A Cautionary Tale About Buying Property In Thailand’s Wilds.

There are many things to be wary of when purchasing property in Thailand.

Where the property begins and ends, has it been properly surveyed, who owns the land or the building, who are your neighbors, etc., etc., and etc. ad infinitum.

There are complex legalities to worry about and deal with and, of course, the ubiquitous fees and licenses. Let me relate to you the story of Maurice Lemay, the pseudonym of a friend of mine who is in the midst of a property purchasing adventure. You do know what an adventure is, don’t you? It is the same as hardship, but when it happens to someone else.

Maurice is a very wise man who, like many expats, does not appear wise at first glance. Nevertheless he is quite squared away. He only buys things that will last, he never acts without being well informed and he treats everyone with friendliness but does not lose his wariness. Thus it was with some surprise that I learned his dream home-building project had fallen through. Here’s how it happened.

Chiang MaiMo, as I will call him for humor’s sake, came to Thailand on a retirement visa with the aim of getting himself a nice home, a nice car and maybe even a little lady to cook, clean and perform other wifely activities. Let’s be fair, Thai women are quite fantastic at all of these things and loyal to boot. So upon landing in Thailand he set about looking for land for a long-term lease. He found it up near Chiang Mai, an area known for its natural beauty and growing expat community, and set about the process of making it his own. Within a week he had put a downpayment on the land much lower than he could have in Pattaya or Bangkok, secured a nice little Toyota Corolla and even found two houses to move onto the property!

Mo was beaming with joy and pride. He would soon be the owner of three traditional-style Thai homes. He was not only going to have his dream house but it would be on gorgeous land and he was having the whole thing moved and built for 300 baht a day. It was a lovely time as he planned the construction and supervised the moving of the wood to his newly acquired land. And then the nightmare began.

Hopefully some of you have read the article I posted earlier on how to properly go about buying land in Thailand. Well, in Chiang Mai and other less urban areas, the parts about properly surveyed and documented land are particularly relevant. If only Mo had read it. You see, after the two houses were torn down and the wood was moved to what he thought was his property, Mo was told that the property lines were not clearly surveyed. There was no reliable way to tell where his property began and his neighbor’s ended. This little tidbit was kept from Mo until two houses worth of wood was piled on the land in question and the workers were ready to start construction. Why is that? I have a theory.

wood houseFirst of all, you must understand that in the less developed areas of Thailand many people will have been neighbors for years, decades and maybe even generations. They know each other, they conspire together and many of them see baht signs instead of foreign faces. You cannot blame them. It was foreign investment that turned Pattaya from a cane field into a resort and the only reason the islands have any money at all. These people have been in charge of these lands for longer than they can remember and they are N O T going to give it up, ever. 30 year lease? OK, maybe. But that’s still a lease and they want all they can get and to give nothing up for it.

So, now Mo has this wood on the land and is invested with not only that but a down payment. Now is a good time to spring this news on him. What are his choices, they think. Either he leaves the wood and his down payment and they gain both and get to keep their land or – and this is what I believe the current owner of the adjacent property was thinking – he will feel confidence in his neighbor and feel too invested to pull out and he will build his home anyway. A home that could end up being built for his neighbor.

The story does have a happy ending. As it turns out Mo is not the old fool many people might take him for. Upon hearing the news that the land was not properly delineated he made probably the best possible choice: He did not leave the wood, he did not continue building and he did not sink a ton of money into a real estate lawyer to research and bribe with. He had his wood hauled to storage and began looking at a few nice properties to rent in Chiang Mai instead of building. It is a little sad to see the two stately old Thai homes he had torn down go, and his dream home gone in the process, but at least he wasn’t taken for a ton of money with nothing to show for it.

Be forewarned – buy from reputable real-estate agencies and deal with trustworthy people. And always double check everything you’re told.

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