Building A House in Thailand
Reading the "Building Your Mrs. A Mansion" submission, I was inspired to write a few words. I have a house myself, and friends who do in odd spots around LOS.
Remaining, on balance, positive about Thailand, there are certainly issues here and there, and getting into housebuilding offers a catalogue of possible problems. So here I go, a title for this could be "Watch when mixing the cement".
It has been pointed out ad nauseam, and yet it bears repeating, building a house in Thailand can be a shaky proposition.
First of all, it is the relationship thing. Yep, yet again. Likely you are fairly early into it, a year or 3, and things are going well. You feel that you understand Thailand, somewhat, and there are always cold beers. Her village in Nakhon Nobodyheardofit has been visited a number of times for a few days or so each time, and you shared some drinks with the local kamnan, or at least with a guy down the road who is a policeman. The monks at the local temple seem to be a nice lot. Perhaps you feel that you know some people about the place. You don't!
So, why not build a house? Why not indeed?! A place for your eventual retirement, where you can sit in the shade, get silly on Beer Chang, and be served small delicacies by your devoted wife and her extended family. Not a bad plan…
But there are complicating factors. What if your relationship goes sour? Many do. Even if you have made proper legal arrangements and you are able to keep the house after a divorce, how much fun will it then be to stay there? Most of the people in the village will likely be related to your ex in some way, and if she is of the vengeful type, or holds, at least, some grudges (quite likely), how will everyday life play out?
You have some options: Find a new wife from elsewhere, and bring her to stay. I'm sure your ex will have grand opinions about you, and perhaps the odd story – true or not – to regale to the new mia who now resides in HER house. Things could get interesting…
Or perhaps there is someone local available, gold-digging enough to risk the potential complications by hooking up with the now available farang. Things could get even more interesting.
Then you could sell the house. Which by legal neccessity will be on land you control by some lease arrangement, but which you do not own. Prepare for a loss here, compared to what it cost to build it.
All that was asuming you have secured what legal rights you can have.
Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of men who set up a house upcountry do so on land owned by their Thai wife, or the wife's family. Either land they already had, or land bought, and put in the Thai wife's name, for the purpose.
Not much you can do then, is there?
There are other things to consider. Will you really be happy upcountry? That's important. Thai village life is not for all. It's one thing visiting from time to time, and spending a few nights. Novel. But permanent residency is different. There may be no-one to talk to in your own language for miles around, and getting a copy of the Bangkok Post, nevermind the odd pizza or proper steak, can call for a major expedition.
And even if you gain some fluency in Thai, you will likely miss company and small daily conversation. Unless your major interests are debating your next meal, the meal you last had, or the finer points of small-time local chicken fights. White wiskey bouquet can also be a topic, and if you ever reach the point where you find yourself actively into that, it's time, really, to get out.
Off course there is the whole hassle of building the house as well. Construction.
Rule number one: Be present. You leave things to others, very much including your wife, at your peril.
Rule number two: You want to annoy and pester by checking things in detail all along. And I DO mean detail. For example, the mixing of "semen". Like in copulation, the quality of what goes in will determine what comes out. Cement comes, as many but not all will be aware, in different qualities, and in types meant for different uses. How it is mixed, how much water, how much sand or gravel, is important. Even temperature is a factor, and poured cement – as when making a floor – must be watered plenty while settling and hardening.
The standard cheat of course is using less cement and more sand, and cheaper cement. And less iron.
Rule number three: You do the purchasing of everything. Tiles? Commonly used. The quality? Hard to asses. You can at least buy one or two you like and test if they stand scratching and tougher cleaning chemicals.
Electricity? Go yourself to the shop, get quality wiring, swithces etc. Your Thai nephew-in-law the brilliant electrician will not likely get them cheaper, or at least not pass any savings he can get on to you anyway.
In fact, all bits and pieces, bricks, tiles, wires, paint, steel, all of it – sweat it out and be there for the purchase.
