Although the construction industry in most countries have their similarities and there is a sort of universal “way things are done”, there are also unique aspects and ways that set certain countries apart from the others. Climate, available resources, technology, craftsmanship, and culture are some factors that might influence the house-building sector in a given country.
Today we’re going to talk about Japan and some of the ways it distinguishes itself from other countries in regards to the commercial house-building industry. Commercially speaking, Japan is unique in that there exists an entity known as “House-maker” at the highest end of the house-building world. There are many different House-makers in Japan, and you can think of them as the brand-names of the house-building industry.
Most countries have a local construction firm that is the alpha and omega in terms of the marketing and the building of the product, and while they might sub-contract work out to other construction firms, they generally operate in a “bite off only what you can chew” manner. (Note that we’re not talking about firms that deal in larger civil projects, but those that deal exclusively in commercial/residential homes.)
Here in Japan the role of the House-maker is by and large limited to the creation and marketing of the brand name and product/s. Although there are custom-made homes, there are in most cases parameters within which a client must keep specifications. The House-maker will set these parameters in order to keep their product uniform as well as to streamline the construction of the house.
Typical parameters include preset materials used for most if not all components of the house. A client that has chosen to purchase a custom home will typically have the freedom to create the layout of the house, as well as limited options among the preset “parameters” without inflating the cost beyond what has been decided for a basic custom home. Additional cost is usually incurred when custom materials and products are used at the client’s request.
Because the House-maker is the brand name, they are ultimately responsible for the success and reputation of that brand name, and therefore assume roles related to quality control and building code inspection etc. But the physical building and construction of the house is in most cases subcontracted out to smaller construction firms that either have exclusive partnerships with the House-maker or in the case of larger firms, the guarantee to prioritize and commit to contracts from said House-maker.
As far as the nitty-gritty, and the detailed “who does what” aspects of construction, each House-maker operates slightly differently. Some are more hands-on and send foremen or representatives to building sites frequently, others don’t and completely turn the project over to subcontractors, meddling very little. Having said that however, the House-maker always holds supreme power and the authority to do anything at any time, should they deem it necessary.
So in conclusion: House-maker – Blessing or Curse?
The pros are that due to their larger economic size and capital, they are in a position to market their product more efficiently. The House-maker’s primary objective is to first create a product that is attractive and appealing to their target demographic, and to this end they initially invest heavily. Although House-makers are sometimes seen as the “big money boys” of the house-building industry, they serve to centralize, streamline, and essentially expand the housing market.
The cons are that prices are inflated due to there being more middle men, as well as higher marketing and advertising costs. And as with any brand name product, you pay higher prices not only for assumedly higher quality, but also for the glitter and glamor of a prestigious or sought-after brand name. But this also serves as a quality control mechanism, as it creates incentive for House-makers to ensure quality products. So blessing or curse? — Depends on how you look at it.
Below is a list of largest House-makers in order from most houses built based on statistics from 2012.
1. Sekisui House: 16191
2. Hebel Haus: 10721
3. Sekisui Heim: 10610
4. Misawa Home: 10190
5. Tama Home: 10016
6. Daiwa House: 9881
7. Sumitomo Ringyo: 9253
8. Pana Home: 6065
9. Toyota Home: 4626
10. Mitsui Home: 3975
Note that the first, second, and third columns following the number of houses built, are difference from previous year, sales from 2012 (108; 100,000,000 yen), and operating profit (108; 100,000,000 yen), respectively. You can see how the number of houses built does not necessarily correspond proportionally to either gross sales volume or operating profit.