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Japan Is Giving Away 8M Abandoned Houses (travelandleisure.com)
521 points by rmason 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 381 comments

The more interesting thing about this is that it is part of a new type of economics, contraction economics. The global trend toward birth rates below replenishment means that first-world countries are maintaining their population growth through immigration. As some countries embrace restrictions on immigration, and ultimately all countries plateau in their population growth (projected to be around 2100) it means that the driving force behind increases in property value (population increases) will be curtailed.*

As we saw in 2008 curtailing or reversing growth in real-estate can have major impacts on society, but in the future this won't be just a correction it will be a new phase of global economics. There will be fewer humans each year making the total pressure on land values negative. Even before that an aging workforce will cause the total working population to contract (as it already has in Japan). Everything the Japanese do with more land and fewer workers is a canary in the coal mine for the global economy.

One of the great predicates of modern economics (perpetual expansion) will need to be re-thought. In some ways it's great news (more space for everyone after the great pinch of the 21st century) but in others it will necessarily wipe out the speculative aspect of many current growth markets. Contraction economics means deflation becomes a norm not an exception.

* Urbanization means cities will lag behind this reversal.

I disagree that there is a significant correlation between expanding population and an expanding economy. In fact there are plenty of examples of countries whose economy expanded way faster than their population, which implies that factors other than population dominate economic growth. (If population was the dominant factor in economic growth, we would see a consistent correlation between the two.)

Every day we read articles about how AI is going to drive massive improvements in productivity, killing millions of jobs in the process. If we really believe this is true, then a shrinking population is what we want, to "soak up" those destroyed jobs. A bonus of massive productivity increases is that real property transactions as a percentage of the economy will shrink too, softening the blow of contraction there.

Real estate is not the first industry to be threatened by changes in the economy! Creative destruction is part of our economic story and there is no inherent reason real estate should be immune from that, or that we should feel special concern about that industry among all others.

In short, I see no reason to believe that a shrinking population necessarily creates a shrinking economy. "Contraction economics" sounds cool but it's just a new name for what happened to the buggy whip industry, the telegraph industry, the canal industry, etc. And yes, maybe the real estate industry too.

EDIT to add: In my opinion a more significant future for economics is accounting for externalities that have typically stayed off the books, like clean water, clean air, a stable climate, etc. Economics has typically modeled economies as open systems, that is, there are "inputs" like raw materials and energy sources, that create economic outputs. But we've conquered the Earth now... with the exception of insolation, the global economy is a closed system. Every ounce of raw material and every joule of energy creates a complementary cost somewhere else in the system. Unless we can account for that, we will fool ourselves about the actual net value we are creating.

"I disagree that there is a significant correlation between expanding population and an expanding economy."

In any functioning economy there is obviously a correlation.

Bodies have jobs, generate income, and they buy stuff meaning GDP.

Government spends on social services per body, meaning GDP.

Not only are 'warm bodies' a part of economic growth ... 'warm bodies' are the very basis of economic growth in most of the West! If you take out population growth from US economic data, it looks a little more like Europe. If you normalize for lower rates of children ... that explains a huge amount about lagging economic growth in the West.

Populations that require homes, cars, services, food, mortgages - that's what drives the economy.

So to your point - in a dysfunctional scenario, more bodies means problems, but overall no.

How do you think America became the most powerful entity in the Western world and in some ways in the world? And not Sweden?

The story of American economic growth from 1777 onwards includes a lot of things, but if you measure up against Europe, what mostly stands out is body count.

Also - remember that growth is measured in GDP, not 'efficiency' - so as AI does 'more for less' it's technically 'bad' paradoxically, for the economy, as you point out. But as long as we figure out a way (any way!) for the surpluses to be distributed, they will be spent, hence 'growing economy'.

Canada's economic strategy is fully based on body count. The nations banks drive our strategy, and they can't grow any more through competition or innovation - they can only grow through more mortgages, which come from more bodies. So they push for large scale immigration, which is in their self interest.

'AI' is not how the economy will grow.

A sea of new homes, out to the horizon, with a Starbucks on every corner, an IKEA in every neighbourhood, a Toyota in every driveway, and a dozen prescriptions per home ... this is how our current economy 'grows'.

How many of those economic growths situations weren't linked to local population growth, but were linked to global population growth and populations emerging from poverty?

Population correlates directly with some economies: food, housing, etc. I think most of our measures of an economy (GDP? VTI?) aim to get as many people in as many human-only productive jobs as possible. (I apologize for leaving "productive" open-ended)

”If we really believe this is true, then a shrinking population is what we want, to "soak up" those destroyed jobs”

The number of jobs is highway correlated with the number of people (most jobs exist to serve the population). So, population decline won’t help keep (relative) unemployment numbers down.

Yeah, but fewer people will still need fewer houses while construction will be more and more efficient.

One prominent recent example that destroys the myth that economic expansion is very tightly bound to population expansion, is the US.

2008 pop: 304m people. 2018 pop: ~327m people. A 7.5% increase in population across a decade.

2008 GDP: $14.72t ($17.64t inflation adjusted). 2018 GDP: $20.5t. Approximately a 17% real increase in GDP.

The US added an economy close to the size of Germany in just ten years while only adding 23m people (Germany's population is 83m). That's courtesy of increasing output per capita far more than it is population growth.

They can be correlated without being a tight linear relationship.

If every two people in a group have exactly one transaction, then adding 20 people to a group of 100 will create more new transactions than you'll find in a group with just 20 people.

To be fair, when I google for research on correlations between economic growth and population growth, I get a jumble of papers on opposite sides - some pro-natalist and some anti-natalist and some agnostic. (Maybe one camp is considered far more authoritative than the others?)

Maybe it's a nontrivial relationship if it exists, though I'm not convinced anyone knows definitively how the relationship plays out.

The fact that the slope of the growth line is not 1 does not imply that economic expansion is not tightly bound to population expansion, or that economic expansion could continue under population contraction. Consider the simplest possible linear model Y = beta * X + noise where beta != 1; to say nothing of nonlinear models or interaction effects between population growth and other factors. Surely output per capita matters, and the true data generating process is far more complex, but you have not come close to demonstrating population growth and economic growth are decoupled through this example.

It's easy to grow fast while borrowing heavily, and that should be taken into account when looking at growth curves for various economic regions. Oil prices have also dropped from around $100 to $60 iirc.

2008-2018: total US debt (government, corporate, household, non-profit orgs) increased almost 9% from ca $68.1T to $74.1T, if you trust the numbers (https://www.nwcapitalsolutions.com/project/us-deleveraging-a...)

I wonder if the effects of automation, which the previous commenter alluded to, contributed significantly to this phenomenon...

Japan is not a very good proxy due to their strict immigration policies and preference to be an "ethnically homogeneous nation." As you mentioned, other countries can just replenish their head count through relaxed immigration. I'd wager, for example, that the US will remain highly multicultural with looser immigration long term since it's baked into its identity[0], despite some recent policy changes.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melting_pot

"Japan has strict immigration policies" is often repeated, but I don't think this is tells the whole story. Some of the policies are very permissive:

* If you graduated university and have a 'skilled' job in Japan, you are likely to get a visa. There is no cap on the number of these. There is no language requirement.

* If you live in Japan for over 5 years continuously you can apply for citizenship, though you must renounce any other citizenships.

* If you live in Japan for over 10 years you are eligible for permanent residency.

* If you are married to a Japanese national you can do any kind of work and get permanent residency in 3 years.

* If you have enough points on the highly skilled professional visa you can get permanent residency in 1 year. This is retroactive as long as you lived in Japan during that time, you don't even need to have had the highly skilled professional visa.

So, is it really an issue of policy? I think the causes may lie elsewhere.

Based on my experience visiting Japan and talking to both expats and expat-friendly locals there, I think the issue is more cultural than political. If you live in Japan but don't look Japanese you never really feel welcomed as a Japanese.

Contrast that to countries like most of the West, where at least a solid proportion of people consider it socially unacceptable to discriminate socially based on someone's looks or origins...

> Contrast that to countries like most of the West, where at least a solid proportion of people consider it socially unacceptable to discriminate socially based on someone's looks or origins..

Those things are also socially unacceptable in Japan. My experience is that the often discussed "micro-agressions" against foreigners happen about as often in Japan as they do in my own country (US, grew up in Texas).

Of course, the only complaints that foreigners in Japan can make is about trivia. The US is so fucked up that we cannot seem to stop shooting unarmed black men, we're separating mothers from babies, and as of last week now tear gassing families at the border. So not sure if you are American, but many of the foreigners in Japan that complain of discrimination are, and I just want to say that I think it takes a lot of balls for an American in Japan to be like "hey, you guys can do a lot better with the discrimination thing."

As horrifying as someone being impressed with your ability to use chopsticks is, it's not quite so horrifying as being literally shot for walking on the street.

Many people in the US freeze up if a black person so much as walks by them on the street. And on the other side of the pacific? Ask a random stranger for directions; 9 times out of 10 they will stop whatever they are doing and walk with you to wherever you are going.

>The US is so fucked up that we cannot seem to stop shooting unarmed black men

Twice as many white men are shot by police but I can't remember the last time I saw a national news story about one of them. Name one in recent years you heard covered in the national news. [0] I edited out "unarmed". That ratio slightly favors white males.

>we're separating mothers from babies, and as of last week now tear gassing families at the border.

Everyday, across this beautiful land, we seperate children from their parents for commiting crimes. We have a legal immigration system.

What does Japan do to people who enter illegally? How many refugees did they take in 2017? 20. Out of 20,000 applications. They could do a little more, right? [1]



> Twice as many unarmed white men are shot by police

I visited your link and could not see a matching statistic.

Filtering by "unarmed" and hovering over "Race" I got a count of 19 White, 15 Black, 4 Hispanic.

I then also had a quick look at the article for "Brett Luengo", [0] (White) which states i.e. "Luengo attacked a woman first..." etc. etc.; I mean it goes on for quite a while. So seems like there's a big variation in the definition of "unarmed man" shooting that doesn't preclude other kinds of violent or aggressive activity/indications.

