Readers' Submissions

The Time is Ripe!

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • August 22nd, 2009
  • 8 min read


Back when the baht was 45 to the USD I purchased my SUV in Thailand which turned out to be a wise choice. My 1.2 million baht SUV cost me $26,600 USD. The model hasn't changed in four years past a cup holder and turn signal lights on the mirrors and at today's exchange rate the exact same SUV would cost me $38,360 USD. Because of the favorable used car market, even at the lowest price I could expect to get, I could sell my SUV and after converting the baht into USD I'd end up with more USD than I paid for it, even accounting for the going interest rate on savings accounts! Try that in a western country!

When you live overseas there is often a better time to negotiate a deal than others. The exchange rate, economy, vacancy rate, many things factor. I've held off buying a home or condo in Thailand, though I've been tempted with some seemingly incredible deals. Condos, upscale homes, and even old homes are all available for much less than they were a few years back.

I've held off because of one main factor. In the west property is normally considered an investment. If you buy a home and stay in it for a minimum number of years you are almost guaranteed of realizing a handsome return. But not these last few years eh? Times for housing have been terrible. In Thailand the investment side of a home purchase and making a profit in a few short years isn't going to happen for most people. The reason shouldn't surprise many:

Thais who can afford the class of homes most westerners would want to own only want new homes, or a cut-rate bargain on anything "previously lived in." It's also rare to find a Thai home which has been maintained for the long term and this is especially poignant when it comes to condominiums and any other property managed and maintained from a shared central fund. If you have doubts just ask yourself this one question: When was the last time you've seen a fresh coat of paint on an old building? It happens, but it's very rare. A condo is purchased, lived in by the original buyer until the next newest complex becomes available, and then it's sold at a loss or perhaps managed and rented for a long term investment.

The standard practice in Thailand when renting at "Thai prices" is for the contract to stipulate that only repairs past a certain figure will be paid for by the landlord. Paint, most plumbing, appliances, caulking in the bathrooms, and most other maintenance items become the responsibility of the tenant. And of course the tenant uses the apartment until they can't stand it anymore, and then moves to something in better condition. The landlord then only does what is absolutely necessary to secure a new tenant and even then what they do is mostly superficial.

This is where I found myself. In a 10 year old condominium unit that hadn't been properly maintained or repaired since it was new. Ten years in Thailand is a long time for wear and tear purposes, especially several hundred feet in the air where the wind, sun, and rain take their toll more heavily. My landlord argued about every little thing that needed repaired and wouldn't even discuss maintenance. He had the advantage of the market on his side so for the last few years I've sucked it up and paid for only those repairs I had to have and lived with a less than nice apartment.

The wind has changed! I had the opportunity to see a few places for rent close to my current location which I consider the best location in Bangkok for someone who: Drives, only needs occasional access to downtown, and likes the nice restaurants and stores to be fairly close by. I also had occasion to visit some friends who had recently rented some very nice places at reasonable prices. This motivated me to research the market. I'm glad I did. The time is ripe!

Besides for the current condition of my place I really like it. Everything is all on one level which for me is a big plus. 4 bedrooms and 3 baths with 5 balconies. I'm in a prime location, the building is uber safe, great parking, and it's quiet. Okay, we won't talk about the elevator that broke lose and crashed to the ground floor. After all, I don't even know if anyone died in that incident so it wouldn't be fair to judge this too harshly. (Seriously, this happened, and yes.. all elevators have since been refurbished and are now regularly maintained.)

I was totally prepared to move and take advantage of the more favorable rental market and in fact I did look at several places. And then I thought "why not just tell the landlord exactly what I want and give him a chance?" After all, I'm a good tenant, always pay my rent on time, and I've already been there four years so to the landlord I'm money in the bank. The question was: How valuable did he consider me as a tenant?

We approached him and thanked him for being our landlord and let him know we were looking around and planned to move. We let on that we might consider staying if he could remodel our place to be as nice as the places we were looking at for near the same price. The next day he called and asked if 'his contractor' could come take a look and if we'd mind letting the contractor know exactly what we wanted. I got that familiar feeling you get when you have someone by the short hairs.

The contractor came over and we went through the place from top to bottom. New kitchen, bathrooms, ceilings, molding, paint, floors, lighting, and most importantly I had these super nice air conditioners in mind. These are the newest models, very energy efficient, centrally placed, totally silent, and of course remote control with moveable/rotating registers. You won't see these except in the very newest places because they've only been available a few months. I specified a size that was roughly double the BTU capacity of my current AC's. I never again wanted to pay huge electric bills, have the AC struggle to keep up in the hot months, or hear a sound.

I'm guessing when the landlord saw the estimate it far exceeded his expectations. Perhaps he had a mild heart attack. The AC's alone are almost a year's rent. Overall most of the work being done makes the unit that much more valuable. Almost immediately we get a phone call asking us to split the total. We refuse and tell him thank you very much but we'll just find a new place.

This set the tone. We were playing hardball. He tried everything including substituting cheap AC units. We gave notice. The next day he apologized and said he was sending the contractor over with instructions to do anything we asked and he said he'd sign any length contract we wanted at our current rent. This is when I realized if I'd been really smart I'd have also negotiated a rent reduction.. ;o)

The remodeling will take nearly a month. The condominium association rules only allow work to be done from 9am till 4pm, so accounting for lunch that's only six work hours a day and the workmen don't work on weekends.

We've picked our colors for the paint, tile, trim, a new oven and stove top, fixtures, lighting, and of course the AC's. Work has started and as we speak I'm playing with the remote of one of the biggest coldest most silent AC's I've ever seen. Awesome! The parrots are a bit upset with all the strangers and noise around, but probably no more so than the landlord and his accountant.

The reason I wrote this sub is to encourage those who are renting to consider that the time is ripe to leverage your good record as a tenant against whatever improvements and maintenance your unit might require. Or perhaps you'll want to look around your neighborhood at what's available. Don't hesitate to ask for whatever is reasonable, and maybe a bit of the unreasonable.

I'm one of those people who loves living in new places, but who hates the physical chore of moving. Like I said, I really like my location and the building at ten years old isn't bad. I especially like an unusually large unit (for Thailand) with an open floor plan on a single level. And now instead of moving in a place a landlord prepared for an unknown future tenant, I'm getting a unit prepared for me exactly as I like.

I'm a good tenant and I know this is of great value to the landlord. I'm a bit surprised by just how much value, but I'm not complaining. If you pay your rent on time and don't cause your landlord any grief then you're probably a valuable tenant as well. The time is ripe to parlay this value into maintenance, upgrades, or even a rent reduction. Take advantage of the times!

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

For whatever reason, a lot of farangs resident in Thailand pander to their landlord when in fact it should be the other way around. Your average Westerner does not do a runner at the end of the month, does not cause damage and is largely a hassle free tenant. And for sure, I agree that now is a great time to get the landlord to fix things in the unit or negotiate the rent or both!