Rule number four: Make sure who gets paid what. Bonuses may be expected, not the least becasue you are a farang. Negotiate everything and make it clear that you will not re-negotiate. You may still have to, but you will have a stronger position in future barganing.
Now, I don't mean you should be overly cheap. We all have to make a living. And I'd suggest it's ok to hand out some Kraeting Dang or Lippovitan D now and then, and even, occasionally, some beer or wiskey – perhaps when a roof is done or something like that.
You will also find it hard to avoid some "surplus" manpower. If you need 5 guys for a day's tasks, you actually need 6 or 7. Can be frustrating, on the other hand their salaries are, at the time of writing, likely in the area of 300 baht / day. If that's about to ruin your budget, you should really not be contemplating building in the first place.
Other bits and suggestions:
You want two bathrooms, however small a place you set up. Make access to one of them only through your bedroom. The other, with "public access", you never want to see. Ever.
You want a room for yourself, call it an office or whatever. This is your room. It is holy ground. With time and persistence you will make it clear that NOBODY, including wife, offspring, visiting family from the west, or the combined forces of all deities on the day the world ends, have access without invitation.
That you need a space for yourself, ocassional solidarity, will be very hard to explain. Chances are you will never be understood. Never mind that, as long as you can make it understood that it's the way it is. You are a farang, after all, for your stress derived from that designation you are entitled not to be understood!
In your daily life, you will have to establish some standards. Your home is not a free bar for every village drunk who may stray by. Believe me, some will think it is. Neither is the TV in your sitting room a public cinema for gambling relatives / neighbours / anyone who wants to check out sports being aired at 3 in the morning. They may be loud, not least after having raided your fridge for beer. They may wake you up for more beer.
Watch for anyone hooking up to your electricity. If you have built your house on family ground, where typically a few brothers / sisters / other already have houses (or miserable shacks), they may take it for granted that they can share your watts and volts, possibly also the public water, if such exists. You may want to share, nice of you, but at least you want to know about it.
Lots of advice there, always easy to pour out, isn't it. 20/20 hindsight etc. I'll mention that I myself have a house that is not located exactly in the middle of happenings, still, even with paddie fields all around, I'm no more than 15 or 20 minutes from a Pizza Company and a Tesco. I need that. I'd go slowly but surely nuts without a few "western" fixes from time to time.
I have visited friends who have set up households in more remote spots, and heard their complaints. A few do well. But many talks about the difficulties, feelings of isolation, all kinds of daily downers. And these are, without exeption, people with local language skills and years – some have decades – living in LOS. I'm about 20 years in myself, on and off, and have had my house for over 10 years now.
So, some more advice… I'd suggest to anyone who ponders setting up a house that they first go live there and test it. Camp out, spend perhaps on a western toilet or what you need to survive, an air-con unit, but small money. Spend at least 6 months. If you cannot do that, postpone the whole thing untill you can. Be hard, however desperately your Thai wife's dear old parents are in need of a new roof. Fix the old one they have if you must, but hold on with the big things until later. If your Thai wife leaves you over this, she would likely leave you at some point anyway over issues directly or indirectly related to cash.
Consider also if the option exists in whatever area you want to live, buying a house someone already made. Perhaps in what is sometimes refered to as a moo-baan meaning (here) a developed area where some company has set up a gated community (not that security is likely to amount to much), with some arrangements to keep the place tidy. Perhaps there is a community swimming pool and other facilities.
Be very careful about putting cash in to something that is not yet built. Too many such projects have crashed, and, surprise, your money is lost.
Some advantages are clear. You get to see what you buy. The company may – they should – help with the legal aspects. You will not be smack in the middle of your Thai wife's empire, even if her family is located near by. Your options, if things goes sour, are better. It should be easier to sell out compared to a house with an address even the CIA would have trouble finding.
I love my place thoigh, I really do, and I hope to spend my declining years being silly on Chang (or rather white wine, in my case), sitting on my small terrace being served served small delicacies by my devoted wife. Not the worst plan, I hope it will eventuate.
Excellent advice, all of it!