Looks to me like the statistics are not really telling the whole story there so maybe that's why you don't hear them "covered in the national news".

[0] https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/cleveland-met...

> I visited your link and could not see a matching statistic.

I was wrong. Police kill twice as many whites but I shouldn't have included the unarmed qualifier.

> I then also had a quick look at the article for "Brett Luengo"

He did attack but I think it still qualifies. I personally didn't hear of this one but a google search shows it was covered, even if not very extensively. It was picked up on national news.

Even still, the comment that law enforcement is wholesale killing young unarmed black males is just false.

Oh right, I guess I thought what you were doing was saying that cases like [0] being "heard about on the national news" is showing some kind of bias, that it's not something to be concerned about because the same is happening regardless of race, and using some statistics to evidence your assertion.

I was trying to say that a) you were massively off about the relative quantities of unarmed shootings and that b) in any case; I would imagine people are more upset - i.e. it's in the national news - about e.g. [0] than; e.g. Brett Luengo, because there's a huge difference in the circumstances surrounding their deaths, something which cannot be interpreted from the statistics you cited.

Further, my admittedly limited & poor knowledge of the situation caused me to infer that the op was talking about this qualitative difference, although you are correct in saying that if you take the statement "we cannot seem to stop shooting unarmed black men" absolutely, strictly, literally; without applying any context whatsoever, then talking about quantities is completely valid.

So - my apologies.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Walter_Scott

Given that there are 5 times as many white folks as black in the US, that stat isn't saying what you think it is.

Black people are still more likely to be shot than white people.

I don't think that anyone reasonable ever claimed that the police were 'wholesale killing young unarmed black males,' just that it happens too often.

> Everyday, across this beautiful land, we seperate children from their parents for commiting crimes. We have a legal immigration system.

It is possible to have a legal immigration system and to be humane when dealing with people who for some reason wouldn't/couldn't go through it. Especially if it involves kids - as I'm pretty sure they are not to blame on any of this.

It must be hard working on the border when people bring children that are not their own to fast tack their way through into the country. Or when families lie about their child’s age to loophole the system. But it’s easier for us to focus on the separation rather than the reason the separation exists to begin with.

And let’s not forget tear gas being used for crowds of people throwing stones at border patrol. No lets focus on tear gas issue and less of the people doing their job being assulted.

> people bring children that are not their own to fast tack their way through into the country. Or when families lie about their child’s age to loophole the system.

Completely citation & evidence free assertions - smells like slander to me.

From your fox news link:

"On Thursday, officials revealed that in seven of 102 cases involving children under 5 separated from their guardians, the adult was determined not to actually be the parent."

So ok, you're only slandering ~95% of those 102. If you don't like the term "slander" how about "generalisation" or "prejudice".

Forgive me if these words have negative connotations, or "trigger feelings" - but what term would you use, to describe declaring 100% of a group to have attributes that only apply to - by your very own research - 5% of that group?

> Many people in the US freeze up if a black person so much as walks by them on the street.

That sounds serious. How many?

Using tear gas at the border is an American thing, not a Trump thing.


> The use of tear gas at the border by CBP began in 2010.

> Since fiscal year 2012, CBP has employed tear gas a total of 126 times, but its use hit a 7-year high under Trump in fiscal year 2018.

> Using tear gas at the border is an American thing, not a Trump thing.

No one above thread claimed any individual was responsible. The apologetics of inserting that statement is unnecessary. I do respect that you added citations.

This feeling they experienced is of course subjective. Take it from a 20-year non-native Tokyo resident - it doesn't have to feel unwelcoming. Depends on the individual I guess.

Admittedly, I've never lived in any of the out-of-the way places where most of these properties are located.

"you never really feel welcomed as a Japanese."

Well, maybe because you're not Japanese?

A different question is: "Would you feel welcome"

I would consider it weirdly arrogant to go to Japan and then have them ever accept me as 'Japanese'. I would hope that thy are respectful to me, and treat me well, and maybe even 'as a Japanese' but not actually 'Japanese', because - I'm not!

There's a big difference I think between 'rights' and 'cultural attribution', we mix them up a lot in the West.

You misunderstood. You need to look Japanese. It doesn't matter if you actually are Japanese.

This video pokes some fun at it, taken to an extreme for comedic purpose of course: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLt5qSm9U80

I understood well enough.

You're assuming that those White/Black people were Japanese because they were born and raised Japanese.

From a certain perspective, that would not be correct.

Many people (most of the world) view race as fundamentally intertwined with ethnicity, ergo, the white folks in the video may never really be considered 'fully Japanese', although surely they are mostly accommodated as such.

'American' really isn't an ethnicity so 'new world' people often have difficulty grasping how others might view ethnicity.

As longs as people are treated reasonably, frankly, I don't care.

> If you live in Japan but don't look Japanese you never really feel welcomed as a Japanese.

That goes for a lot of countries, especially if your skin color is different as well as your accent, language and whatnot. Heck, even when you are born in a country where you are not the same skin color as the majority you can feel not welcome. So, it's kind of a generalization to say that only about Japan.

This is misrepresentative.

You can apply, but actually getting both permanent residency and citizenship isn’t nearly that trivial.

“Working in japan” and “becoming Japanese” are different things, and the latter is very much more difficult.

Japan is very happy to have foreign workers who will politely leave once they lose their jobs / get old, but the immigration figures, in absolute terms, are tiny.

/me is a US citizen with a PR (permanent residency) status in Japan. Spouse has naturalized to a Japan citizen.

My anecdote: without fitting into any of the qualifying categories, I was able to get a PR in Japan after residing in the country for 10 years. The rules have changed and with the right qualifications it's possible to apply for PR with only two years residency (work visa).

Further anecdote: My wife recently got her Japanese citizenship. This was difficult, it took over a year and an intrusive investigation. Like getting top secret clearance. The investigation brought up why I wasn't pursuing Japanese citizenship until they discovered my low level of Japanese skills, and it was no longer an issue.

My entire family here in the greater Tokyo area is doesn't quite fit in with the Japanese. We're a bit loud. We're consumerists. We get quizzical looks when filling in applications. We've broken software that expected only Japanese to use. It has it's negatives but the positives of being different in this mostly homogeneous society has it's advantages.

Yes, my situation is a small minority but with the policy changes, it's one less hurdle for people who want to live in Japan. We are what makes the "society".

But they seem to have dramatically lowered the bar for highly paid workers to stay in the country. That 1 year PR eligibility is technically open to just about anyone earning over ~$100k. I know people who went over with nothing but a Bachelors, a few years in tech, and zero Japanese, but keeping their high incomes meant they could at least apply after only a year. I don't know how easy they would actually get it, so you may be right.

Even with the work visas themselves, I know someone at a small R&D company in a small city desperate for people, earning kinda low. He got a 1 year visa, then after a decent raise, a 3 year visa. I make more money in a big city, and got 5 years right off the bat, with poor Japanese. PR eligibility once it expires. I still hear about English teachers bouncing between 1 year visas after 10+ years in the country and near fluency.

I think a lot of what you hear about Japan comes from the English teacher side of things. Those guys are a dime a dozen, and have to hustle a lot. But there is a sense that Japan is desperate for skilled workers, and is trying to attract more of them. I've mentioned working in software to old dudes in bars and been instantly treated like an anticipated special guest, and told how good my opportunities are, that I should find a local girl and stay etc. Even if they'd rather not have foreigners in general, they are kinda rolling out the red carpet for a selection of them. All over the place companies advertise in English, promote their foreign working styles, and offer overseas relocation. They'll never be seen as Japanese, but welcomed to stay as if the country depends on them, which it just might

But vast majority of migrants ain't highly paid nor highly skilled.

All countries drool after certain professions nowadays and those people are doing pretty well pretty much anywhere. Head hunt for those people is a tiny dent in demographic trends.

The difference is in unskilled workers. The US has open gates to unskilled Mexican workers, Europe has open gates to unskilled Middle Eastern workers. Japan has nothing like that.

Yes, non-Japanese ex-pats are welcome to visit, but they are definitely not welcome to stay. Immigrants will always be foreigners in Japan.

> Immigrants will always be foreigners in Japan.

People Americans treat (arguably) worse than foreignors:

- Those whose ancestors were in North America before it was colonized

- Those whose ancestors were forcibly brought to North America more than 150 years ago.

Historically, US immigrants have been able to assimilate time and time again. That isn't the case in Japan. There are Koreans who's families have lived in Japan for hundreds of years... yet they still aren't considered Japanese. The Japanese would rather rely on robotics instead of immigration to mitigate their problem with a dwindling population.

Yes, the US has done some horrible things in the past, yet:

1. we publicly admit them in the historical record

2. we teach these mistakes to our children in our schools as both reminders and ways to avoid them in the future.

You cannot say the same about Japan.

The other question is, are there really any countries that are easy to immigrate to without the right to abode or right to return (for certain groups)?

Not just immigration, Japan also doesn’t rely on real estate speculation to drive middle class wealth. Houses and buildings have always depreciated and even land stopped appreciating after their bubble popped nearly 30 years ago. No one buys real estate to build wealth, but simply to live there. So they’ve got a huge head start in contraction economics.

In 2017, over a million people[1] received legal permanent resident status. In 2017 it was slightly less than in 2016, but on roughly the same level as the previous decade. So recent policy changes don't seem to have much effect in that regard.

[1] https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2017

Over 500,000 of those are familial green cards (spouses and children), meaning they likely would have been issued regardless of the changes in policy and don't really reflect a multicultural dimension for the country.

Other permanent resident status issuances take up to 15 years to achieve, meaning you won't see the effects of recent policy changes in that metric until the years to come.

A better metric is visa issuances, since those are the first step for many to becoming a legal permanent resident. Those have peaked in 2015 and have declined back to 2013 levels now: https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Annual...

