There is a reason for my minimal blog output over the past few weeks: I have been looking for a house to purchase.
Having sold the current Spike Mansions, it was necessary to obtain alternative accommodation; otherwise she who must be obeyed would have to live in a tent on the beach and there were apparently some problems with that arrangement (“where would I keep my shoes?”).
So, we dived into the housing market. It should have been easy. The Pattaya property market is in a slump; not that you would know by looking at the massive towers of tiny boxes being thrown up on every spare piece of land. If every condo being built is occupied, the city will be gridlocked and the sewage system will be overwhelmed by a massive stream of shit. Which reminds me of some of the property agents; but more about them later.
But while new properties are being added to the market on a daily basis, the volume of second-hand unsold property has been growing exponentially over the past few years; particularly houses. There are thousands of houses, some of which have been hopefully waiting for a buyer since Justin Bieber was in nappies. As a prospective buyer, you are spoiled for choice; although you soon discover that much of the choice has been on sale for years for a very good reason.
There are two ways of finding a property. You can get in your car and drive around, blag your way into a “secure” village (my wife is very good at sweet-talking us past the guards), and then drive around looking for “For Sale” signs. The easier way is to get on the internet and see what the estate agents are listing.
Estate Agents in Pattaya have been growing in number along with the property market. There appear to be three main types:
1. The suspicious looking characters that man stands in shopping malls, hawking a selection of new projects in the hope of sales commission. You can be assured that few of them have a work permit, even fewer know anything about what they are pimping beyond the glossy brochures they have been given, and that none of them will be around to help you once you discover that the wonderful condo you bought has kitchen units made out of cardboard, rather than the granite and exotic hardwood displayed in the show unit and brochures.
2. An assorted mishmash of agencies working out of offices and homes who attempt to maintain current listings on the internet. Properties are weakly and generically described, and the chance of any particular choice being actually available at the price advertised is about 10%.
3. Established companies with useable websites and with staff who actually take an interest in providing a service. There do not seem to be very many of these.
The problems with the real estate industry in Pattaya are partially as a result of volume of the market, and partially caused by the agents. There are thousands of properties for sale, so maintaining a current database, whilst at the same time dragging potential purchasers to view many properties; must make for a trying day. Things would be easier if the agents only worked on an exclusive basis, but they don’t. In fact you are encouraged to list your property with as many agencies as possible. This means that your million baht condo box may be sitting with fifteen agencies. Each agency will transport unlikely punters for a viewing; knowing that fourteen other agencies are doing exactly the same; and anyway punter Joe seems more interested in making a hot date with the condo receptionist than purchasing a unit.
Then there is the issue of commission. It’s 5%. On everything; whether the sale is for one million baht or twenty million baht. This is nuts, given that the process for selling anything is the same, irrespective of value:
1. Inspect the property (this doesn’t always happen).
2. List the property on the internet (varying levels of description and accuracy).
4. Show people the property whilst making wild claims as to its suitability and extremely low price.
Every so often the stars will align and the agent will make a sale. Sell for 1 million baht; collect 50,000 baht commission. Sell for twenty million baht, collect a million.
pure luck my uncanny ability to invest at the right time, Spike Mansions had increased in value quite nicely over the years, and was being advertised for a substantial sum. If an agent sold it they would receive a huge commission. This rankled somewhat, so I was rather pleased to sell directly to my neighbour and what would have been commission ended up in my Leica acquisition fund buy something nice for my wife fund.
When it came to buying; I purchased via an agent; but only after we had viewed the equivalent of a small town’s worth of houses around Pattaya. It was an interesting experience.
There are many stand-alone houses. If you are a Thai family living a simple life; this is probably an OK option. But once a farang buys such a property, then it will be assumed that the house is fully stocked with tasty items such as iPhones, iPads and cabinets full of camera gear (this is merely an example); and armed assaults will be made on the property on a nightly basis. In response, the farang will bar his windows, erect electrified fences, guard towers, machine gun nests; and have several barking dogs with big teeth to patrol his grounds and defecate over the well-tended lawns. I have lived like this before in Kuala Lumpur (although my guard dog was a dachshund and he was useless) and have no desire to do so again; so we were looking for estates with reasonable levels of security in place.
The best estates have guards on the gate who want to know why you are there and will take away your driving licence before allowing you to enter. Below that in the security stakes are the estates with guards who just wave you in. Then there are the estates with guard boxes but no guards, which are on a par with those that offer no security at all. Once you gained entry to the estate, the condition often mirrored the level of security. There were estates with well-tended roads with plants and flowers, and houses in good condition and obviously cared for. Then there were places with broken roads, no lights and houses which looked like they were probably inhabited by crack smoking squatters. The “For Sale” signs were weathered with age and there seemed no likelihood that they would ever be taken down. It was amusing to select the occasional property and suggest to my wife that, with a little love and a lot of expenditure, we could make it look good; such that we could invite our crack whore neighbour round for a barbeque.
Pricing was wildly optimistic in some cases, and there were often massive differences in pricing for what was essentially the same property. The default response on learning of a price was “you must be fucking joking”, but she who must be obeyed would not let me say it out loud. Highest on the ludicrous pricing scale were the new houses which offered much less for far more than pre-owned (check my estate agent speak!) properties. Still, they seemed to be selling. presumably to those who wanted something new and who wanted to play the “will this estate be populated by crack whores in five years” lottery.
Anyway, in the end we found somewhere that worked for us and hopefully we will get the keys soon. It better work; because of course now we have re-joined the depressed market where every purchase is the equivalent of a lobster pot (you can get in, but you will never get out again).
Along the way I have worked with a couple of property agents who I think are worthy of a mention.
Town and Country, who listed Spike Mansions promptly and also took me round many properties to view. It was their recommendation that led me to the house I finally purchased.
East Coast Real Estate. I bought Spike Mansions from them thirteen years ago, and when it came time to sell it they produced such a wonderful description that it made me want to to buy it, even though I already owned it. They also transported me around several potential properties. I have kept in contact with the owner since my original purchase and he has always been a source of no-bullshit advice on the property market.
Also worthy of a mention, although not from a positive standpoint, is Alan Bolton Property Consultants. We were passing their office and I called in and asked if they would be interested in listing Spike Mansions. They were; but “could not send anyone out at the moment”. They would call me in two days time to make an appointment. They didn’t. I went back into their office and asked if they had any intention of coming to view my palatial pile. They were; but “could not send anyone out at the moment”. They would call me back within the week. Eventually they came and made a listing which contained zero descriptive information. It was quite pleasing to contact them a few days after they had finally listed the property to tell them it was sold.
The most surreal experience was with Jump Real Estate who listed a property in the village we were interested in. There were a few photos that confirmed that it was not a property we had seen before, and it had a swimming pool. We made the trip, met the agent and headed for the house. We arrived at the door, and we were sure it was one we had inspected the previous week, and it definitely did not have a pool in the garden at that time. What was going on? A quick inspection confirmed that there was still no pool and in fact none of the photos on the listing corresponded to the house we were being shown (which we had already discounted as being unsuitable). A wasted trip for which I should have received an apologetic email from Jump Real Estate; but of course I never heard from them again.
Given the massive choice, choosing a house has been a much more stressful and difficult process than I imagined. I am glad it is over; but now we start on the equally stressful process of planning the move (Spike Mansions is full of furniture, the new place is full of furniture. Anyone want to buy some furniture?) and planning some upgrades to the house we would like to make before we move in (I have always wanted a sala, with a hammock). Expect fewer photos and a load more bitching at local services.