even more homely and why living in Japan is perfect for this couple who’ve come all the way from the other side of the world.
Uchi: Thanks for sitting down for a chat guys! What first drew you to Japan?
Hari: Initially, the snow! We’d done winter seasons across the world and had met a friend in France who had done seasons here in Niseko. We didn’t know much about it, but we were moving from the UK to Australia and we thought why not ‘do a season’ here on the way?!
Tom: The snowboarding here was sooo good that after the season was done and we moved to Australia, we decided to come back on a winter holiday and then decided to do a second season, then a summer...
Hari: It was then that we thought Niseko could really be where we want to settle as a base for the next little while.
Uchi: So how did you start the process of searching for a house?
Tom: We’ve had a few friends buy here in the past, so we knew there were some good deals in the market. Certainly more affordable than in other resorts around the world or back in the UK. Those friends were helpful with sharing real estate agent contacts but to begin with it was mainly desktop research on real estate websites and through a few community groups on Facebook.
Hari: We had seen a few different houses that were good but not perfect and it seemed anything that really piqued our interest was either under offer already or snapped up before we even had a chance to inspect it.
Tom: Thankfully and totally by chance I found our place online basically the moment it was listed, so we went and checked it out ASAP and the rest is history.
Uchi: What were the main things you were looking for?
Tom: The two P’s – price and proximity. We had a set budget that we wanted to stick to and at the same time, we wanted to be within a reasonable distance of the ski resorts which attracted us to the destination in the first place. Balancing these paradoxically opposed criteria was the tough part. Get too close to the ski hill, watch the price rise. Search well within our budget, end up too far away. So we were stoked to find something within budget almost smack bang between Niseko and Rusutsu.
Hari: Beyond just that, what we found ticked all our secondary boxes as well. Plenty of space, nature and a quiet neighbourhood, but still accessible and not so far away from our friends.
Uchi: Explain to me the process from inspecting to buying.
Hari: It was surprisingly really easy! In Japan, when a house is sold, there needs to be an agent representing both the buyer and the seller. It can be the same agent working for both sides, however as the selling agent for this property was a Japanese real estate agency with little English language skills, we engaged our own bilingual agent through H2 Group.
Tom: Our agent then accompanied us for another visit and did some building inspections. We found out then that another potential buyer was going to inspect it in the next few days, so with that in our minds as a deadline and with the real estate agent’s encouragement, we made an offer and it was accepted then and there.
Hari: As crazy as it sounds, buying a house in Japan was easier than buying a car!
Uchi: Did you have to wait a long time to ‘take the keys’?
Hari: No, it was really quick. The contract was drawn up, then we and the seller signed the paperwork straight away.
Tom: Unlike in other countries, there didn’t seem to be any long-winded settlement process or ‘cooling off’ period. As soon as we made the offer and they accepted, the house was ours. The agent told us it’s very rare for either party to subsequently back out. We moved in within weeks.
Uchi: How would you describe your place to someone who hadn’t seen it?
Hari: It’s our quiet little cabin in the woods!
Uchi: You’ve undertaken some fairly significant renovations. What have you done, and was that always the plan?
Tom: No, it certainly wasn’t always the plan. The seller told us before we bought that the basement was prone to flooding in spring time as the floor had been dug out to below ground level so as to create more headspace. So we knew we’d have to add some drainage and make that watertight for use as a storage area. It was only when we got started that we saw the opportunity to convert that space into two brand-new basement bedrooms!
Hari: We also had the exterior painted a vibrant blue, which has revitalized the look of the house greatly. Again, we didn’t plan to do that, rather we wanted to make some small repairs to the roof but we thought… well, the scaffold is already up so we might as well!
Uchi: Has there been a guiding theme in the way you’ve decorated the interior of the home?
Hari: Yes, ‘second-hand’. We both believe strongly in reusing and repurposing.
Tom: And we’ve also consciously made an effort to ensure the renovated section of the house is cohesive with the existing part of the house. Similar doors, similar door frames, similar skirting boards and so on.
Uchi: Has the house increased in value?
Hari: We don’t know, we really should find out (laughs)!
Tom: It must have. It was a 1LDK with only a loft bedroom and it now has three bedrooms and a brand new paint job! But we never really set out to add value, rather to simply make it more livable for us and for whoever lives here in the future.
Uchi: What have the main challenges been?
Tom: In such a harsh winter climate, maintenance is obviously extremely important for any home owner. The council snow clears our access road only up to a certain point and we have to engage a snow clearing company privately just so we can get to and from. That’s the obvious challenge.
Hari: We did a lot of the renovations ourselves so we did find it quite challenging getting all the necessary materials that we would usually be able to find in the hardware stores back home.
Tom: Yes, connecting with industry wholesalers for building supplies isn’t particularly easy when you don’t speak their language, but thankfully we have some Japanese speaking friends with building experience who were greatly helpful.
Hari: And, being disconnected from the council sewage system, means we have a waste tank which needs to be emptied once every few months.
Tom: Yes, we learned pretty quickly not to let that fill up too much for obvious reasons! Plus I had to spend a full day digging it out of the snow in mid-winter just so the servicemen could get to it.
Hari: Tom can now tell how full it is just by the sound it makes when he flushes (laughs)!
Uchi: Would you do it all over again?
Tom: Well, we don’t really need to now!
Hari: There certainly isn’t anything that we look back on and think ‘oh man, never again’. In fact, it was way easier and more rewarding than we ever thought it would be. But for now, we are happy just living in it!
This is the first in a series of upcoming blogs profiling the real-life, normal people who’ve made buying their dream home in Japan a reality.