That depends a lot what exactly visas are those. There are dual intent visas, which allow change to permanent immigrant status, and ones that explicitly prohibit such change. Most visas at your link are B type visas, which would be denied if immigration officer even suspects you have intent to become a permanent resident.

Not a good proxy for now, sure. But if every country eventually does this, we'll all eventually be in the same boat.

> Japan is not a very good proxy due to their strict immigration policies

PM Abe is actively trying to change the immigration policies as of Nov. 2018.

It works well in America and Canada, but ethnic tensions are probably one of the root causes of tension in every other American nation, even Mexico. Everywhere south of the US has kind of a 'soft race war' going on between descendants of White colonialists, ex-black slaves, the indigenous population, the mixed crew, and other ethnic groups. It's a kind of overwhelming systematic ... 'racism' is not the best word ... more like 'systematic racial friction'. It's apparent everywhere, even by just driving through regions you can see it.

Ah right... just get more immigrants from the immigrant factory.

I know this is difficult for some to understand but brown, black and asian people are made via sex and birth (Shocker of shocks, I know).

What you're arguing for is for the birth rate of the undeveloped world to continuously grow at a never-ending rate in order to compensate for the utter laziness of the developed world.

I hate to break it to you but that'll simply lead to a flip in which countries are classified as developed.

George Friedman wrote a book of creative predictions called "The Next 100 Years" that argued mounting depopulation pressures and labor shortages would lead countries to begin competing for migrants.

Interesting that has not been Europe's solution so far...


Japan's politics, with a strong aversion to open immigration and a desperate need for labor, have landed on some controversial compromises--for one, "internships" for temporary foreign workers with questionable protection for rights. May be an early signal for how the rest of the world will handle this.


> Interesting that has not been Europe's solution so far

Not all immigration is of equivalent "quality". The worsening IQ test results in europe is often credited to the african immigration. On the other end of the spectrum, asians are being actively restricted from entering the top schools in the US.

Europe (and pretty much every country in the world) is already competing for qualified immigration.

If we keep going the way we're going now, by the time population decline puts a negative pressure on land and housing prices, they will be so high that 99% of people will have no way of ever owning it other than by inheritance.

I don't think we will arrive at declining housing prices the way you suggest. Something will have to give way before that.

> it means that the driving force behind increases in property value (population increases) will be curtailed

> There will be fewer humans each year making the total pressure on land values negative

Your premise about real-estate inherently contracting in value due to population contraction, is not correct. Nor is your premise about the driving force correct.

Double the US population and drop the total national income by 95%. See which is the greater driving force in real-estate values. You can see this in action right now just by looking at high population density countries that are poor. Bangladesh has extreme population density, their real-estate is not expensive compared to Canada (~1/400th the population density) or the US (~1/40th the population density).

You can increase the value of real-estate while contracting the population, by increasing the per capita income of each person enough to overcome the effect of the population decline. Germany's population has barely budged in 50 years, their real-estate has increased in value in that time as the economy has expanded in real terms with a climb in their per capita wealth and incomes.

Today nearly everything you've ever heard about healthy (ie non-war, famine, etc) population decline being a horrible outcome, is false. It may have been true in the past, it is no longer.

The ideal outcome is for populations to decline while productivity and income soars per capita, improving the standard of living of each person remaining and lightening the burden on earth's resources. The focus of all nations should be on aggressively increasing per capita output, not on fighting healthy population decline.

Well, this is all assuming that humanity will not expand out of Earth. If that does happen, we might actually have a perpetually expanding populace and economy. Fun times.

I think you're assuming the current decline in birth rates is due to scarcity of resources. But I don't think that's true. In the developed world food and energy are not scarce, and even land outside of major metro areas is not scarce.

Population might just stabilize at some point, and then there's not much of a driver to expand off of our planet (apart from some resource mining, and other activities.)

Food and energy are not what defines scarcity any more.

If you want to pay the mortgage, have a fulfilling job, have time to spend with your family, and give your child a good start in life, you can't have 8 kids in a middle class family.

Sometimes 1 is the right number if you want your child to be successful and have enough free time to enjoy life yourself.

That IS resource constraint, the resource just isn't food.

The replacement rate is a little above 2 children in the modern world. Three kids is a burden for a lot of people.

It's pretty clear that the major driver is education and freedom of career choice for women. The UN has lots of data supporting that. Industrialization and changing attitudes toward children have also played a role.

My paternal grandfather was a farmer. He had 20 children who survived to adulthood. By two wives, the second having been the nursemaid. As I understand it, all of the children worked. Basically as soon as they could walk. Girls focused on childcare and housework, and boys on farm work. If they'd been living in a city, the boys would have had factory jobs.

So anyway, that's how you raise many children. That or be wealthy, of course. But current expectations, social norms, and laws make that impossible. Except perhaps for farm families, where substantial child labor remains legal.

Education comes with higher life standards. You want your kids to have their own rooms instead of whole family living in single-room shack, education for them etc.

"Freedom of career" for women is more like freedom to have to work. It's hard to raise a family on a single salary. Previously, a woman would work at home and husband would work outside. Now both of them have to work outside of the house to pay for appliances that do stuff back at home.

IMO one of the top issues is housing cost. Increasing specialisation, both parents having to work and urbanisation means people are crammed into more and more condensed cities. Space comes at expense. Children need space. Cheaper space out of the city means more transport costs and/or less job opportunities and likely lower wage. All in all, children is damn expensive.

Yes, it's true that (at least in the US) greater career choice for women has come with declining real wages. So that now, both partners need to work. Some argue that effectively doubling the workforce has played a major role. Or that people just expect to have more stuff. But the power of unions to maintain livable wages has eroded over the same time frame. And maybe it's all connected.

What's the resource constraint then if it's not food, energy, or shelter?

People want to buy more stuff? Hardly a requirement of years gone by.

People want more free time? Doubtful, otherwise people would work less and buy less stuff - which we don't see. People keep getting more productive, but they just funnel that into a more expensive lifestyle rather than cutting back on work.

I don't think the reasons are simple (or even the same between people) but I don't think it's dominated by resource constraints.

I know software engineers with no children and school teachers with four. Very different lifestyles, but all middle class. And I don't think resource constraints factored heavily into their decision making.

The resource constraints now are time and location. It's affordable to buy houses in a lot of places, just not so many that have access to good jobs and schools. So people prioritize the latter and sacrifice their time by commuting for work.

Since both parents now work, often with lengthy commutes, there isn't a whole lot of person-hours left to spend with the children. That means people have fewer of them.

When the kids get older and it's time to send them to university, well, that's something which has gone backwards in affordability. The cost of a university degree has shot through the roof. How could anyone afford to send 3 kids to university these days, let alone 8?

I think both parents (or especially the woman) working is probably the big part of it. But I don't think many people factor the cost of university degrees into their decision (whether they should is another matter)

> I think both parents (or especially the woman)

Why do you say especially the woman? Not trying to pick a fight, I'm genuinely curious.

Because traditionally, staying at home taking care of kids has been usually done by women.

Never mind traditionally, this is still true, even in the most egalitarian countries (Scandinavian countries). Women have to choose between family and career, men don't really have to do that. The biggest driver behind the gender pay gap is the difference between women with children and women without. Somehow we haven't solved the issue that it's a cost borne primarily by women.

I think the current answer is quality - people want the best for their kids including a future or they won't have them otherwise. They may feel that their lifestyle consume too much time, that they can't afford what they need, or just that they and their family situation would make poor parent(s) for whatever reason. And this is peripheral to adoption vs reproduction.

Kids have turned from a resource like they were to farm families to an expense and an increasing one at that - and I don't mean in a "kids these days" sort of way - the world changed and not people. Which leaves children to be had by those who want to have them for the sake of having them - some sort of enjoyment or sense of obligation.

There are plenty of other drivers to expand off Earth:

1. Backup in case things go wrong (meteor strike, end of the Earth, nuclear war, mass plague, AI/robot revolt)

2. Outright inability to live alongside other cultures and societies/groups. Just like throughout history, some beliefs will also be controversial at best/illegal at worst, and while in the past finding a unoccupied area on Earth was practical, that's not really the case now. So space it is.

3. Science/academic study. Robots are neat, but there are some things it's better to send humans for, and a fair few scientists would probably rather be out there exploring than sat behind a computer screen.

4. General boredom/tourism/whatever.

5. Environmental concerns. Not just resource mining, but let's face it... eventually a lot of environmentally unfriendly industrial processes will probably work better in a place with no atmosphere/biosphere to ruin.

Probably a bunch of other things too.

The people left to live on earth will be more and more tied to doing mindless jobs. I think there are a lot of people that would be excited to start a new community on Mars, get paid to, basically exist and build homes (pods) and connect those pods to additional pods. The act of mining will have meaning again beyond helping someone else get rich off bitcoin.

You just accidentally summarized why growth obsessed global capitalists are completely delusional.

> growth obsessed global capitalists are completely delusional

Infinite growth and finite material resources are perfectly compatible. Case in point: Fortnite.

I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic; how does Fortnite demonstrate “infinite growth”?

> how does Fortnite demonstrate “infinite growth”?

Fortnite makes money by selling digital in-game goods. Their revenues could grow infinitely without their material footprint expanding one iota. What they demonstrate is not infinite growth, but the capacity for infinite growth in a finite universe.

Value, at the end of the day, is subjective. Growth is a measure on this subjective value. It is not a measure on material inputs.

That's not infinite growth. There are only a finite number of humans on earth who could possibly play the game, and many of those either have no interest or can't afford to do so. And, of all those potential players, each of them only has finite disposable income. So there is a hard upper limit on their revenue, without growth in world population (to increase population of potential players) or growth in the world economy (to increase disposable income of those players). So, Fortnite is subject to the same finite growth limitations as every other business.

