Stickman Readers' Submissions March 3rd, 2004

Home Building In The Provinces

As the title suggests, I am taking the plunge and will set up shop with the family near Prakhon Chai in Buri Ram Province. Sorry, no titillating stories in this tale. Back in June 2003 I went through the preliminaries of attempting to obtain a Thai bank loan, documented in Becoming Invisible (see reader’s submissions.)

We have gone ahead and started construction in mid-November. As of late February I would estimate that the house is about 50 percent finished. Despite what I might say below, I am generally satisfied with the progress. BUT, there are certain qualifiers
and if I was to do this without the help I received it never would have gotten this far and I would be out many hundreds of thousands of Baht.

He Clinic Bangkok

As noted earlier, I sought and easily obtained a loan from the US for about 40K USD. Not yet living full time in LOS (damn annoying job, I still have 26 more months until I can take an early out), I deposited the money in our joint account. That way we can get access to about 20,000 baht per day as needed via ATMs. That seems to work for us.

Time period, early 2002: We had a plot of land (23x75meters) that my wife ‘conveniently’ already owned in her village for building that I thought the house would be perfect for. I had visited the village many times in the previous 24 months and she had never mentioned it, but did so when I told her I wouldn’t mind building a home there.

CBD bangkok

I said great where was the deed for the property saying she owned the land. She said that we didn’t need one. Wrong answer, I said I wouldn’t spend one baht until the deed showed the property in her and our daughter’s names. She enlisted the help of her brother-in-law, Som, a guy who owns a lot of property in the area and who has turned out to be an excellent source of local knowledge. As I probably mention below, Som has been indispensable in all my below endeavors. By the end of the year she had the deed for the land. The local administration took almost four months to get her the deed, cost about 3,500 baht.

She showed me the plot (above photo after fill laid in), and it wasn’t all that bad. There was one thing that bugged me the land was perfectly flat, generally surrounded by rice paddies. Although I had never noticed flooding in the area in previous visits I told her I want fill dumped on the plot to raise the ground level by one meter to ensure there would never be a flooding problem. Further I wanted the fill to settle for 12 months to see where any underlying problems might be.

Over the summer of 2002 we had several hundred truck loads of fill dumped there. After the dirt was all in a tractor graded it all to a rough approximation of level. I couldn’t believe it, but the cost for that was less than 40,000 baht. It seems most of the dirt was free from two guys close by who were digging out ponds for shrimp farming and they needed somewhere to put the fill. Fast forward to summer of 2003 and several more visits to Thailand. Except for one corner in the back corner of the lot that sunk 20-30cm, the remainder of the land remained flat.

I took the rough dimensions of where I wanted the house to sit and told my darling we needed to take the next step. Cautiously she said, ‘find man to build the house.’ No, get an architect to design the house. My darling wanted to go fast with this, but I told her that this was a very big thing and we shouldn’t rush ahead and spend money on a place we didn’t want to live in.

wonderland clinic

This step proved a little harder than I thought would be. We tried calling several Bangkok area home builders to get a referral on who to seek out. They were more interested in us buying one of their homes in the region. My wife doesn’t exactly have a wide circle of friends who know home designers, but after about 90 days of networking we found a husband of an acquaintance of hers who has some training in the field. We met with him several times to try to get across what we wanted.

After my second trip back to Bangkok, he finally produced a set of plans and a very rough estimate of what he thought it would cost, we were satisfied. He had given us the first set of plans in January for a home built like he lived in the northern Bangkok suburbs, a non-descript tract home, which was not at all what we were looking for.

I finally went to Asia Books and got a couple of the Thai home books and showed him elements of some of the nicer homes and asked if he could incorporate some of those ideas. He actually got excited and said that he didn’t realize that we wanted a ‘Thai type’ home. He went back to his computer and several months later he mailed me something that he said we would be proud of. He asked me to proof read the plans and he would print up 30 copies of them. Final cost: 50,000 baht. All in all the plans were okay and I had them in hand in March 2003. The home builder has since pointed out several errors to me when I was at the site in February 2004, but nothing has been insurmountable.

Now the next step was to find a man to build the house. During my April 2003 trip we again tried to interest several builders in Bangkok, but they had no interest in building anything other than their mass produced homes. We ended up back in Buriram, where I thought we would end up. Up there it turned out there were many home builders, but precious few who really did good work or wanted to show us examples of other homes that they built.

