Readers' Submissions

Choosing Sides

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • July 10th, 2006
  • 18 min read


By BKKSW

Another late night.. Saturday night about 0030 and I’m sitting here again without sleep in my immediate future and not much to do. My wife and I elected for me to stay here in Thailand while she stays in the states right about till the end of the year so she can qualify for and obtain her U.S. Citizenship. This gives me a lot of extra time on my hands to do a variety of things like write submissions, photograph Thailand, travel around the area, and so forth. Eventually the thought of heading out for a night on the town has to entre one's mind in a situation like this but what a slippery slope that could turn into and considering that I have one of the few good marriages I hear about when married to a Thai lady it would just seem a bit stupid to be out there looking for a little bit of temporary “things to do..” So.. tonight with the parrot keeping a watchful eye on my screen I turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows, and being nearly 20 floors up it really lets in the sounds (almost like some are amplified) and smell of Bangkok, and sat here for a while thinking about my week.

I was lucky (I feel) to find the place I’m living in. I have about 2000sqft, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a nice open dining/living area, a kitchen, laundry room, storage room, five balconies, an office, and all in a resort type building complete with a sports club, restaurants, pools (7 I think), snooker rooms, saunas, all kinds of nice things.. kinda like being on vacation in a resort complex all the time. Wait, it is a resort complex and probably about 70-80% of the people who live here are renting expensive serviced apartments. So when I found this place with the security I needed (lots of professional gear to safekeep), the space I desired, the luxuries I might use and my guests might enjoy.. and fairly easy access from downtown Bangkok to most anywhere else in Bangkok only a few minutes away via the toll way, and at a price of about 20% of the serviced apartment price, I almost forgot to bargain for the price and to read my lease agreement. After 3-4 weeks of looking all day during a hot time of the year and being shown crap time after time after time.. and then all of a sudden here’s exactly what you’re looking for you just want to immediately say “where do I sign.” Here the story starts..

I almost forgot to mention, the building rep initially told me the negotiations were ALWAYS handled between her and the renters and the landlord/owner didn’t get involved with such “trivial matters.” I said I would deal with the landlord/owner or we wouldn’t deal. She didn’t like this but relented. Later I would find out why she didn’t want the landlord/owner involved.

I’m leasing from a private party and that’s ok.. but the lease was in Thai, all the negotiations where taking place in Thai despite the landlords excellent English, my wife’s excellent English, and the building reps ok English.. and oh.. I speak English too.. I So why in Thai? The expected way to handle business when one of the couple is Thai is to deal between Thai’s. Did I say expected? Sorry, almost demanded. So while sitting around the table with these individuals I had a sudden urge to just stand up and say “look, we all speak English and if we can’t move these negotiations over to English then the negotiations are over!” They all looked at me like I’d committed a major sin, cleared their throats, looked at each other, my wife turned red, the landlord/owner turned red, and the building rep looked at the floor and tapped her foot. I told my wife that it was time to go and asked the landlord to meet me here tomorrow at the same time (the unit for rent) and we’d start over and we’d all speak English. I asked him to call me that night to confirm our meeting and we left.

My wife of course was embarrassed and had the mindset “don’t you trust me that I can handle this?” I asked her, how many places have you rented in your life? “Well.. none.” How many placed have you purchased in your life? “None..” And I told her that if she didn’t terribly mind that I was probably better qualified to conduct the negotiations. She did mind. “But this is Thailand, I’m Thai, the landlord is Thai, and you’re not.” EXACTLY! But you can all speak English and if we’re going to take this place we’re going to negotiate in English and while you’re welcome to join in the negotiations and I wouldn’t think of leaving you out of it totally like you were doing to me, I will be the main negotiator. My wife was a little miffed even though it all made sense to her. Why? Because they were all Thai and I’m not. It was me who wasn’t understanding and I realized they really thought that, and I didn’t care. At exactly 2200 that evening the landlord called to reluctantly confirm our appointment for the next day. After all, farangs have money (usually) and probably pay their rent on time better than the average Thai tenant.

The next day rolls around and we all show up again and I introduce myself to the landlord AGAIN, the building rep, introduce my wife, and we go in and have a seat. We talked about the price and went down 15k baht from the asking price after being told by the building rep the landlord would never go down in price. What I learned later was that the building rep had upped the price 10k for “her monthly commission” and this was standard procedure for her in her position. The building rep had a very red and angry face at this point and I asked her straight out “why are you here anyway, what exactly is your function in this negotiation?” She replied to assist all parties and to take care of anything we agreed on prior to me moving in. I thanked her for being so considerate and dismissed her. She got so angry she started sputtering. I firmly said that when the landlord and I had reached an agreement then we’d provide her a list of what SHE needed to get done for US and the rest of the negotiations frankly weren’t any of her business and would she please leave. Boy did she. My wife looked embarrassed and whispered that this isn’t how we do business in Thailand. I failed to whisper back and told her this is how we were going to do business if we were going to take this unit. I couldn’t help but notice that my landlord looked somewhat amused, almost like he was gaining some respect for me. That didn’t last long. He handed me a lease written 100% in Thai to sign and I told him that the meeting was over and we’d meet him back here tomorrow at the same time after he had the lease translated into both English and Thai so my wife and I could both read it. He looked shocked and we got up and walked out.