> There are only a finite number of humans on earth who could possibly play the game, and many of those either have no interest or can't afford to do so. And, of all those potential players, each of them only has finite disposable income. So there is a hard upper limit on their revenue

The proposed metric, a product of population and incomes, is unbounded (in aggregate). Population isn’t. But nominal incomes, a function of the unbounded money supply, is. Real incomes are trickier, but they--too--are unbounded. It just requires some fraction of the basket be immaterial. As long as that component grows sufficiently, the real value of the basket–which, again, is subjective–grows.

This isn't some edge-case philosophy, but a well-recognized effect of the subjective nature of value. (The physicist in me points out that the observable universe has, based on known physics, a finite computational capacity, but that objection merely illustrates the absurdity of proposing a practical upper bound on growth.)

We're used to thinking of production as making cars and ships. Those activities represent a falling share of human activity (weighted by value). To illustrate, witness the falling material intensity and energy intensity of GDP growth.

You two comments strongly remind me of what is currently happening in Venezuela. Having bigger numbers on your money or bank account isn't necessarily a good metric.

Anyway, let me rephrase your argument to make sure I understand it correctly:

There exists resource sinks like Fortnite, media & alike. Thus regardless of how much growth we will have / more efficient we become, even more would be better so we can spend it on those sinks.

This seems technically correct, but I doubt this is how our civilization should spend the finite amount of resources available.

We're likely going to experience significant population contractions not driven by "stabilization" as humanity approaches 2100.

It seems to be the opposite, Africa has positive population growth with low economic growth.

The US saw similar efforts in Detroit and other Rust Belt cities. That mostly just resulted in asset flippers hoarding houses and letting them fall into further disrepair. I wonder what steps Japan is taking to mitigate that possibility.

It's not easy to asset flip in Japan. I have no idea about this program. I live in Japan and I haven't heard about it, so I'm not sure what the deal is. However, people in Japan don't buy used houses. Due to the large number of earthquakes, etc, older houses are felt to be unsafe. A house on a property is actually a liability because the new owner will have to knock down the house in order to build a new one.

I'm absolutely certain that the abandoned houses are abandoned because they are literally not saleable. Even perfectly good houses that were built in the last 20 or 30 years sit on the housing market in my area for years before they even get a single offer. Houses that cost $300K end up selling for around half that price, even after waiting for years to sell it. That's how non-existent the used housing market is in Japan.

And this is not to say that housing is flat. Empty lots sell relatively quickly. Nobody wants a used house. That's the reality of the market.

I don't know exactly what this programme is, but I would venture to guess that they will give you the house/land as long as you knock down the existing house and build a new one. This will cost you the aforementioned $300K, at which point you can flip it for $150K. That's how they mitigate that possibility :-)

Whenever I hear about the used housing market (or lack thereof) in Japan I wonder if there's an opportunity to find some amazing deals. Properties that could be purchased way under value and re-purposed. Either on a personal level (foreigner wants to buy a house) or as a cheap way of setting up a hotel or AirBnB kind of business.

Hotels are already cheap in Japan ($60 a night will get you quite a nice business hotel with hot spring in most places I've been) and Airbnb is subject to local restrictions (federal law passed recently allows local governments to place restrictions on Airbnb - you have to get a permission letter from your city Hall to be allowed to list on airbnb - and they can deny you for any reason eg neighbour complaints). Personal use would be a possibility for sure.

$60 a night is not cheap. I traveled (cycling) for 3 months in South East Asia and my average hotel bill was $8, some of them brand new hotels.

You can’t possibly expect a highly developed nation to have comparable prices against south east Asia.

My point is that there are many young Vietnamese hoteliers who would love to move to Japan and operate some of these abandoned houses as hotels. They will have to do all the renovations, cleaning etc. themselves, but they will earn much more money.

The largest obstacle will be Japanese regulation.

SE Asia is a completely different economy though. Japan is a first world country, and the third largest economy in the world. Its not going to cost the same as someplace in SEA.

In addition to what everyone else said about it not being a useful comparison to look at SE Asia, I also wasn't looking at the cheapest options. Capsule hotels would generally be available for half that ($30) and sleeping in a manga cafe would be $10-$20 depending

My wife is in this business although she buys quite expensive old homes and buildings in cities. You will probably have trouble with sellers (and certainly with banks) if you’re a foreigner. Also, the short term rental legalities are a liability in most places unless you can get registered as a proper hotel. Some communities will outright ban short term rentals because they don’t like the turnover of visitors. It can be done though.

I outright bought and fully owned a newly-built house in the outskirts of Koriyama City (Tobu New Town), Fukushima prefecture, in 2008.

After the M9 quake, I mamaged to sell that house for basically the price I bought it for. Why? Because people were looking for houses located in areas which weren't dusted with the radioactive cloud from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant which went FOOM! at the time. My house just happened to be located in an area where the weather conditions had diverted most of said cloud, and it was a young family who bought the place.

I then skedaddled out of Japan back to my native Scotland, bringing my sona dn Japanese wife with me.

Point being, there will be certain factors involved in which used houses can be sold on and not suffer much depreciation. Admittedly, my house was only about 3 years old, and we had a professional cleaning team go right through the place before the new owners moved in.

What reasons do people have for not wanting a perfectly good 20-30 year old house for half the price of a new one?

A couple reasons that don't get much attention are that a.) newly-constructed houses are relatively cheap and b.) mortgage rates are very good.

A normal, custom-built house in the suburbs of Tokyo can be constructed for somewhere between $120,000 and $250,000 (source: I'm shopping for a house now) which, at the current Japanese mortgage rates for a 35-year loan, translates into a $400-$800 monthly payment for the home construction.

This is on top of what you have to pay for the value of the land itself, of course. But if you're already paying $300k-$500k for the lot, then why not just knock down the old building and put up your own, perfect-for-your-family, architect-designed, house?

Ha ha. Where I live a lot is about $50K, so I sometimes find it a bit strange that people build a $2-300K house instead of living in the one that was there.

But you are also right about the mortgages. Rates are super low and you can get 20 or 30 year terms. So for example even for a 25 year term, Shinsei bank is offering less than 2%: https://www.shinseibank.com/english/housing/loan_kinri.pdf

It's completely insane. I keep telling my wife we need buy a house just to lock into the nearly free money. On the other hand, if the bank thinks this is a good deal for them, they must be forseeing some pretty bad economy in the future...

Nearly free? 58k interest on 240k borrowed over 25 years is not exactly nothing.

It is if you believe that interest rates will be above 2% in 5 to 10 years.

The price is for the land, which can be quite expensive and can go up. The cost of demolition and building a new home is about USD200-300k for a very nice three bedroom home in a typical urban area. Credit is very cheap too. Also, people prefer new things in Japan. If you see a car that is more than a few years old, it will most likely be a mint-condition collectors item.

I'm in Kyushu. Seikisui houses cost 150-300k here on average. The house I personally want (saw at house demo place) is 750k. It's really nice!! In California that might buy a 3br in the outskirts of LA buy it won't be nice. The house I saw, in California would probably go for 1.5-3 mil in southern parts and much higher in SF.

$750k in Kyushu must be a mansion! Those home showcases are great aren’t they? Would you build wood or steel frame?

The 750k model I saw was steel frame modular home, soon theory you could re-arrange it if you got bored of the layout - though I suspect that comes with a hefty cost.

Could you explain one of the home showcases? Sounds like an interesting idea.

It’s basically a large lot where all the major home builders set up their model homes and have detailed sales walkthroughs. Home builders in Japan are at an industrial scale with lots of economies of scale and modular parts, yet a surprising amount of customization is possible. Companies like Toyota and Mitsubishi have home divisions.

The most commonly cited reason is earthquake safety: the standards for construction are constantly increasing, and old homes are perceived as unsafe.

That said, the entire housing industry in Japan has formed around the idea that homes are disposable. Unless they're very old (e.g. traditional/antique machiya and farmhouses) or apartments in large complexes, they're not built to last. Detached houses built since WWII, in particular, are more expensive to repair than to rebuild. This is probably the real reason that used homes are viewed negatively.

Earthquakes are commonplace in Japan. You don't want an older house which may be structurally compromised.

I think that is the main reason. But also, people buy houses at different times of life in Japan. Often it's people nearing retirement, buying the "dream house". They want exactly what they want. It's a bit of a vicious circle, but people don't/can't do "starter homes" because you can't sell them.

Another common practice is to inherit your parent's or grandparent's house, knock it down and build a new one. So the same family will live in the same location for many generations, but they will rebuild the house in order to adapt to changing needs. I think this reflects the rapid rise in wealth in Japanese society. Before WWII, Japan was quite a poor country. From WWII onwards, Japan went from absolute poverty (where everything was flattened by the war) to the second largest economy on the planet (now, edged out by China for that honour). So every 20-30 years represented a major upgrade in housing.

I'm finding that in my area in the last 10 years used houses are getting slightly more popular. Certainly for me, when I eventually stop jetting back and forth between the UK and Japan I will buy a used house. A 20 year old house is still rated for a level 7 earthquake and I think they are perfectly good. I would say that at least 30% of my neighbours are over 60, so housing is going to be extremely easy to acquire (though still not a good investment).

People pay half a million dollars for 60 year old homes all the time in California, just as bad of an earthquake zone, yet these houses aren't worth half a million yen. Culture is a much bigger factor here -- I've never heard the phrase "used house" in the US. What I do hear is mid-century modern, arts and crafts, ranch-style.

> just as bad of an earthquake zone

As much as people living in California would like to believe that, it's not true. I was born in Chile, a place that's actually as equally-prone to earthquakes than Japan, and I've been living in California for about 8 years now. In here, I almost forgot what is like to feel an earthquake. In Chile/Japan is common to feel at least a magnitude 5 earthquake a couple of times a year (they are actually called "tremors"). California is in an unstable zone, but nothing compared to Chile/Japan.

Anecdotally, right before moving to SF, we had the 2010 earthquake[0] (8.8), I'm pretty sure with an earthquake like that in SF, there would be no city left behind.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Chile_earthquake

I must agree with your subductive logic. But magnitude isn't the right measure here for effect on structures, we'd want the Mercalli scale: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercalli_intensity_scale

CA quakes range under M7. while japan over M8 is relatively common.

also japan have snow and hot+humid summers. CA is mostly dry warm weather year around. timber will decay much, much faster in the former. if japan had low quality housing materials like used in CA, the houses would need to be redone every 10 years or less.

