Easy Come Easy Go
The first time I saw my Thai girlfriend cry, about 6 years ago, was probably the moment I fell in love with her. She was watching TV, and there was a program about an elderly rural couple with no living children. The program talked about how hard it was for this husband and wife to make ends meet, and how they struggled to pay their medical bills.
My girlfriend turned to me, the tears streaming down her face, and said “I will never let that happen to my mum and dad.”
I learned something about her in that moment–her fierce drive to look after her family and provide for their future.
By the way, she didn’t cry when the doctor told her of her potentially life threatening illness.
So I wasn’t surprised when the email came from her about 3 weeks ago, totally out of the blue. Here it is:
“Do you want land 65 rai for about 3.8 million baht? We can talk and get discount also we can tell them we will pay 2-3 times in 1-2 years. It is nice land. Some land has sugarcane and some land has rubber tree. Some land they don't make anything yet. They want to sell because they have quarrel and have debt also want to divorce. They want to sell and split 50 50 and go somewhere else.
I think it is good to have to thing for future. For rubber tree in 5-6 years you can make money; also you can make money from sugarcane 3-4 hundred thousand baht every year. If you need more money the land they do nothing we can make more sugarcane.
I very want you to think about this because they are hot to sell they need money. You can pay deposit 30% or 40% then you can tell them when you will give them more in 1-2 years time.
If you buy I can work and do it for you or you can come and see up to you. For me I really want I can make sugarcane also I don’t have to plant rubber tree because they grow already we just wait for rubber tree when tree ready. Rubber tree can make rubber for maybe 10 or 15 year I not sure.”
I responded asking what this is all about and got the answer that someone in their village approached them asking if they wanted to buy some land. My guess is with the house we are building people realize she has money (or access to it) and so the offers are coming.
I spent a few hours on the internet where there is a wealth of information available about growing both sugar cane as well as rubber in Isaan. Rubber is a bit more difficult but sugarcane is relatively easy. It is a hardy crop which requires little maintenance and is currently selling for quite good prices. Having been born and raised in one of the densest cities in the world I am no farmer, but I am a businessman and did a fast P&L which showed a decent return. Nothing great but it can provide a steady income stream.
What I particularly liked was that I had already set aside money to take care of my GF in case something happened to me (being 30 years older than her the odds are high that I will predecease her). If I used that money instead to buy her productive farmland she could take care of herself as the years went by, and it would also provide employment for her two nephews, sons of her older sisters, currently aged 9 each.
I asked for more info. Along with a slew of photos, I got this
“I went to see land already and also talk to man who want to sell. I just come back now. It is a nice land near road easy to drive car. The land is rectangle have pool like swamp in center. There are 4 pools but some small some big. The pool there are good save the water can use all year we can use water easy and can have fish if you want. There 62 rai 250 square wah. Now they do with rubber tree 300 stems 5 years already. From Nov they plough the land to grow new sugarcane but they don't plant it yet. Also for the rubber is not nice. I think if you want to do that land have to plough out rubber first and do sugarcane better. Also can get money quick and every year.
For the price I just talk about how to discount to 3.5 million he say let’s see we can talk later. I think can make more price for discount because his son buy new caravan he need money to pay for that car. He have 3 son but all of them do not work good he just want to sell take money to pay car and debt. Also that land can make rice too.
I talk about title deed they have but you have to pay every year. This land he buy from someone about 20 years ago and he never change name. I think if we buy we have to change name later.
I think if we do sugar cane we can get money about 400-500 hundred thousand baht every year for sure. I can get more then I tell you believe me.”
This was starting to intrigue me. I sent her an email saying that I thought I should see the land and got a fast response:
“Ok come quick I really scared other people who work sugarcane who have money buy first.”
Going to see her is not the pain in the ass it used to be. There are daily flights on Nok Air from Don Mueang that land about 30 minutes from her village. Since her illness she hasn’t liked to drive long distances, but she gave it a go and drove the 30 kilometers to pick me up about two weeks ago.
The house is pretty much in the same shape as it was in my last report (The Law of Unintended Consequences”) but now there is a ton of furniture, actually 3 sofas and armchairs, stacked in the middle of the living room and entrance hallway. The story is this.
She had bought a big tree which was being seasoned before being made into beds, tables, chairs and cupboards, but they could not make sofas. So about 5 weeks ago when we were in Bangkok she asked if I would buy her some sofas (“sofa” being the Thai word for “sofa” just as the word for “furniture” in Thai is “furniture”. Go figure.)
She told me of this place she knew out in Bang Na, so one morning we hailed a taxi which laboriously drove all way down Sukhumvit until I was about to scream (but decided instead to fall asleep instead). When we got to the place I realized that it was a plumbing and electrical supply house and I would be very surprised if they sold sofas, which they did not. So there we were in Bang-na by the highway with nowhere to go and not an idea of what to do next. So of course, this being Thailand, we decided to eat. While we were feeding ourselves I used the combination of this century’s 2 modern miracles, the smart phone and Google, to find that there was an Ikea not five minutes from where we were. My GF was skeptical a) never having heard of Ikea and b) upon being told by me that it was European. Not having a better idea she agreed to humor me and off we went.
