Jun 24, 2020 / BUYING PROCESS

Harnessing the magic of Hokkaido - What's changed for potential buyers?

Dreams of holidays, quality time with loved ones and exploring opportunities for investment have sustained many of us during this challenging time. We’re beginning to see resorts reopen and restrictions on travel gradually ease, so naturally thoughts are turning towards the future. As markets re-emerge there are some wonderful opportunities waiting for buyers interested in harnessing the magic of Hokkaido. Things are different, and there have been changes but there is a sense of optimism and renewed vigour as we all seek to return to what we love.

To help understand these changes, we spent a bit of time with Paul Butkovich, director of real estate sales at Hokkaido Tracks. Paul has been captivated by Hokkaido’s famous powder snow, fabulous food and the beauty of it’s green season since 2005. Combine that with twelve years experience in real estate sales and property management, in both Niseko and Furano, it’s fair to describe him as something of an expert. 

What do you see as the most significant changes for property buyers in the post Covid world?

I believe the most significant change will be a real market shift from condominium buyers over to chalet buyers in the Niseko market especially in light of the potential oversupply of rental condos on the market. Returns for the condo model have been coming down over the last 12 months which will be highlighted post Covid. Chalets such as Foxwood E  in Niseko or this house in Kitanomine, Furano on the other hand should perform better in the new market. We expect owners and holiday makers to stay for longer periods of time and also want more social distance in their accommodation options and we expect the chalet market to really take off as the market returns. 

Foxwood E: A stunning architectural home in Higashiyama's newest private housing estate.

Do you think owning a ski home become more popular as a result of natural concerns over safety in larger resort type hotels?

I believe Hokkaido offers much more than owning a ski home now. The reason buyers are buying is the four seasons appeal with the cherry on top being that we have some of the world’s best powder, hot springs, and of course one of the best culinary scenes in the world. Coupled with proximity and the Japan brand we are positioned for long term growth in both international and domestic investment.

How do you see the rental market developing going forward?

Interesting question to ask this eternal optimist. It has to grow but from where and how will depend a lot on transportation routes and ease of access to the region. Assuming airline routes are normalized in Asia we expect to see massive push out of South East Asia and China into the region for the foreseeable future with the longer term growth coming out of North America and Europe.

Rental behaviours will change and actually have been changing over the last few years as the Asian ski market starts to better understand the region and especially the ski holiday experience. They are changing where they stay and how they travel while in resort. We expect the ski chalet market to really grow in the coming years as the market matures and better understands the value of staying in a beautiful chalet and renting a car versus being in a condominium. The condo and hotel market is definitely important and so I don’t want to sound negative about them but that market space is going to be very competitive and will offer a more generic experience. We think travellers to the region will want something a little more unique which the chalet experience will provide with a renewed focus on good quality service.

Obviously this is a dynamic situation, how can buyers best prepare for the fluctuations in circumstances such as localised lockdown

I would recommend buyers to really get to know their property managers and their team. The closer and better you understand their management model and how they can assist you either while you are in Japan or outside Japan the more confidence you will have in your investments and in the community. Look for managers who have experience and have the ability to ride out these types of storms in the market. We have owners who have stayed now with us since February and from what we can see, they don’t want to leave even once the borders open again!

What changes will there be in the way people take their holiday? Do you think we'll see an increased focus on sustainability and things like wellness facilities.

I think space, time and service will be the key changes.

 Space - people will want more of their own space and less crowded.

Time - people will need more time to travel because of borders and flight options etc. will become more time consuming.

Service - people will have higher expectations of cleanliness, guest services etc… 

Hokkaido is not going to be a cheaper place to holiday in the future so as rates go up the expectations too will rise.

Powder snow makes skiing in Hokkaido incredible but it’s a beautiful place to be all year. What are your three favourite things about the green season?

Outside of winter Hokkaido is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. For me personally it’s cycling and enjoying the outdoor lifestyle from BBQ’s to jumping into the pristine lakes and rivers, but for a lot of others it’s the golfing, the fishing, the trail running or the driving. You name the activity and we likely have it. Not to mention the fantastic farm produce that comes out of the ground here!! Food is just unbelievable.

What would you say is your most exciting project at the moment?

That’s a tough question to answer as they are all quite unique and innovative in the market. We are though very excited about what is going on in the Furano market. We have just started our 3rd new condominium project called Kaku Place and the keys to ArtHouse Furano and Fenix Furano are just about to get handed over to the new owners so it’s an exciting time in Furano. It really reminds me of Niseko in the 2006-2007 era, just as it really started to find it’s legs as a destination for investment.

 Arthouse Apartments are one of Hokkaido Tracks’ newest developments in the emerging Furano market

In Niseko we are passionate about the housing market and we have some amazing homes and real estate options for all investor types so it really depends on what our clients. To be honest the most exciting thing in our market is helping the buyers get that lifestyle property for the family.

In the middle of this challenging time what has been your favourite way to relax?

I don’t relax very well but my antidote to stress is exercise so I cycle a lot. I just recently bought a new electric bicycle which I now use to commute to work 3 to 4 days a week during this slower period. Riding the hills of Niseko has never been so much fun and with a little extra juice in the tank I can explore roads and new places and discover just that much more!!

Anything else you’d like people considering a home in Hokkaido to know?

Hokkaido is one of those places that grows on you. It’s not easy to define it as just Niseko or just skiing and powder snow, it really is a lifestyle island that people buy into. I often tell people that I really don’t sell Hokkaido property, I sell the Hokkaido lifestyle first and then show people fantastic properties to match the lifestyle they want for themselves, their kids and families. So if you are looking for lifestyle properties that will return both financial and personal benefits then get in touch and let’s start the process of finding you the right home.

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If you are considering buying any type of Japan investment apartment or ski property , take a look at our SnowOnly range of investment guides and in light of the current global challenges, we’ve put together some thoughts on how to continue your property hunt during Covid-19.