I lived in an old wooden house in Sanjo, in Niigata prefecture, for a while back in the 80s. It was a pre World War 2 house and didn't have any indoor plumbing, though it did have a nice smelling campground-style toilet on the first floor. You could stand outside and shake the corner of the house and hear all the windows rattling. It seemed pretty junky, but it withstood at least eight decades of earthquakes without falling down.

Also, I went to Sadogashima earlier this year. While there, we visited an entire town that was built in the 1600s. A couple of the homes had been turned into museums, but people were living in the rest of them, so there must be something to the way they build those old homes in Japan. I don't know if the same would be true of more modern houses though.

old code (pre-1980s) houses have poor resistance to MAJOR earthquakes. Their heavy roof tiles make them liable to collapse in major earthquakes (Kobe), which is a pretty nasty way to die

Comparing to California, which also has earthquakes, and nobody thinks twice about buying a used house. And it's not like they are built to be super-resilient either - it's mostly wooden planks, particle boards, sheet rock and stucco...

"Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years": https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/16/japan-reusabl...

tl;dr it's a historical accident that has become a self-perpetuating cultural phenomenon

This doesn't explain similar phenomena, though, like the Japanese replacing their cars frequently: https://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/12/world/why-the-cars-in-jap... https://www.picknbuy24.com/column_146.html It makes me wonder if a deeper cultural factor is at work here.

Japanese replace their cars frequently because taxes are structured so that after a few years it becomes worthwhile to buy a new car.

Yes, I agree that this is the factual reason why. But doesn't it seem odd that these are coincidental? I think it might not be a coincidence.

It's a lot more complex than that. Usually these deals have tax liabilities and liens that aren't chargeable unless the city agrees to it. Anyone can tell you, there is nothing more expensive than a free house/boat/car.

St. Louis is the market I’m most familiar with, but I’m sure it’s the same everywhere: it’s not just taxes and liens; it’s that most of the properties are worth less than the cost of making them habitable. Every municipality has occupancy requirements and building codes. Any house you can buy for $100 in Detroit is going to cost roughly the same (or more) as new construction to meet these codes. In St. Louis, for example, you’re required to present construction plans and hard timelines as a condition for purchasing abandoned property. They aren’t going to accept your optimistic DIY dreams. They have to be real plans at market rates. And if you don’t meet the agreed-to dates, you lose the property.

A lot of these properties literally have a negative value; it would cost more to renovate them and complete environmental mitigations on them than is profitable. When you see a property for $100, you almost certainly wouldn’t want it unless you were paid to take it.

Use common sense; there’s a reason these properties were completely abandoned by their previous owners.

Why don't they sell it at a discount, then?

These are usually handled through city property auctions. Bidding usually starts at a few dollars. But you have to read the fine print. They will usually have city, county, state, federal, and private liens on them.

For example a federal treasury auction will discharge IRS tax liens but not state, county, and city charges. I've seen $1mm beach-side homes auctioned for <$100k. But then have $500k+ in state liens on them.

A savvy buyer will get the titles and try to get the liens discharged by negotiating with the other agencies or pay them off. This is factored into the offer they will make on the property. If you think you've stumbled into a method to get rich quick you're sadly mistaken.

They do, but you still have to pay the back taxes, which in a lot of cases are more than what you paid for the property.

Detroit: If you have a credit card and a want to own an apartment building, it is the place to be. Just needs some elbow grease. There MUST BE opportunity at $5 USD per square foot -- but it is hard to visualize.


[I think you can talk this guy down to $10k].

Sometimes one guy can rehab an entire neighborhood one house at a time. Opportunities are still there in Detroit and the risks are a lot smaller than ten years ago. You could even be a determined BMW mechanic who backed into a new career supported by his neighbors capital. An only in Detroit story:


Saying it's the place to be seems a bit an overreach. That building, as an example, is in a neighborhood that is just block after block of wasteland, with derelict abandoned houses falling to disrepair, and the empty lots where they removed them before. This particular building likely has no furnace, pipes were probably removed, and almost certainly requires many tens of thousands in upgrades.

It seems like illusory opportunity. There are areas of Detroit where some of the grand old homes are being resurrected and there have been opportunities, but this isn't one of them.

No furnace is not a big deal by itself, but likely no windows, no wiring, no plumbing, no fixtures. What remains likely has mold, lead paint, and other hazards. It's at best a gut-to-the-frame-and-rebuild. If severely weather damaged it might even be a tear-down.

The Google Street view [1] shows it needs at least new doors and windows. Maybe even a new outer wall on the second floor (or the very least the ivy removed before it does more damage).

[1] https://goo.gl/maps/XmmdxPm45Q32

And then you're on the hook for taxes and liens, and who knows what other encumbrances there are.

Maybe if you really, really wanted that land for some reason.

If they’d throw in a working visa I’d be intrigued

If you could pull that off, sounds like an incredible program to me. I don't think anything could revitalize Detroit like large amounts of immigrants would.

And Detroit already has a large immigrant population, so it's not that much of a culture shock.

From Wikipedia looks like they are below the national average, but I'd posit that means the upside is that much larger.

My favorite example of this process is booming South Florida, where more than half of adults are foreign born. Houston is another great one, with 23% foreign born.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Metro_Detroit#... > 5% of people within the city of Detroit are immigrants, making the percentage of immigrants in Detroit the lowest such percentage out of those of the 25 largest cities in the United States. The national average is about 13%

The city itself has a very low immigrant population, but as is listed in your source, surrounding suburbs have very large immigrant populations. For instance Hamtranck has 43% born out of the country.

Actually Michigan's Governor proposed to then President Obama a special Detroit visa where immigrants with skills would get a green card in exchange for moving to Detroit for a minimum of five years. Sadly he never got an answer.


This is how you build "new cities" [1]; pair startups with working visas and tie it together with funding and resource commitments (cough cough PlanGrid et el) to bring dilapidated housing back into inventory. Inexpensive corporate housing with you bootstrapping the culture and the community core.

[1] https://cities.ycr.org/

If you have the capital you can basically just buy an EB-5 investor visa.


All you need is to be a multimillionaire that wants to move to a nigh abandoned section of Detroit.

Starting a construction / rehab company might work.

A 4,664 sqft house on .1 acres, and its across from an abandoned parking lot/store or gas station to boot.

Only in America!

If you want the lowdown on Detroit (and other regions of the country) check out https://makeloveland.com/ They focus on helping people keep their homes and away from the county auction.

There's a Detroit entrepreneur who is trying to put together a pool of investors to rehab Detroit rental properties. He details every step he's taking on his blog which unfortunately is down right now.

Here's the under 2 minute where he shows off the 5 unit apartment building he bought on Craigslist for $13K and yes there are other opportunities out there just like that one.


I think initiatives like the guy this one is taking is incredible, and these types of initiatives are a necessary risk in piecing the city back together. However, there is so much external risk in throwing capital into projects like these. We need the federal government to be on board, we need the local gov to have their heads on straight and to be willing to fight for appropriate legislation that is going to be attractive enough to bring people to the city. So far, I think we haven't seen enough of either. My feelings are therefore mixed. I want to see these localities do well; a rising tide lifts all boats; but the people at the top have demonstrated an ineptitude in being able to create real incentives. You only really see it in the private sector with players like dan gilbert.

Guys like Dan Gilbert and Christopher Illitch can get tax incentives, smaller guys cannot. The little guys, even if they have a multi-year proven record of success often cannot even get the backing of banks.

In what looks like a terrible neighborhood, right across the street from a funeral home. I think gaining tenants will be a challenge.

Midwestern cities have large real estate taxes relative to younger parts of the country because there are so many legacy pension costs per worker. No free lunch.

"Elbow grease" isn't going to fix major structural or infrastructural issues. I'm sure you were being funny, but most of those structures are tear downs.

Only a property in Detroit in the deserted areas could mean frequent meetings with muggings, violence, etc.

In Japan it will just be a regular house.

Actually if you look at what happened to the majority of homes that were rehabbed that's not the case. Most of them were in the downtown area and crime actually went down. Grant you there were urban pioneers that chose less than desirable areas but they were the exception.

In Detroit the formal program run by the city that gave away houses mandated that they be rehabbed and inhabited by the person receiving them for a minimum of five years.

Then there's the Land Bank that buys the houses, then rehabs them and sells them at auction. Know some people who've gotten really good buys, some houses sell below the Land Bank's cost.


So, what if you purchased these with the express intent to tear them down and install pre-built tiny-homes on them.

So you effectively get a plot of land, with service-hookups and low property taxes. but you can install beautiful, yet-tiny home on it.

http://windrivertinyhomes.com has amazing units.

No need, there are thousands of acres of vacant land in Detroit. Complete with city water, sewer and brand new led powered street lamps. There are lots of experiments including a proposed hotel made entirely from shipping containers.

Last I checked you can buy a vacant lot for $100 and they'd probably give you a discount if you bought an entire city block.

I have lived in crappy neighborhoods[1][2]. Violence is not likely to be an issue as long as you don't inject yourselves into your neighbors' business it's really not the big deal the upper classes make it out to be with all their hand wringing. Violent crime doesn't really happen that often per capita (i.e. odds are it will never happen to you). Not getting involved with drugs is like 90% of the battle. If you do get unlucky and encounter crime it's probably going to take the form of someone stealing something from your yard.

I think you either need to already be comfortable living somewhere like that in order to do so stress free.

[1] https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/fitchburg/crime

[2] https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/new-bedford/crime

Edit: This reminds me of every time crappy minimum wage jobs come up. I have first hand experience with and offer my opinion but then get told that I have no idea what I'm talking about. The filter bubble is real.