My wife spent a few minutes telling me that I was embarrassing her a bit and trying to explain how business is done in Thailand. I just looked at her and asked her how many places she’d leased in Thailand before? She looks at the floor and quietly says “none.” The next day at the appointed time we show back up at the unit and meet the landlord.

He was nice enough to have the lease translated and typed in both Thai and English, about five pages, and I read through it noticing that everything we’d agreed on was in the lease.. and a lot more. I waited while my wife read it and I asked her if she saw any problems with the lease and she said no, everything we’d talked about was in the lease. Which it was. But she totally missed all the things in the lease that we didn’t talk about. Rules about not putting a nail in the wall or we’d be charge 500 baht per nail hole for repair, expectations that the furniture would be in “new” condition as we left, and a bunch of other things designed to insure the landlord could keep our two month deposit in full. There was also another thing hidden in there.. it basically said that the landlord was only responsible for repairs that costs in excess of 40,000 baht!!! I asked my wife about that and she shrugged. I pointed out that this place has six separate air conditioners that cost about 30-40k each to replace and they were all on the old side. I think I saw a line of concern cross her brow. Meanwhile the landlord was looking at the ceiling counting ceiling tiles and whistling softly. I sighed, took out a tablet and pen, and neatly numbered and wrote out all the changes we would require.. including the right to make “small nail holes”, “normal wear and tear was to be expected the furniture, paint, fixtures, and the entire unit”, and that the landlord would be responsible for repairs exceeding 1000 baht THAT WERE NOT part of “normal systems such as the air conditioning, plumbing, electricity, etc, etc.” The landlord didn’t like that at all. He put up a fuss so I got to my feet and said those were our conditions, have the lease changed, translated, and to call and confirm he’d be here the next day at the same time or we’d take “the next place on our list.” My wife started to say something and I kicked her leg. I knew it was going to be “but we don’t have a next place on the list and we’ve been looking hard for almost four weeks and yada yada yada..” We got out of there fast.

At exactly 2200 that evening the landlord called and said he’d be there the next day as agreed and then started into something else but I cut him off and told him “thank you very much for calling to confirm our conditions and we’ll see you tomorrow.” Click! Hmm.. Tomorrow was another day.

The next day we all showed up at the right time and the lease was correct but I couldn’t resist the temptation to carefully correct some spelling errors. We then hand wrote a list of things the building representative needed to do, both signed it, and then it came time for the deposit. I gave him less than 5% of the required deposits and told him the rest would be forthcoming when the items we wanted done were finished to our satisfaction and would he please bring a receipt for the remainder and have the building rep there to witness me counting out the cash. After all, we’re talking two months deposit and a month in advance.. quite a bit of cash. He grumbled a bit but agreed.

FYI – In Thailand you can ask for a lot of things to be done before moving in. We gave him a list of the furniture he’d need to remove, the rooms we wanted cat 5 lan cables run to and where, the colours we wanted the kitchen painted, the items that needed repaired, new thermostats for the AC’s that would save me money by clicking the compressor on/off automatically, and so on. It was a pretty long list and included a total cleaning list including having the wool carpets in the bedroom steam cleaned. The marble floors in the living areas we’d have to buy area rugs for. We agreed on a time line and then I picked up my phone and called the building rep and told her she was needed in the unit immediately. She was going to lunch could it be tomorrow? I handed the phone to the landlord and she was up there in just a few minutes. Her eyes went wide at the list and told me she could have it completed in two weeks. I ignored her and told the landlord “I required the unit to be ready the following Monday morning and I would like to inspect it the Friday before so if anything wasn’t correct they could fix it over the weekend.” The rep glared at me, the landlord told her to have it done, the meeting was over.

Friday rolls around and most of the stuff was done but the cleaning was terrible. I asked the building rep to follow me around with a notepad and showed her that the windows had to be cleaned inside and out, the carpet steam cleaned, the stove cleaned, the refrigerator cleaned, etc, etc, etc.. I told her in front of the landlord that I expected to have this finished Monday at 0800 and the moving company would arrive at 1000. If she wasn’t finished then the landlord would be responsible for paying the moving company for a failed delivery and I had a form filled out for him to sign. He glared at her as he signed it. Monday at 0800 came and guess what? Everything was perfect and there was even a new plant as a housewarming gift from our landlord. We moved in that day and the next.. and over the next 2-3 weeks found other things broken or not working (hot water heaters, etc) and I figured we probably would have spent about 20,000 baht fixing things that should have already been fixed if we’d accepted this place “as is” and the lease “as was.” I should mention that the unit initially was very expensively furnished, presented well, and gave the impression of being in excellent repair. You’d just automatically expect all this stuff to be working.. but it wasn’t.

