Owning a House in Thailand – A Caveat

Originally posted on January 20, 2011

For some reason many western Expats (mostly men) want to own property in Thailand. This usually means a house with land. The Japanese Expats I run into don’t have these same desires. They seem to be content with renting or buying condos. A friend I know who spent some years in Japan tells me that the condos available here in Thailand are quite a bit larger than most homes in Japan. So our Japanese Expats are usually content with living in what most westerners would consider closet-sized accommodations.

Those content with living in condos have a much easier time though than the land requiring westerners when it comes to purchasing their homes. You see, it is completely legal for a foreigner to own a condominium in Thailand while it is completely illegal for one to own land here.

Of course there are lots of loopholes but I won’t get into that here. (Do a Google search on “Buying land in Thailand” or get the book  How to Buy Land and Build a House in Thailand, paiboonpublishing.com, for more info.)

If you decide to use one of the many loopholes and buy a house in Thailand I have one small piece of advice for you.  Unless you are going to become a farmer here (Don’t laugh, there are lots of Expat farmers in Thailand, mostly in the northeast.) or you are going to live with your wife’s family in her home village (lots of pros and cons with this one) then I am going to suggest you find a nice gated community to settle down in. Buying land on its own, outside of these protected and isolated housing compounds, can be rather eventful, and usually not the fun kind of event.

Here are a few examples of people I actually know who now wish that their house had a nice wall around it with a uniformed guard saluting them as they come through the gates.

Dogs next door

Two friends of ours got married and built their dream house, had two children, a boy and a girl, and settled down to live a perfect life, just like 60s TV’s Leave It to Beaver. NOT!

A few years later the vacant lot next to theirs was purchased by a rich woman. Her sister has quite a kind heart and decided to take in stray street dogs. She began building a kennel on the land next to the Beaver’s family. They had a very efficient design. Lots of individual cages for the dogs, all connected to a drainage ditch so that the kennel can be sprayed down daily and the doggy waste will just wash away.  Unfortunately the waste washes away into a trench in front of the Beaver’s house.

The kind lady is smart enough to live a couple of towns away, away from the noise and the smell or her nineteen stray dogs which have been left to a caretaker to deal with. Now our perfect family in their dream house are all taking anti anxiety medication and using ear plugs at night, especially during the mating season or any time someone walks past the kennel’s front gate. The whole village has protested to the local government, but so far to no effect.

Pigs next door

A man quite active in the local Expat community bought a nice large parcel of land, over 2 rai, and built a house for him, his Thai wife, and son. The wife’s brother wanted a house too and convinced her to sell him half of their 2 rai so that they could also build a family home. The brother convinced her that she didn’t need so much land and that it is good to have family nearby. It is safe and solves the problem of loneliness. But in this case it didn’t work out exactly as planned.

The brother decided that since he now had a nice size plot of land maybe he could turn it into a profit making business and continue living in his old house. This is exactly what he did. His business: Pig farming and processing (the last is a euphemism for slaughterhouse).

Now I like pork as much as the next fellow but living next to pigs, or hogs as my American farmer buddies would say, has a pretty big downside. Have you ever smelled a hog farm? No words can express the experience.

But, if it can be imagined, there is something worse than the smell. Pigs are highly intelligent animals. When they are being made ready for slaughter they seem to know what’s going on. The squeals of the death row porcine inmates are not forgotten easily. There, it is a daily occurrence. And it is definitely not something I would want to live next to.

Welders and recyclers next door

Then there is the story of the man who built his dream house just before his next door neighbor decided to open up a metal fabricating business and welding shop. I wonder how his resale value has been affected. Probably about the same as the above two unfortunates. But maybe a little better than the person unlucky enough to have recyclers open up business right next to him. It is nice to have a mountain view, but maybe not a mountain of waste paper, plastic and metal.

Next door can be lots closer than you think

Although most Expats think that Thailand has no zoning laws, that is not the case. Well, they might as well not have any since they are so rarely enforced. So your next door neighbor, who is supposed to build at least 2 meters from the land boundary might build so close to your house that you will be the beneficiary of all the rain coming off the his roof.

This happened to a western couple I know. They bought their land in the name of a lawyer and had settled down for what was to be a pleasant retirement. That is until someone bought the plot next to their 15 million baht home which contains a swimming pool and a lovely garden. The new neighbors built a large two story house looking right down on our retired couple, and looking down on their swimming pool and lovely garden too. The new owners then promptly put the new never-lived-in house up for sale. Our retired couple has also put their house on the market but no luck selling as yet. I would chose the new house that looks down on theirs first, wouldn’t you?

Owning any house anywhere has its problems. Choosing a house in a compound in Thailand doesn’t eliminate all of them but does make life a lot more predictable. What is even better is if you buy a parcel in a compound and then buy the parcels to the left and to the right to act as a nice buffer. They will be the best land purchases you will ever make.  Good luck.