This is a single person thing (especially a single male thing)

as a single male, I can reliable predict that I can mind my own business and probably be fine

as a parent, I can't reliably predict that my kids will mind their own business and probably be fine

You've clearly never lived in a shitty neighborhood.

I have. Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey. Few problems.

Only in Menlo Park, CA did I hear automatic weapons fire on the weekends. That was before East Palo Alto closed down Whiskey Gulch, flattened the area, and put in a Four Seasons hotel and an office building full of lawyers.

Yes I have[1][2]. It's really not bad unless you drive yourself nuts worrying about things that will probably never happen to you. Yes, you see and hear the effects of crime everywhere but as long as your not know by your neighbors to be an ass, your house is harder to rob than most of the nearby ones and you don't associate with the wrong people you'll be fine. It's not like there's stray bullets coming through your walls once a week (if there are odds are it will be the police who fired them, not that it makes it any better). If you're the person who freaks out over some people in the street getting in a fight or a gunshot a few blocks over then yeah, it's gonna be bad.

[1] https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/fitchburg/crime (this one is the "nicer" of the two by a long ways, has come a long way since the recession. I would have no problem raising a family here)

[2] https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/new-bedford/crime (this one won the "award" of #1 crime rate in the state a few years back)

According to the Wikipedia page for Fitchburg

>the median income for a family was $57,245. Males had a median income of $47,350 versus $37,921 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,972. About 14.6% of families and 19.4% of the population were below the poverty line

Compare this with an area like Greenspoint in Houston, where middle class office workers are regularly warned of muggings outside their office buildings

>nearly half of Greenspoint residents have an income of under $25,000 per year, well below the Houston median of over $44,000 per year

Respectfully, while you may not have been in a pristine gated community, I think you underestimate what it means to live in a truely shitty area, and I think your advice, while reasonable on the surface, does less than you think to prevent being a target of violent crime.

What are the income stats for all of Houston?

Fitchburg is an entire city (albeit a small one). Like Houston it has bad and good areas (I don't think there's any gated communities though). The nice areas are quite nice. The not nice areas are rows of boarded up houses that have been stripped of all the copper. Every rust belt city is like this. The ratios just vary.

murder is rare. assault, robbery, and burglary are not.

I prefer those things not happen to me

As someone who lives in a really shitty part of SF, crime will affect you. Your apartments garage will get broken into, your packages will be stolen. People you don’t know will brazenly ask to buzz in at all times. If you are female, you will be harassed. If you are male, you may be harassed. It’s tolerable and my landlord has all kinds of fantastic security measures but it’s no breeze. Fights on the street can get pretty heated and you never know when something bad will go down. I balance all that with an apartment large enough to run my company from and entertain my dog but I’m totally down to move once I have enough capital to get a proper office and a nice place.

People live their whole lives in these sorts of neighborhoods without ever personally being assaulted, robbed or burglarized.

I know this is a topic that tends to bring out hysteria instead of rational assessment of probability but seriously, it's not as bad as people think. That said, the upper class crowd should feel free to not move in. The added pressure from gentrification would probably not make things better if SF is any indication.

My point here is that you can live cheaply in these neighborhoods and while there are trade-offs the trad-off is not the "living in a war zone" that many people would have you believe.

I think the point of most other comments is that you greatly underestimate the issues in an area like the Detroit "Red Zone" aka the 48205 ZIP code.


I have been to less worse areas in Detroit in 2015 and still decided not to be play early adopter and be "the guy with money" on the block. And I'm absolutely not upper class.

Even if you live there just for the amount of time it takes to renovate and flip the house, you will need to constantly guard your tools, materials etc. If the local community thinks you are not one of them, life gets hard. In the end I bought a fixer upper house in a solid working class neighborhood (in a different city) and life is great. But yes, a lot of people think you are only safe in the suburb, which is not true. There are safe pockets in most major cities, but you have to scout for a while until you know the area.

You are out of your mind.

> i.e. odds are it will never happen to you

In the reality of the situation, odds are that it will eventually happen to you.

As an object level fact, Japan has a homogeneous culture centered around honor, which is much different from Detroit.

It's much less so today than it was when I first went to Japan back in the 80s. Still, the culture supports vending machines lining the streets and not a single little shit vandalizing them in sight.

In Kyoto the free, public bathroom, in the middle of the city, was cleaner than my own bathroom. Whereas in Seattle I won't use one for fear of syringes.

I agree! I lived in Bellevue for a while back in the 1990s. One day, I was taking my family to Snoqualmie Falls and my three-year-old had to go to the bathroom. We stopped at a gas station in Issaquah and when I opened the door, it looked like people had just pulled down their pants in the doorway and splatter-shot into the room. It was so disgusting. I don't know what it is about American culture that makes that OK. I've never seen anything like that in Japan.

Source? When I looked into buying an “abandoned” house, the city used a bizarre tax calculation that used historical values to value the house (and it’s tax liabilties) in a bizarre and costly way.


I was never talking about the taxes, just the sticker price for the house. Japan doesn't seem to be waiving property tax for these houses, either, so the comparison is still valid.

Japan is a peculiar country, I'd bet a few dollars that they won't abuse the system that much.

Houses depreciate quickly and I don't know that land appreciates at a very high rate, so there isn't much to abuse in the first place. And because japan's zoning is not completely stupid, redevelopment can be done piecemeal. So if you buy to flip, either you flip very quickly for little to no gain or you don't and the neighbourhood gets redeveloped around and without caring about your property, which will likely be too small for anyone to be much bothered. The exceptions could likely be significant plot of lands like old temple grounds and the like which could sustain an entire development on its own.

I've seen programs like these where you have to live in the house, which is a good solution.

I doubt that, I guess. I checked into the program in Detroit and you had to live in the property for a year. Now maybe people got around that somehow but that's not how the program was structured.

The layouts of those suburbs are terrible. State should have just tried at least to make some greenbelts of those areas.

So wait, there are places where there are houses being given away (e.g. US, Japan and Italy as far as I know) and I'm a person that has the ability to work remotely.

Am I missing something? Is this my ticket to cheap housing and a more stress free life? At what point am I going to be scammed and/or disappointed?

Is it just me or is the prospect of working from home in the middle of nowhere terrifying?

When you work from home, you wanna leave home often, where do you go if you're in the middle of nowhere?

I work from home in the middle of a dense city, pay a premium for it! You leave home and there are about 100 places (cafes, theatres, museums, parks etc.) I can go to that are walking distance. Is that possible in say rural Michigan, where housing is apparently practically free?

I work remotely from "rural" Japan. I am surrounded by rice fields and mountains, but also only a 10 minute drive or 20 minute bike/bus ride to the city center where there is shopping and night life. From there it's a couple hours to Tokyo by bullet train, which I visit a handful of times a year.

There are old or abandoned houses nearby that can be had for very little money.

I love being in the mountains. I get outdoors for cycling, hiking, running, or skiing almost every day.

The language barrier is a bit scary, but fortunately I knew enough to get by on day-to-day tasks. Google translate is also a godsend.

Wait, you do this before getting an N3? How is that possible?

Not sure if this is what OP used, but the Google Translate app is nearing sci-fi levels of accuracy and speed. The conversation function is good enough that you can talk with someone while both using different languages and actually understand each other with minimal delay.

Yes but I was under the impression that Japanese long term work visa was only granted to those that had achieved N3 in Japanese language, seems I might be under a mistaken impression...

OP probably has N3.

I have no idea why anything other than N2 and N1 exist. N3 is basically useless, I got it in under 6 months of studying and I’m a slow learner (my Korean and Chinese peers were going for N2 at that time). I still couldn’t function well with it. I was so disappointed by it I skipped 2 and went straight to N1.

sounds like a dream. what am I doing in this small room in London? I'd like to do it...

Explain more.. what visa, insurance etc

Sure... my spouse is a Japanese citizen, so that made getting a visa trivial in my case.

The company I work for has offices in the U.S. and Japan. They were able to transfer me to Japan and let me work remote with my team in the U.S. They probably would have been able to get me a work visa, too, though it wasn't necessary in my case since the spousal visa was much simpler to obtain. Since my company has a presence in Japan, all of typical payroll, benefits, insurance stuff is handled through the Japan HR dept.

For anyone looking to spend time living abroad, I think this approach of working for a large multinational and asking to be transferred is a viable option. Of course it requires that you have a tremendous level of trust with your manager, and you need to be senior enough that it is worth the hassle for them. Also - if there is no business justification for the transfer, don't expect them to help out with relocation costs, and if you are moving to an area with a lower cost of living they may give you a negative cost of living adjustment, too.

I should make it clear that this move wasn't easy to make by any means. It took years of planning and even a job change to find a team I was confident enough I could make it worth with. While getting the visa was simple enough in my case, actually moving to Japan and buying a house, opening up bank accounts, getting a drivers license, etc were all enormously time consuming and at times very frustrating.

So it can be done, and I feel it is worth it, but it does require a fairly large amount of effort.

It may sound weird, but working remotely in rural Japan sounds like a dream come true.

Hi, do you have an email or something I could contact to discuss your living situation and the process undertook a little better? I would like to do something similar but would like some more information on it.

No, you're right, for a person like you or me it could be terrifying. But huge swaths of the population enjoy this lifestyle - in the USA they mostly depend on cars, ATVs, or horses to get around (speaking from my Texas experience).

It's not city life, but it's life. It's just a little bit "slower" sometimes. It can be relaxing in its own way.

I mean, I live in the core of SF, but how often do I go to the theater or museum anyway? No more than I did when I lived in the suburbs.

Personally, I am looking to buy a place in Llano or Blanco (between Austin and Fredericksburg, basically) in summer of 2019 and then spend a lot of time camping and visiting people and travelling.

Just because you're remotely based in the sticks and use property there as a place to park equity and a place to keep your big stuff (I have a lot of tools and music equipment) doesn't mean you have to stay there if you're remote.

Years ago, I lived with a friend in Blanco for a few months - a little house built by the owner on the top of a hill, with a big garden, horses, goats, chickens, dogs, as well as occasional rattle snake or scorpion.

