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by Heiner Moessing

In 1972 there was a German TV series called "Once in a lifetime". It was a story about a family building their first home and how everything that could go wrong, did. Even though the family built part of the house themselves costs went through the roof whilst water leaked down from it! There was also water in the basement yet nothing coming out of the taps. During the series the family were shown to be at their wits end and only moments away from a collective nervous breakdown. This scenario is not only one that could happen in Germany it might also happen right here in Thailand. However if you are careful and take advice you could enjoy many happy years in your new home.

Most buyers purchase their homes in what is locally known as a "Moo Ban" or in English, a “village”. These villages usually comprise two, three or maybe more different house types but there is little or no option to customise. The main advantage is that you pretty much know what you are going to get. The disadvantage is that you have a limited choice of materials and layouts to choose from and have to take what is available. There are differences in quality and pricing, from 1.5million for a "townhouse" to 40+ million for a more luxurious villa.

If you are looking for a nice piece of land on which to build your own house it gets more complicated but you can then get exactly what you want and what suits you best once it is completed. However, you should first take a look at the neighborhood, check water and electric supplies, proximity of available grocery shopping and of course see what the traffic is like? One Rai (1,600 sqm) for one million baht can become quite expensive when the electricity connection is nearly a kilometer away and remember the location of your home may well determine its resell opportunities later.

Here are some Rules of thumb (that aren't always correct!):

The closer to the beach the more expensive – a luxury villa for 20+ million Baht 20km outside of Pattaya receives less buyer interest than a much smaller house which is in the vicinity of the beach. Inside a village the land plot is smaller, the house may also not be customised but; you can travel abroad and upon returning home expect a well trimmed garden and maintained pool along with the knowledge that a security service has kept a watchful eye on your property while you were away. This gives current and future home owners a certain sense of security.

Or if you find a land plot you then have to decide who will build your house? These days there are as many construction companies and contractors as 7-elevens. Not all are reliable, but most better than you think. We have to remind ourselves that the construction workers have not always gone through the kind of training or education of their western counterparts. A European master marble layer might have a luxurious bath at home whilst construction workers in Thailand live in worker camps. That considered the building quality is actually surprisingly good!

If one speaks too little Thai and/or doesn't know anything about construction, the contract should be passed on to a professional builder. Of course, the cheapest is not always the best. Maths is hard, builders often miscalculate. The result: you end up paying more , or the builder and his crew just disappear. As you always have to pay upfront, the money is then gone and the construction delayed. Or, as happened to a friend, too little iron was used during the pool construction and now he has to tear it all down and build again - but the quotation was 20% lower than the one from my recommended construction company... !

Keep in mind, that consumer protection in Thailand is weak and a signed contract can often be ignored by the other party. Security deposits and bank guarantees are uncommon, a guarantee is not standard and lawsuits are long and tedious. Who you choose as a contractor is much more important in Thailand than in the West. This choice must be carefully scrutinised and considered beforehand. You should visit reference projects, get customer reviews and ask your real estate agent for advise. Foreign companies are more expensive, not always better but at least the communication is easier. Whether Thai or Farang, the companies recommended by me I can guarantee - firstly that the construction will be completed and give a warranty of one year afterwards.

It is important that the contract contains these details:

What kind of house is being built (with floor plan as an annex) ?

What is included in the price (kitchen, air conditioners, built-in cabinets etc)?

When will the house be finished?

What is the budget for tiles, sinks, toilets, windows, etc.?

The latter is important as clients often change their minds during the construction phase. For example, the client suddenly chooses an expensive tile or want to upgrade to granite with gold trimming. Now everything has to be recalculated. If a "standard" was defined in the contract there would be no dispute.

With a good construction company a 10 % final payment after completion can be agreed upon. Cheating the constructor about the final payment (as many people try to do in Germany for example) can be stressful and dangerous and I strongly advise against it. Better get a settlement both parties can agree upon, a remember "compromise" is part of Thai culture, even when you are "right", a confrontation should be avoided.

Next month Part 2 of “Once in a Lifetime” will deal with the design of the house considering that we are in the tropics and far away from the polar circle