I’ve been to Ikeas all over the world and I can think of no better place to furnish an upcountry house than there. My GF took all of about 30 seconds to realize what a gold mine this place was and three hours later saw us checking out with 5 immense trolleys of sofas, chairs, garden furniture, tables and miscellaneous what not. We trolleyed everything over to the delivery counter and 10 minutes later walked out with a receipt for delivery in two days time to her village 700 kilometers away.
But, there being no windows (nor doors) yet installed in the house, the dirt coming in is phenomenal and rather than getting everything dirty the furniture is stacked in the living room, majorly plastified.
Readers of the last up country submission will recall how we slept in a pup tent in the living room. Now that I have a real shower (rather than a bucket of cold water) and a flush toilet (rather than a squatter one dumps water down to flush) I had asked for 2 more things: a decent pillow and a mirror to shave by (the old house had no mirrors and shaving without one is not the best experience after a cold bucket shower and a dump in a hole). We had bought mirrors at Ikea for every bathroom, and they had been properly installed. And instead of the pup tent (since we still had no beds, the wood still drying out) she had hung netting over half the floor area of one of the downstairs bedrooms and laid out mattresses so at least we had a decent area to roll around in, the pup tent being a bit confining.
Still waiting on the pillow.
After a nice meal of KFC (brought by me, 20 pieces, from Don Mueang) and a decent sleep we set out the next day, my driving, GF in front and mum and dad in the back, to the potential land acquisition. It was everything she said it would be, and we all agreed it was a great piece of land (I, of course, having absolutely no idea what I was looking at). But dad, who’s worked a silkworm farm in the village for the last 40 years, seemed pleased (also pleased because he saw the bottle of Johnnie Black I had brought) and mum, who is the brains of the family, also agreed.
Besides the economics of rubber tree/sugar cane farming I was able to learn from the internet, I also spent some time studying land rights. It seems that, especially in Isaan, the government in the ‘60’s had “given” land to many of the inhabitants. “Given” in the sense that the land was theirs to farm in perpetuity, and could be given to their children, and their children’s children. But, legally, it was not theirs to sell. My GF’s father’s silkworm farm was like that. He received all the profits from the farm on the land, but did not legally own the land. Very often, people would sell the land, and you could buy it, and farm it, but if the government ever wanted it back you were screwed.
My GF and I had a long talk about this, and I told her that she needed to be very careful about the title deed and that I would insist on clean title before forking over any money.
I also told her that while I was giving her the house, the farm was a business investment, and I expected to be paid back over time out of profits, to which she agreed.
I flew to Bangkok the next day, having agreed in principal to buy the land. Two days later this email arrived:
“Today I go check and talk about land already. I do cancel with him because he don't want to go check he want me to go do by myself. Another man has the name on the paper he says he can’t change that. Then I think I have to cancel.”
Bottom line, the land was in another person’s name, I think the man’s grandfather but am not sure, anyway, there was no way to get the title transferred to us.
So the deal was off.
But never fear, a few days later…
“Today I went to see land already it is very nice land too. We like this land. This land is 28 Rai price is 2.7 million. I ask them for 2.3 she will ask her sister because not her land. Her sister land. They are in Ayutaya. They are working and stay there they want to sell because no time to come and take care. Before they just give to somebody for rent.
If we buy we can work this year for rice. This land have the title deed โฉนด Chanote easy to buy and change name nothing problem. For the last land we look they just have paper from reform agriculture office you can sell too but maybe have problem after and if government check later can have problem also because it is public land. They give people in provinces who don't have land. You can't sell to other people but you can give to your children for working and can sell to your family only. Some body said maybe the government will change later but I not sure I scared after we buy in 4-5 years have problem then we get nothing. If you have problem with somebody who sell land to you or their children come to take land back then we have problem and go to court maybe you and the people who sell land get nothing because government take back to be conserved forest.
Whatever my mom and my dad we like this land can you buy for me ok. This land if they sell they want money paid one time and they will take me to change name do everything for finish. Oh for last month this land also now have some lady who get marry foreigner want to come to buy this land . The owner asked for 2.5 million but they can't buy yet. They tell lady who take care this land wait for her don't sell yet they will come back in Mar or Apr. also I hear many people say that.
I want can you help me please.”
So that’s where we are. The first properly cost about 60,000 baht/rai and this new property, assuming we get it for 2.3m will be about 80,000 baht/rai. But this one has clean title and the first one did not. Also, I am still hoping to get them down to 2m baht which would be about 70,000 baht/rai.
I told my GF that my top price was 2 million to which she said her family would sell all their gold to make up the difference.
Curiously, I just did a job and was paid today $85000 which is virtually exactly the price of the land.
Easy come, easy go.
That is a very good point you raise here about land that has been gifted which is sometimes referred to as "customary title". I don't doubt that a good few foreigners have "bought" such land for their girlfriend / wife not realising that she could not really buy it in the first place!