It was fairly isolated (in a comforting way), so having access to an automobile was a necessity. If I recall, about ~1 hour to Austin, with a lively music scene.

I learned how the Texas hill country can be quite charming - wildflowers, forests, rivers.. Fond memories. Good luck with finding a homestead there!

Yeah, it's beautiful. I have a bunch of friends in different places out here and that makes it even better.

I can't imagine trying to live out here without a car or truck though.

Do you find there are a lot of places to camp around there? I'm in San Antonio, and I find it very sparse compared to places that feel made for camping and hiking (looking at you, PNW).

Yeah, there is very little public land in Texas.

I've been to a lot of the state parks (there are some good ones). The dinosaur tracks in government canyon are cool, lost maples is nice. I've spent a whole lot of time at Enchanted Rock.

None of the places is very big, but if there should be enough to keep someone busy for most weekends if they are motivated.

As you get farther, Mustang Island state park is nice, and I'm very much looking forward to build some lead rock climbing skills-- El Portrero Chico is only 6 hours south.

As other folks have mentioned, Big Bend, Terrlingua, MArfa, Alpine, etc. are all quite good. If you haven't been to Big Bend NP, I'd recommend a trip out that way.

If you can go 9hrs, Ruidoso NM will get you into the mountains.

Appreciate the list! I've enjoyed Government Canyon, and I'm headed to Lost Maples next weekend. I'll have to check out some of those adventures further away.

What's the limit of how far you're willing to drive? Big Bend and Marfa are great road trips if you've never been to either.

I haven't done Big Bend yet, but that's on the list this coming spring!

> or horses to get around (speaking from my Texas experience).

Heh not unique to Texas. I've seen horses outside of strip malls just outside of Indy -> http://imgur.com/gallery/i1Rflum

Is it just me or is the prospect of working from home in the middle of nowhere terrifying?

It's (probably) not just you, but at the same time working from home for me, a full-time worker who has a boss that takes the "as long as you get your work done" approach to remote work, which results in me in the office one day, but the very next deciding "yeah I'm not dealing with the blue line's crap today"...rarely comes with the urge to get up and go anywhere and usually don't unless it's to walk the dog or take a smoke break on my porch.

And I live and work in the middle of Chicago, where there's no shortage of places favorable to remote workers or walkable spots for lunch very close by.

But at the same time I've also found myself in Hawaii getting paged for an all hands "oh shit" emergency and been just as productive despite the time difference, so I think it's very much a YMMV type of thing.

>Is it just me or is the prospect of working from home in the middle of nowhere terrifying?

That situation is literally my dream. I live in a suburb now and literally go 3-4 days without needing to leave home. I most often leave to go get firewood or meat to BBQ out back.

In my dream I'd be on a full acre(instead of the little 0.2 acre lot we're on) with enough room for a normal family home, and a "mancave/study" so I "go to work".

What's your house budget? For a place with a man cave you'd probably need 250k here in southern Japan. While not really remote, it's far from the busy likes of Tokyo. All of my work is with companies around the globe in all sorts of time zones. I'd say it's boring for a single person out here, you'd definitely only put up with it if you had a family. Securing a visa would be another challenge unless you married a Japanese citizen, which you wouldn't want to do after coming here as divorce rates are high for mixed couples. Culture can be very frustrating too after a while.

I work remotely from a town of 200 full time residents in the North Cascades Mountains in North Central Washington State. The closest grocery store is about 25 miles away and the closest stoplight is about 80 miles. You have to plan a bit around shopping and logistics but it is a wonderful place to live. We are in the middle of the largest maintained network of nordic ski trails in North America, I can literally backcountry ski from my front door and we have hundreds of climbing routes within a 10 minute drive. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Actually it is wonderful. I work from home and live in a small village minutes from the ocean in New Zealand.

Groceries are can be delivered. The only reason to drive to town is the odd meetup.

Ha snap, I live in Northland and do the same. My day breaks are running around a track through the bush, body surfing when the surf is up and checking my traps. Small world.

I'm thinking of doing the same! Living in Sydney at the moment, but am an NZ citizen. Looking at Northland or Taranaki for the kitesurfing :)

Could I ask you a bit more about Northland? My email is in my profile.

This sounds amazing and I wouldn't consider this to be the "middle of nowhere", you have beautiful bush and surf to run through!

We are closer than you might think, as I am too in Northland.

For me it is hiking and sometimes kayaking.

Hi Max drop me a line if you want to catch up, email in profile

> Is it just me or is the prospect of working from home in the middle of nowhere terrifying?

My wife dragged me kicking and screaming to a rural area that's a popular vacation area.

(I must admit that I wanted to end up in a different rural area that's also a popular vacation area.)

My neighborhood is excellent, and there's plenty to walk to. Rural areas still have dense spots with plenty of things to do. There's just a lot of open forests around the dense areas!

What's terrifying is that I still telecommute for the job I got when I lived in Silicon Valley. I have no idea what's going to happen when I need to change jobs.

(Edit) I still miss living right on University Ave in Palo Also, CA. But, that's not sustainable given how much it costs to live there, and our (me and wife's) overall lifestyle desires.

I did that jump, but in Canada. I moved from a medium-sized city (pop. ~180K) to a literal village (pop. ~900), then I lost my remote job a few months ago. I just jumped back into freelancing, and for now I actually have too much work. There's a lot of demand for North-American developers on the freelance market. Also if your cost of living is low (as it tends to be in rural areas), you can afford to charge a little less but still make a lot of money (I suspect my rate is pretty cheap for my clients, but it's double the amount I used to make).

> I just jumped back into freelancing, and for now I actually have too much work.

What would patio11 say?

Charge more.

I work from home from a house in the countryside. There are no businesses here, no traffic, nothing disturbing me in my work. The closest neighbor lives a kilometre away. As a bonus, I don't even have a driver's license and the nearest bus stop is a 20-minute bike ride away from here.

Personally, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, but I guess it does take a certain kind of person to pull it off.

If you're working remotely and want cheap housing and a slower life, and you're interested in moving to some random place abroad, why wait on an opportunity like this?

Have you considered just moving somewhere much cheaper? I work from a beach in Mexico, pay almost nothing, and have a nice and slow life. And... it's a beach!

Obviously, there are plenty of places in the world to do this from if Mexico isn't your thing. I have a buddy in Triste, Italy, and another one down the coast in Croatia.

Anyways, I only write this because it seemed like something you want to do but are just looking for some "today's the day" chutzpah. I hope you end up where you want to be one day!

Where in Mexico? I've often thought about moving there, but I hesitate mostly because of crime. I also have a neighbor who lived there for almost a decade, until they were shaken-down by the Federales (with actual gunfights and shallow graves in his story! So they moved back to the US.)

Petty crime is always there, but you probably already have habits that thwart it like locking your door and taking your laptop to the restroom at the cafe. If a cop catches you smoking a joint on the beach and he happens to care, he'll ask for your cash, but I prefer that to getting caught in the States. ;)

More serious crime is unlikely to target you. Stay out of the north. And you can always live where the wealthier mexicans live in a city if you're nervous.

Quiet towns like a lazy beach town are pretty safe.

I'm currently based in Pto Escondido, a beach town in Oaxaca.

A good way to get your feet wet is to book an airbnb at one of the beach cities you can fly into, take a taxi down a highway that runs parallel to the shore, and get off at any of the smaller beaches/towns for a day trip. You could do a different one every day and get some work done at a cafe/bar on the beach there.

That way, worst case scenario, you're still at the beach with your touristy creature comforts (e.g. easier to find good network if you need to `npm install` -- half-joking!). But if you end up feeling more adventurous, you can take a taxi and find yourself alone on a tiny beach, which as far as I'm concerned, is one of the remaining wonders of the world.

Of course, the hardest part of travel is taking the first step at all. If it wasn't for finding a job in Guadalajara at a small incubator run by an American in /r/IWantOut, I would probably still be miserably working from a Starbucks table in Austin wondering when I'll have the balls to do something new.

This is akin to buying a totaled car. You're signing yourself up for a lot of work and the Government isn't going to really give you any help. In this case you're going to be in a very rural area, to the point of likely not having any real kind of internet.

The houses from what I saw looking through translated listings seem to have no insulation, ancient (ie nonexistent) plumbing, and "traditional" toilets (hole in the ground) with no heating/cooling. You're buying a badly insulated cabin in the woods more or less.

I think one of the main pain points in renovating the houses is going to be actually getting materials to the house. Some of these are rural to the point of not having real roads and being hours away from civilization. If you need to truck in a new water heater, you might be building your own gravel road first.

If you're looking to be really remote and more or less build a house, this might be an awesome opportunity - just realize this is more akin to buying a plot of land than "a house" per say.

Owning property or land in Japan does not give you right to reside within the country and you will still need to get some sort of visa in place in order to move in.

What's the easiest path to get a visa in Japan without being attached to a company?

Wedding. Would like to know that, too.

Ah this might work! But this makes you to be legally attached to someone, what isn't great I guess :(

Found a better option actually: setting up business. Should be fairly straightforward to do for a single remote developer.

The point where these houses have no insulation in the walls, no air conditioning or heat and a septic system that must be manually pumped.

Have fun in winter!

Also the location often means that you need to travel (an hour or more each way) for basic amenities and fuel, in some locations you might get snowed in at winter.

Totally true. Actually even more modern buildings are made to be (somewhat) cool in summer and no care at all is done about winter. So each room/apartment is warmed individually using air-conditioner instead of having a central heating per building.

Houses are generally not being given away but there are tons of places in the US where housing is dirt cheap compared to prime coastal urban real estate.


Look at a map of US MSAs [1]: nearly anywhere outside of an MSA will be cheaper than within the MSA. Anywhere that is outside an MSA, has very poor soil, no exploitable oil and/or mineral (and most mineral and oil rights are separate from the land anyways), not by a body of water, and has no electric/water/sewage service is going to be very cheap, like $100-500 per acre cheap.

