To Buy Or Not To Buy
This story is a recount and rambling of many issues I have seen mentioned on this site as well as news stories in Thailand regarding issues with the buying of land, homes or business property. In the stories I read and from questions asked of Sunbelt Legal in Stickman's weekly column, there appears little hope. Many of these issues I found can affect Thai people as well as a foreigner when dealing with the government over fraud issues when buying property.
I have read many articles on the government coming in and telling people the land titles and the land they live or have a business on belongs to the government and they have 30 days to get off the land. These sections of land appeared to the buyer to have all the required paperwork, the buyers may have used lawyers, proper land title office and paid for all the proper paperwork. But in the end, it was found that the land offices, the lawyers involved and the seller of the land may have all been involved in selling off government land in some cases decades ago. The only one who seems to be held accountable however is the person in the end who bought the land in good faith. They have the land taken away.
In these cases, it appears that no follow up investigation or action is done against anyone in the government who aided in this fraud. At most a person is transferred from one land office to another. In most cases large tracts of land was transfer to someone in power, who divided the land and resold it. In the end the land goes back to the government and years down the road the process can repeat itself. So even if you think you did it all right, they can come take the land away 10 / 20 / 30 years later even.
I saw a recent story where the foreign investor in a property / business had done everything right so it would seem. He held the paper to the property in a safe. He had used the proper land office and paper work requiring his approval to sell the property. But was surprised to find that the ten million baht investment had been sold by his wife for reportedly 500,000 baht to local mafia people. There was some inference that the wife had been forced to transfer the land. When the victim filed a complaint, it was found that his wife had forged his name to the paper work and a lawyer's office had notarized and verified the signature for the transaction to transfer the property.
The law office admitted to the notarizing and verification of the signature without the actual person being there, but said this is commonly done and that they can not be held accountable for this. So the law office admits to being part of the fraud but oh well, not my problem. All an act that would have them dis-barred in another country and held legally responsible for the fraud.
The court then decided the buyer who bought the property and believed to be part of this conspiracy to buy the property for 1/20 of value is not responsible. The fact is that the paperwork was a fraud. That the transfer required the investors' approval made little difference to the court. All this only goes to show you that you have little to no protection and the fees charged in the process for terms like lawyers, title protection, title deeds, do not come close to meaning what they mean in other countries.
In several question emails to Stickman's over the years, I asked about the form a foreigner must sign when buying a home. I asked about if the wife could sign a paper in the US saying property in Thailand would be hers, but property of equal value in US would be yours. The answer always seems to be to the benefit of the foreigner and little understanding of how other courts may look at the issue. The hinge seems to be that you, the foreigner, could be in legal trouble in Thailand for falsely signing the form claiming the money was the wife's prior to marriage money.
This is where the who process seems to be laughable. You repeatedly see stories of people going to the land office to sign this paperwork. The wife in many cases will tell the land office that the money is coming from her husband. The land office then explains to her that no she must claim the money was hers prior to marriage. A clear fact that can be disproved and is known to the office processing the paperwork. The funds are being transferred from the foreign country, so how did the wife get Thai money out of Thailand to transfer back in. Yet they all participate in the violation of Thai law. But the only one who seems threatened by this is the foreigner. The whole process is designed to enable this fraud and protect the Thai citizen.
So what about signing paperwork at the same time in the US granting equal value for the funds in case of divorce? The law office claim was that the Thai would be entitled to the property in Thailand and half of the US property in the Thai court. They prefer not to address the US courts. They again say that if you claim any value of the Thai property you would be in violation of the law for signing the forms. But so would the wife as she signs the same form.
To me, I see this different. In a US court, I think you could simply show that the paper work signed in Thailand was a clear fraud intended to protect the interest of the Thai citizens and that this act is supported by government employees. That if an agreement was signed by both parties in the US it would be valid in the US. The objection that the document signed in Thailand was a fraud, would have been an act by BOTH parties, but that the only one to gain anything by the fraud was the Thai resident. Since at this point you are dividing assets in the US, I think US law would be in your interest. Of course anything in Thailand would go to the Thai resident.
Could the wife then file a complaint against you in Thailand? She could, but then she would be admitting to the fraud herself and risk that the land office could take the land away from her. The foreigner would only be held accountable if he returned to Thailand. She could be held accountable by the land office if someone in the Land office decided to take the land from her. As I said in the beginning, these issues can affect Thai citizens as well as foreign residents.
So will I be buying property in Thailand? Most likely yes. My wife works in the US and is saving the funds to buy the property. So for me signing will not be an issue as it is truly money she earned and the home will go to her children. My part will be assuring that her deed is protected as much as possible as she does not understand the level of fraud that her own society may do to her. The house in the US is in my name and will provide additional resources for my/our retirement. My retirement is set up for monthly payments, so the longer I live the longer the funds continue.
P.S. My wife tells me to stop reading all these stories as she says for every bad story there are thousands of people who buy property without issues. Plus among all our friends in US and Thailand none have had any issues with the properties they buy. She says the negative people are the ones on line complaining.
The good wife's husband.
This seems like a good time to roll out the old chestnut – don't invest any more money in Thailand than you are prepared to walk away from.
You're right, there have been some high-profile cases where there was fraud (usually by the Thai wife, forging her husband's signature) and property was sold when the person selling it had no legal right to do so. Remarkably, the property was "gone" and could not be recovered!
In the case of those who built on land classified for a specific use – that is land on which a dwelling should never have been built in the first place – a quick search at the Land Office would have established that. I suspect in these cases the authorities were not consulted OR the foreigner was given bad advice by their girlfriend or wife!
I have always thought of buying land in Thailand as buying that land for someone else. Buying a condo whilst married in Thailand is straightforward, but do consider that relationships can go bad and if they do things can get ugly. Buying a condo as a single guy in Thailand is not difficult and so long as you put it in your own name and don't circumvent the law by putting it in a company's name you should be fine. It should be noted that plenty of foreigners have done very well purchasing condo(s) in Thailand.