It turned out that we only ended up with two men who we felt could take on the job and whose previous customers vouched for. He gave me a bid for his building cost of 1.6million baht. So far so good, but I was to find out there was a hitch to this, he was going to use the cheapest material available. We made arrangements to start construction when the cool season started and the weather was dry, November. In the meantime we visited several wood vendors in Ayuthaya to order some of the teak finishings.

Come November, construction started with a traditional post raising. I was resigned to only receiving a picture of it. In October I was unexpectedly assigned to Afghanistan for three months. I was able to call to my wife every 3-4 days to check on the progress and field questions from afar. I learned that Som (bro-in-law) stepped in and provided a lot of guidance to the builder for things that cropped up. Finally in late-January I managed to get a 30 R and R and headed straight for Thailand.

Arriving in Bangkok our first stop was in Ayuthaya as the roof caps (photo) were ready for delivery. The caps were beautiful and placed on a truck that afternoon for the house. The wood people asked us if we were interested in teak siding (expensive but nice). We said yes, but only if they visited the house site and took exact measurements of the areas in question. The man there said he planned on it, as he took pride in where his wood ended up and would not make it for us if our house wasn’t good enough for it. That was interesting for me, kind of being used to the half-hearted effort that other Thai companies put into quality and being more concerned with profits.

That evening we arrived at our village. Our first stop was the home. Surprisingly, I was very pleased to see the house so far. It was still literally a concrete shell, but it was turning out nice. I was glad that the builder kept to the plans and set the house back from the road as I had asked. Too many other homes in the area are less than 4-5 meters from the roads and are very noisy from traffic as a result.

I learned there that I was something of a minor celebrity. The builder had a crew that varied between 8-12 men who reported for work each day on our house and was simultaneously building four other homes in the district. I learnt that several times each week at the end of the work-day, my wife would bring the men two large bottles of beer, two bottles of Thai whisky, some snacks, and a bottle of soda (maybe costing 300 baht each time) for the men to relax with before they went home. It seems none of the other house owners did this for the builder’s men. This has resulted in an excess of volunteers to work on our home at the expense of the others.

I was able to go to the work site each day to monitor the progress of the work and watch the men work. I have to take my hat off to the workers. They showed up each morning about 07-0730am and worked until roughly 1700 hours each day. As a whole, they were hard workers. Each one had his specialty and worked on his specialty (cement, welders, roofer, carpenter…); when his particular segment was finished, he is sent to one of the other houses under construction that needed those skills. This has held downtime to a minimum. The workers have been doing a solid job and they do not cut corners.

The one thing I thought that the builder would handle a little better is the supplies. Maybe after his initial guess of ordering the cheapest material, he wants us to be sure of what we are getting and that it costs more than his estimate. The downside is that we are involved in all the parts ordering for the house, kind of an a la carte way to get a home. My wife, Som, or I have to arrange ordering of most of the supplies, from wood, to roof tiles, to cement, to electrical fixtures. Most items are available locally, but I was surprised that there were many things we had to go back to Bangkok for. This was especially so for good electrical and plumbing fixtures. Tile for the chan-ban (verandah) and bathrooms was also limited in selection in our area. Wood for flooring was very much available, decent and competitive with tile costs. I suspect most of it came from close-by Cambodia (30km to the south), and is not exactly on the up and up.

In any case, my month off passed by too fast for my liking and I had to leave. As it stands now (end of Feb 2004) the house is more than halfway finished (photo below). The builder thinks that it will be finished in late May or early June. I told him that that was fine, and we were in no hurry to push him to finish it. We wanted it done right and not rushed.
Considering we have an apartment in Bangkok and most of her immediate family still resides in the village, we are in no rush for the home yet.

I will write another report in July after everything is finished and enclose more pictures. I have to say that when we started this I thought I would be spending somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000,000 baht for the home. I believe the price now will end up slightly north of 3,000,000 baht, but some of that was for upgrades that I insisted of to somewhat westernize some of the home fixtures and go for the indoor plumbing.

Knowing what I know now, would I do this again? Yes, but I would rather be present for more of the construction. Most of the local trade people involved in the local construction business in the area have been decent to deal with. They have not obviously cheated me because I am a farang and my wife has been very happy with the progress of our home so far. Early on, she did ask me if I want so nice a place to live in and said that we didn’t have to have this much. Inwardly, I smiled and told her that we needed something that we both would be proud of. I am very satisfied so far. That is all for now, the photo below is where the house is at the end of February. I wish all you guys out there the best.

Stickman says:

Wow, I am awfully envious! Looks like you are going to have a fabulous house.

nana plaza