Of course, the catch is that standing up your own slice of civilization infrastructure will get either expensive and/or time-consuming, depending upon your non-negotiables. The more requirements you will not do without, the more inputs you will want to haul into or build upon the property.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_statistical_area

> Anywhere that is outside an MSA, has very poor soil, no exploitable oil and/or mineral (and most mineral and oil rights are separate from the land anyways), not by a body of water, and has no electric/water/sewage service is going to be very cheap, like $100-500 per acre cheap.

This is so very very wrong. MSAs are purely based on population density. I grew up in one of these white counties on the map you linked. It's small towns, scattered among farmland and coal mines, and the local MSAs are nothing but a larger (but still quite small) town with an interstate.

As a heuristic, after looking myself for a couple decades for a residence that didn't participate in the global real estate mania we're still in the grips of, the MSA boundary works "good enough" as a starting point for median households setting up a search for a place to live that still follows a conventional 30% DTI ratio (or a safer 15-20% DTI to account for the greater income precarity for median US households today).

We're mostly in a cognitive elite echo chamber here on HN due entirely to a historical anomaly that prices most of our labor high relative to more conventional labor pools (though IMHO not commensurate with yielded productivity benefits), and our sense of what is fiscally "reasonable" is highly distorted and privileged. The MSA boundary is not a hard and fast binary switch, where inside the boundary land is crazy expensive relative to prevailing local incomes, but outside the boundary it suddenly is crazy cheap. But it serves as a useful starting point to look for the pricing gradients in your local area for a median household.

A heck of a lot of Millenials got debt-trapped by the higher education scam, and I applaud those who are "once burned twice shy" about taking on another unsustainable debt load in real estate. For those in the US looking for a chunk of land to inexpensively park their possessions (and if you are the kind of Maker-type that enjoys HN, tools alone can take up a lot of space), without becoming an investor in the real estate business itself, then the choices for the past few decades of cheap credit that I've experienced have been get extraordinarily lucky finding a good deal, wait for a bust, or locate outside of where there is lots of land banking activity.

Land does get much cheaper on the outer rings of an MSA, but IMHO still not nearly cheap enough for median households. They're still stretching, and compromising their quality of life a hell of a lot at the same time. We're pushing tons of stress onto them as an unseen externality, and calling it all good and patting ourselves on our backs that we have so many "homeowners", when we should be holding a frank discussion on why our real estate land markets are so dysfunctional.

YMMV of course.

I'm seeing a lot of words here, but not the three that matter: "I was wrong."

If you wanted to say "real estate is cheaper in the rural area, but you'd have to drive everywhere", then you'd be right. But that's not what you said. What you said was, "Anywhere that is outside an MSA, has very poor soil, no exploitable oil and/or mineral (and most mineral and oil rights are separate from the land anyways), not by a body of water, and has no electric/water/sewage service", and that is demonstrably false, and doesn't even pass even a cursory logical test, because for this to be true, then all the arable land and extractive natural resources would have be in cities, and if that was true, then where would the buildings be?

If you fail to understand what is going on in your basic assumptions, why should the rest of your argument even be considered?

I did notice, your phrase, "the higher education scam". That's interesting, since educational attainment has been shown time, and time, and time again, to be the biggest predictor of economic success. The long term viability and effects of shifting the cost of education in the past 25 years from state budgets to individuals, is certainly a concern and worthy of debate, but to refer to education as a "scam", makes me wonder about how well thought out your ideas on the educational debt crisis is as well.

I think you're bitter, and not nearly as smart as you think you are.

Thanks, and something a little bit better? Have heard about Dayton OH

In addition to the sibling comment, you can also find relatively cheap housing in some of the Sunbelt although I understand that the real housing crash in Las Vegas has largely recovered.

If you're serious about it, you really need to think about your non-negotiables, your strong preferences, and how high you're willing to go for "cheap" housing. For some people the answer might be a condo in a smaller city that isn't in demand. For others, it might be a house that's out in the sticks someplace. There's also a huge difference between cheap as in $100K and cheap as in $300K.

Contra another post, you probably don't want land that isn't already engineered. Of course, also consider Internet. I know tech people who manage with satellite but there are a lot of compromises.

I'm a big fan of western/piedmont of NC for remote workers. It's not the absolute cheapest compared to the midwest, but the weather is better if you don't love snow, and it's still extremely cheap if you're in some non-hip parts (Greensboro, High Point, Winston Salem are very affordable small cities that have universities, and other less-connected mountain towns like Morganton/Wilkesboro/Marion/Hickory are even cheaper, but less vibrant), and there are plenty of roads connecting you to airports and bigger cities with more robust economies (Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte). Asheville is probably the nicest remote work city in NC, and would definitely beat Dayton culturally, but it's nowhere near as cheap.

Awesome! A million thanks

You could probably move to a cheap part of your own country already with much less hassle and fewer integration issues.

The reason you don't is that cheap places in rich countries are usually cheap for a reason.

Hmm... in my country it'd only be affordable not cheap (The Netherlands). We're pretty populated over here and the government has every square meter planned out. We have a name for it in Dutch "bestemmingsplan" (literally: destination plan or purpose plan).

I bet I could find some cheap parts of the Netherlands. Although I guess it depends on your definition of cheap.

Looks like there are some cheaper areas here: https://www.koopwoningen.nl/nieuws/487:de-20-duurste-en-goed...

Now, compared to cheap places in the US, the house price is still somewhat high. But cheap areas in the US, you often have to live in a detached house, as apartments are often very uncommon, or even non-existent, whereas in the Netherlands multi-family housing is much more common(1). And in the US, cheap places you almost always need to own a car, which is inherently expensive, whereas in the Netherlands you can get by with just walking and biking. Plus, the safety net means that even if you're poor as shit, you're taken care of for things like healthcare, to a greater extent than the US.

1 - Looking at the example of Delfzijl, you can rent an okay-sized 1br apartment for ~600 EUR/month: https://www.iamexpat.nl/housing/rentals/delfzijl/apartment

Factoring in extremely low transportation costs, that makes for a pretty damn cheap lifestyle.

Fixing a dilapidated house is not a stress free life

This is the biggest reason keeping me and mine from making that leap. It's 2-3 years of hard work for a pretty solid potential payout

Not a house but if you're a remote employee Vermont will pay you $10,000 cash a year for two years for moving there.


If you can keep a high salary and work wherever you want, and you want a quiet life, then just throw a dart on a map of the USA or the world. Basically everywhere except a few metropolitan areas is very cheap to live. If this is something you want, yes you are missing something, you should look around a bit.

Depends on if you know Japanese language and culture. Prepare to always be considered a foreigner by institutions and the general public. Plenty of English signs help me get by when I visit but that's in touristy areas (Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, etc).

Where are houses being given away in the US?

I imagine that you need to be a Japanese citizen to get a free house.

Detroit. It's not free anymore but it's still dirt cheap.

I didn't believe you, but then I looked online and I saw that you were right! Here's a perfectly reasonable house in Detroit for about 4000 USD


Property values are tied to school ratings and crime statistics.

I've seen multiple programs similar to the Detroit one, though you need to know where to look. Generally they follow the same idea as the above: You get a house for cheap, but it needs major repairs/renovations. Essentially you get a house for below market rate, but the city gets tax revenue and their dangerous buildings fixed.

Where are houses being given away in Italy? I would love to know of the program.

Rural Italy is beautiful and the food (in the grocery stores and markets) is both great and ridiculously cheap. But there are a few downsides. 100-plus-year-old houses often require significant refurbishment including earthquake mitigation (depending on the area) and they can be expensive to heat unless you spend $$$ on new windows and good seals and insulation. But the biggest problem for a foreigner moving to Italy might be the bureaucracy: Huge stacks of paper forms to be filled out and handed in to a guy who just happens not to be in his office today. Repeatedly. If you have a lot of patience for this sort of thing, Italy is lovely.

Also, if you do a job that is defined in law (doctor, architect, journalist, etc), the bureaucracy might actually stop you from working until you’ve jumped several hoops - exams, payments, years of practice, and so on.

I lived in Italy for a number of years and would love to move back.

This made the news last year (you have to renovate and make a tourist trap or some economic positive): https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/18/italy-is-giving-away-over-10... That was an update on an older program that was pretty popular: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/23/world/europe/sicilian-tow...

I upvoted you, expecting that OP might deliver with the relevant article, but decided to do a search of my own and found some stuff.

https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=free%20italy%20houses like the first few articles are about free or 1 Euro houses. Seems to be true!

Hmm... I was too lazy to do the Google search, sorry about that. I figured the average HN type would prefer to do a DYOR Google search anyway. I happened to have seen it on a Dutch program (a Dutch couple moved to Italy).

I know of a few places with schemes to incentive people to move to dying towns, in the regions bordering with Northern Appennini mountains and in the deep South. The catch is that these towns are dying for a reason: they are far from everything, there are no local jobs (or rather, no jobs most people would do - being a farmer in 2018 is unappealing), and the housing stock is often crumbling and centuries-old. The kids go to school in cities and never go back, so you’re left with a bunch of oldies. Do not expect any help from the State, but do expect hindrance, especially in building matters - Italian laws on paper are the best in the world, but in practice, compliance is hell.

don't forget about property taxes and HOAs. sometimes the property taxes can be higher than the value of the house. just watch out.

these houses should probably go to extremely low income people, not a software engineer

That feels like the wrong way of looking at it. The houses are very rural and dilapidated and cheap because no one wants them. Encouraging just about anyone to get out there and make it a home, highly-paid software engineers included, would be an economic boon for that area.

Houses don't get left abandoned in places with jobs. Knowledge workers are the only ones that can do remote work and thus are the ideal people to take those houses.

That's how you end up with an unhealthy neighborhood. All modern "let's give houses to poor people" program learned this lesson the hard way, and the current, better method is to ensure the recipients of these welfare programs are distributed among the rest of the neighborhood.

If the empty houses described in the article are clumped up, it would be best if the economic status of the recipients is disregarded.


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