For years the Japanese Real-Estate market has boasted some impressively low interest rates attracting attention from around the world. Whether looking to start a business, find a home, or just rent an apartment, the number of people from overseas looking for property in Japan has been steadily increasing over recent years. However, Japan can present many challenges to the uninitiated, as many face difficulties with the language barrier, cultural differences, and even deciding where to start looking can be overwhelming. That is where Japan Property Central comes in. Zoe Ward, CEO of Japan Property Central specializes in bridging the gap between Japanese sellers and international buyers through consultancy.
Ward helps buyers from around the world while managing a popular real-estate blog focusing on the latest movements and developments in the domestic market. The company has utilized a Servcorp office in Aoyama Palacio since Ward founded the company in 2014. Servcorp sat down with her to learn more about her exciting business and how Servcorp came to be the base of her operations.
How did Japan Property Central first start?
We started as a blog, actually. I first came to Japan back in the end of 2006, just after graduating from university. I lived here for about 5 years, before I moved back to Australia just before the big earthquake in 2011. During that time I had worked at several real-estate companies including a company that specialized in renting share houses to expats and a Japanese company that focused on selling property.
So eventually you decided to startup your own company? You must have faced some challenges setting up your own business.
That’s putting it lightly. (Laughs) First I had to set up a real-estate company before I could get a business visa, and to do that you need an office. I know from my real-estate experience that if you want a commercial space you’re looking at a 12-month down payment, and they won’t even consider you if you don’t have a proper company with history and turnover. On top of that, being a foreigner without a residence in Japan made it even more difficult, so I didn’t even consider that option. That left me with Servcorp or one of your major competitors. Everyone has heard of Servcorp in Australia, they are quite big in Brisbane and Sydney, and the competitors’ properties were a little dingy, so I decided to look into office space with Servcorp
What was the first year of being a legitimate company and not just a blog like?
It was really stressful; starting a new business, trying to get clients, and the market was really starting to heat up at that point. You would have several offices competing on one property. So we would have some clients who lived overseas and would say “I want to see this apartment. I’ll be there on Friday.” And the night before an offer would come in from a Japanese buyer and it would have sold. The longer a property was on the market the price would go up instead of down. So the first year or two was difficult but we have settled into a good position now and business is already looking good for next year.
Has the blog helped stabilize business and bring in clients?
Yes, I would say maybe half of our clients come through the website. Of course we also get referrals and people who have been recommended by previous clients or people I’ve met day to day. We have even started getting some Japanese clients this year which has been interesting. Some of them are Nikkei, like Japanese-American, and are living in the U.S. but they come here and want someplace to open up their business. They only speak English so it’s kind of funny, because during the inspection the Japanese agent is trying to talk to them in Japanese and I end up being the one translating. (Laughs)
Do you often meet with your clients at your Servcorp office?
Actually most of my client interaction takes place outside of the office. We usually meet up at the property. So it’s maybe once a year that I use this meeting room, which is perfect because if I’m not using it every month then there’s no need for my own meeting room. It’s great that you can rent this space when you need it. And it’s flash too.
Do you use any of our Telephone services like Intercept?
Yes, the front desk will answer calls under my company name and then forward it to my mobile. I had one old coworker who started his own business and he called me up to chat one day and he said that whoever answered the phone has really polite Japanese, they are very well-spoken. (Laughs)
We are creating a whole lot of coworking lounges now which might change the nature of the floor slightly. How do you feel about that?
That’s exciting! This year when they put in the new kitchen and they gave us some more tables and chairs, at first it was just me and maybe one other person going there for lunch, but if you go there now around 12:30 all the seats are taken. So it’s really popular and a lot of companies talk to each other.
One final question, how are you expecting to grow over the next 5 years and are you looking to change the way you work in terms of the space that you have?
I would like to have another person on board, because I’m the only one that obviously speaks English. My assistant doesn’t speak English, so I do most of the client handling, which is very time consuming. I probably could add one more person now, but I’m in the industry where if you speak English and have real-estate experience you could work anywhere at the moment. Most of the major developers are trying to get that kind of staff. You have to maybe settle for somebody without real-estate experience but who speaks good English, because at least you can teach them about the real-estate side of things.
When I need to impress not only clients - but also the seller’s agents as well, they look at the address and see that it’s a nice address and a nice building, which in Japan is very important.
What kind of tasks do you usually perform for Japan Property Central?
Zoe doesn’t use many of our secretarial services, but she tends to receive a lot of phone calls, so I make a point to answer and transfer her calls quickly and accurately. Furthermore, she gets a lot of inquiries from people living overseas or who have recently moved to Japan. These inquiries usually have a lot of specific and detailed questions, so I have to be extra careful when I take messages.
What are some of your favorite memories working with Japan Property Central?
She has been with us for a long time now, so it always makes my day when I visit her office or we happen to meet in the kitchen and we can have a little chat. She also gets really involved and participates in a lot of the functions / events we hold for clients at Palacio. It’s a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better and learn more about her company’s needs.
At Servcorp, we offer Serviced Offices with bilingual secretarial services ideal for companies that need a pain-free set up. Please do not hesitate to contact us. Click here for details!