Buying Property In The North Of Thailand
I am 43 years old with a steady Thai girlfriend and have a job which requires me to work only 7 months of the year in England with 5 months off which I intend to spend in Thailand. Rather than renting for the 5 months me and my GF decided to look into buying either a house or condominium in the north of Thailand.
My budget is a maximum of 1.5 million baht and we started off with a dream of owning a small house with a plot of land somewhere on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The biggest stumbling block here is the fact that under Thai law foreign nationals cannot own the land, there are ways around it (forming a company, leasing etc) but they are complicated and looked to me like the potential for losing the lot was quite high. The simplest way is just to register the house and land in the gf's name but again if things go pear shaped I lose the lot.
Plan B was to buy a condominium which I can buy outright, providing less than 49% in the block are owned by foreigners. My girlfriend has a friend who works in the advertising industry and she has a sister who works at a local bank. A brief chat with her revealed they had several repossessed condominiums selling between 700,000 and 1,000,000 baht. A date was arranged and My GF and I met the bank employee at a condominium block about 1 km from Central shopping centre in Chiang Mai. Here we encountered the first problem. The condominium management company did not know the condominiums had been repossessed and would not give us the key to the property. In addition it appeared they also had condominiums for sale and wanted us to look at those instead. The usual Thai saving face stand off ensued and after about 20 minutes the bank clerk got the keys provided we also viewed the condos the management company where selling. So off we went, me, the GF, the bank clerk and a middle aged Thai guy from the management company who spoke very good English.
The first condo on the 12th floor was massive, but there was something very odd about it. It had a huge lounge with two staircases, two identical but opposite upstairs bathrooms, bedrooms and two kitchens. I questioned the vendor about the layout and they told me the previous owners had actually been a couple and had knocked the dividing wall down to make one big condo. I don't know much about building structures but in a high rise block, surely the dividing wall supports the floors above it and additional supports would have to be fitted where the wall was removed. On further questioning it got worse; only one of the couple was selling their half of the house….eh? It appears they wanted me to buy only one side so in reality, we could be sitting in the lounge when the front door opens and a bunch of Thais walk in and sit down at the other end of the lounge. Ok not suitable, can we view the next condo please?
Down one floor and we entered what appeared to be someone’s existing home. Everything was still in place, ornaments, pictures on the wall, crockery and bed sheets, but there was a musty, damp smell about the place. "Everything included" beamed the selling agent. It looked as if somebody had just walked out the door that morning and not come back. Very weird and the musty smell suggested it had been like that for long time. Next apartment looked promising, average size, no smell, empty, the fixtures and fitting where in good condition and my GF liked it. "How much is it" I asked. Both the bank clerk and the agent looked at the floor and shuffled their feet, so I asked again, "how much does it cost?"; they looked at the ceiling, the floor and the walls, but nobody spoke. Ok I thought, maybe a communication problem, so in my best Thai "Raakaa tow rai krap" at which point they all started getting nervous and fidgeting. I turned to my GF and asked wtf is going on? Can you ask how much they are selling it for. A discussion in Thai ensued and she turned to me and said "How much you want to pay?" That was it for me, I am not buying a tee shirt in the market, if they don't know how much the condo is worth then neither do I, I was going to offer some stupid amount but the idea of owning a condo in this block was off.
I abandoned the repossession approach and looked for something aimed at the expat market. I found a brand new condo block on the internet which promised luxury condos for 1.4 million, again near Central. A bit close to my budget but the literature looked promising and the photos certainly looked good. On arrival at the block we found the reception which looked very much like a hotel reception. The sales lady was summoned, I briefly outlined what I wanted and off we went in the lift to look at the advertised 'luxury' condo. On entering the 'condo' I thought we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere as it looked like a hotel room. There was a small room with a bed in it but no chairs, an ensuite bathroom and where there would normally be a chest of draws, they had plumbed in a kitchen sink. That was it, a hotel room with a sink for 1.4 million, not quite what I had in mind.
I have given up on purchasing a condo, mainly due to the experiences above but also because it is so much easier and cheaper to rent. My girlfriend had been in England for 4 months but returned to Thailand 3 weeks before me and had found a really nice apartment in a block called Wipanan mansion (http://wipananmansion.com/) not far from the centre of Chiang Mai. It is brand new, clean, nice furniture, satellite TV, air con, a weekly maid service, a reception, internet for 20 baht per hour and a security guard. Cost per month is 6,000 baht (+electricity) or 4,500/month for a one year contract. Thais, Farangs and
Japanese reside here and there is friendly atmosphere about the place. My GF is disappointed as she really would like to own a property and have a permanent address but she agrees that renting a nice apartment makes much more sense than buying one. As a compromise I am going to buy her some land in Chiang Rai. One of her friends wants to sell one rai for 100,000 baht, the land would be in her name and she reckons it has planning permission to build a house. I will buy her the land knowing full well if our relationship goes west I will lose the lot, but 100,000 baht is only about 1,500 UK pounds so I won't end up on the poverty line. On the other hand, she gets some security, if things go well, we can plan on building a house maybe in 5 years time and get back to our dream of owning a house and a plot of land in Thailand.
Other than the land above, renting is for me, maybe we had a bad experience in our attempt to buy a condo, but it was enough to put me off.
I truly believe that buying in Thailand is only a good idea if you are sure you are in for the long haul. It is difficult to sell, and while one could argue that property prices do appreciate, try actually selling the place!