Anyway, it’s been since October and I’ve paid my rent on time each month as agreed on and we’ve had no problems. The landlord/owner pays a building association fee every month that includes maintenance for free except for parts. So we had some more painting done, a few phone lines ran, about 10 electrical outlets installed, and a few other things.. total for parts was about 4k.. no labour. At this time we’ve been very comfortable here, purchased our own new refrigerator and made him take his old one, same with the washer, area rugs, plants, and basically made it our own. I included an option in the lease to renew the lease for an additional 3 or 5 years and the price could be negotiated at this time either up or down. Originally it just said the lease extension would be for three years and the price would go up automatically 10%. With the price of the baht to the dollar he’ll have to lower his price 5% or so if he wanted to keep us as tenants.. but since we’ve been no problem and paid on time I suspect a bird in the hand…

So that’s all the background. Then this last week happened. Did I tell you I have a great housekeeper? Young? Very nice to look at? Speaks great English? Did I mention she graduated from law school? Yep.. very bright young lady who I highly value. Anyway.. the one air conditioner that we use almost all the time broke. We called the building rep to find they’d changed maintenance companies and this company no longer did air conditioners. But the landlord/owner who as it turns out owns many units in these towers users a place and after a call to him at his home (he gives me the impression I’m the only renter with both his home and mobile number, imagine that?) and a air conditioning company comes out. They quote me a price of about 20,000 baht. This is going back and forth between my housekeeper, me, and the air conditioning rep as she translates this. I told her that the owner was responsible for the air conditioner and she told the guy who does all his work and he laughs and tells her the landlord NEVER pays for these things and there must be some mistake. I dial up the owner and hand the phone to the repairman and the issue is solved. During that conversation in Thai I learn the “Thai price” is only 10,000 baht. My housekeeper tells me this but she doesn’t need to, my Thai is getting much better and numbers are no longer a weak point. Then I get an idea.. I don’t want this one merely fixed.. since this is the one I use all the time I want a remote control and for the entire unit (fan and compressor vs. just the compressor) to shut off when it reaches the desired temp and I’d like a sleep mode. This adds 2,000 to the price and I agreed to pay. TOO LATE! The repairman realized he had quoted me the Thai price and not the “farang price” since I was paying for this part myself. He then tries to tell my housekeeper that since she’s Thai she should help him charge me more! I dial the landlords number and explain to him I’m trying to pay for improvements to his property but his workman is trying to charge me 3x the price he’d charge him. If the landlord didn’t want me to improve his property for free then ok.. he asked to talk to the repair guy and the guy got upset but agreed it would only be 2k. So.. instead of paying the original quoted price of 20,000 baht and 6,000 more baht for the remote system.. I only paid 2,000 baht. Because I read the contract, negotiated, and my housekeeper is honest. Not a bad deal.

These incidents bring to mind all the other times salespeople, workmen, and the such have tried to use the “your Thai so help us charge your husband more because we’re Thai too” scam to come in between my wife and I and I could give you examples of when they offered to give my wife “in private” half the extra money” or some percentage that they got from me extra. This happens a lot. With the area rugs we bought, the television, and even the car. The car salesman tried to charge us for “extra farang charges” for farangs to buy and register a car in Thailand by promising my sister in law half the money back “in private” in cash.. and my sister in law tried to talk my wife into this! That episode didn’t endear me to my sister in law much at all.

This sort of thing is so common, so expected, that if your not butting your head up against the wall at least once or twice a month in the normal course of being a farang living in Thailand.. then maybe you should ask the wife if this stuff ever happens and how she handles it? I don’t know about you, but I’d expect my wife to bring up extortion attempts as they happen and she does. However knowing what I know now.. if she wasn’t telling me about one or two of these attempts every month then I’d be very suspect. Chances are I’m sure that your wife just handles it and doesn’t think your pretty little head needs to be bothered with such trivial things, but then you never know..

This sort of thing is also one of those “sorts of things” that turn me off on Thailand and puts that thought in the back of my mind if the decision to move here was a good one or not. Or if it will be permanent or not. The reality of it is that things like this happen anywhere you’re going to live, maybe not exactly the same thing, but something not desirable, and you just don’t pack up and leave the country every time something bad happens right?

Well, it’s now later than it was before and I think I can sleep now…;o) I hope someone finds that verbose piece of writing at least useful at some point of their stay here.

Until next time…

Stickman's thoughts:

Another nice submission.