A startup company called “ADDress” has appeared in the housing market offering “all-you-can-live” housing. What does that mean, exactly? Well, just as “all-you-can-eat” means you pay a set amount and can eat as much as you want, and “all-you-can-drink” will have you tying a necktie around your head and dancing on the tabletops for one set price, with “all-you-can-live,” you pay a set amount per month (¥40,000, which is about $365.76) and can choose from currently 26 different properties all over Japan. Maybe you’re a gig economy worker, and this month, you need to live near Tokyo. Maybe next month, you need to live near Osaka. Maybe the month after that, in the sticks in Tottori Prefecture. Who knows? With ADDress’ new service, you can move freely from one property to the next for the same monthly fee.
Takashi Sabetto is the president of ADDress. ADDress is trying to solve two problems. The first problem is providing affordable housing to people who frequently move. In Japan, many landlords require key money, two-year leases, etc. If living in the same place for many years, this is not so visible, but when moving all around the country and repeatedly paying key money (typically 1~2 months’ rent) and having to deal with two-year leases/the financial consequences of breaking them, the problems of the rigid rental system of key money, two-year leases, etc. become much more salient. ADDress hopes to “address” this problem (See what we did there?) by buying empty homes, known as akiya (空き家), and renovating them. These homes are often available for free or nearly free (for example, just the transaction costs). There are over 8.5 million empty homes in Japan, which is a 50% increase from two decades ago. “How To Get A Free House In Japan,” explains the situation with the 8+ million empty homes and how to get one nearly for free. After the homes have been renovated, then subscribers to ADDress’ service can live at any of the 26 properties with no leases/fees.
For example, one of ADDress’ properties was formerly unoccupied for ten years. It used to belong to an yaoyasan (八百屋さん, greengrocer). It’s located in Nichinan (which has 50,000 people), in the shopping district near Aburatsu Station in Kyūshū, the southwesternmost of the four major Japanese islands. They remodeled it and are now renting it out to ADDress customers.
There are now hundreds of ADDress customers. Those in the “gig economy” are well-represented. Workers in the gig economy may have to move for their next temporary job, so key money, two-year leases, etc. often don’t work.
Unfortunately, ADDress is not the answer for all of the nation’s akiya. According to the team leader at ADDress, Masahiro Takamoto, “90% of the properties [that desperate owners/sellers try to pitch to ADDress] would be tought to use.” Some of them are too far from public transportation to be useful to the tenants. Some are too large and unmanageable.
Each property has a “guardian.” A guardian oversees a unit and the renters who live there. Guardians often try to emphasize a common interest. For example, one is very interested in surfing, and tries to encourage surfers to stay in his house.
ADDress has attracted attention not just as the latest fad or hype, but as a legitimate company to invest in: both East Japan Railway (JR East) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have already invested in it, and are providing better transportation to some of the properties. JR East invested through a subsidiary. ANA became a partner.