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Increasing land prices hamper rebuilding

March 22, 2013


Land price increases in disaster-hit prefectures cause concern



Average land prices rose in some parts of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures hard hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami due to growing demand from disaster victims who are trying to relocate or permanently settle in some areas, including formerly submerged districts.

But they did not bring optimism to local residents who are worried that such land price increases may hamper their efforts to rebuild their houses.

In Fukushima Prefecture, average land prices jumped only in Iwaki, which has been accommodating large numbers of evacuees from areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

These trends were reflected in an annual survey released March 21 by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on average land prices in Japan.

''I thought reconstruction would progress once areas around here became lively,'' said Wakako Izumisawa, 57, who works at a barber shop in Yamada's Nagasaki district in Iwate Prefecture. She simply cannot understand why the district ranked top among the prefecture's commercial districts in terms of the rate of land price increases

The district was submerged due to the huge tsunami and some businesses shut down after the natural disasters. ''There were no visible signs of development,'' she added.

In Iwate Prefecture, the prices of upland locations along the coast and land lots that suffered limited damage jumped. The prices of upland residential locations in the Otsuchi district in the town of Otsuchi soared 15 percent from a year ago, the second highest rate in Japan. All told, the top 10 locations in terms of the rate of land price gains are all located along the coast.

But for residents who plan to rebuild their houses, surging prices of upland locations can be an obstacle. A 66-year-old builder in Otsuchi says, ''If land prices rise further, more and more residents will leave here to settle elsewhere.''

Miyagi Prefecture is experiencing a similar phenomenon. The rate of appreciation for residential areas stood at 1.4 percent, the highest in the nation, and the number of locations with higher land prices jumped to 256 from 64 last year.

A residential area near Ishinomaki's Okaido-nishi 1 district which was inundated 1 meter or more above floor level with water from the tsunami posted a gain of 3.6 percent this year after a drop of 5.2 percent last year. The prices of upland locations are continuing to increase and there are growing needs of houses in lightly submerged districts.

According to the Miyagi Association of Real Estate Appraisers, there have been growing instances of residents who are trying to build their houses on their former premises due to a lack of locations and rising prices of land along the coast. Kazutoshi Chiba, head of the association's disaster-hit real estate appraiser team, predicts the tendency of land prices to rise will continue this year.

Fukushima Prefecture experienced a drop of 1.9 percent in land prices on average. The prices of residential locations dropped an average of 1.6 percent, although 39 locations out of the prefecture's 314 areas in the survey posted gains for the first time in 14 years. Of the 39 locations, 37 are in Iwaki which posted a 0.7 percent gain, becoming the prefecture's sole municipality to register a rise.

The number of evacuees in Iwaki totaled 23,901 as of March 1. According to the city's house-building guidance section, applications to build new houses by evacuees from the nuclear disaster totaled two in fiscal 2010, 52 in fiscal 2011 and 119 in fiscal 2012 (as of January 2013). Sadao Suzuki, a real estate appraiser who checked the applications, says evacuees are trying to purchase houses in Iwaki, leading to increases in land prices.

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