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Property in Thailand is of growing interest to foreigners seeking love

 

Friday 29th January 2016 8:02pm

Foreigners seduced not just by Thai women but Thailand's off the wall property prices

Thailand has achieved stability since the 2014 coup and many foreigners who flock to the exotic location to find love also find property in Thailand an attractive proposition.

In at a time when migration is front page news, the quiet migration of Thai women to foreign countries and the very much overlooked trend of foreigners migrating to Thailand is swept under the radar. For western men the seductive climate and beautiful Thai women makes Thailand a hot spot but many are also tempted by Thailand's off the wall property prices. At present in Thailand there is an artificial market driven by limitations on foreign ownership. Like many things about Thailand, it is a unique situation.

Thailand - stable property market with low prices

In 2014 after months of political turmoil General Prachaya Chan ocha staged a bloodless coup following a summit of political leaders in Bangkok. In the intervening period Thailand has returned to normalcy and stability. In fact, prices for condominiums in Bangkok have increased by 14% in the year to the end of 2014. 'Property prices in Thailand are very attractive for foreigners who come to Thailand for the first time. On average prices in Thailand are a quarter to a fifth of prices in developed countries for instance property prices even in Bangkok are still only 25% of the average price in Singapore,' says James Morris an international commentator based in Bangkok.

Playground for younger and older western men

As well as being a magnet for foreign western men seeking love partners and relationships, Thailand has also become an international playground for younger foreign men seeking a get away from the stress and pressure of life in developed economies and older men seeking retirement in what has come to be known as the land of smiles.

Dating online means more visitors to Thailand

A TLL/ThaiLoveLInes survey into men from foreign countries seeking Thai wives or partners showed that over 80% of surveyed participants at some stage visited Thailand in their search for love. 'It is certainly a sine qua non for anyone seeking a Thai partner to visit Thailand, experience the culture and meet people in person, anything else is rather foolhardy and dangerous,' says Carla Boonkong who writes about Thai foreigner relationships extensively.

Tourism in Thailand rebounds after 2014 coup

The political turmoil in Thailand certainly has at time impacted the country's very successful and still burgeoning tourism industry. However it is important for foreigners to note that despite the political turmoil which has now effectively disappeared after the 2014 coup that Thailand's economy and economic growth even during the height of these disturbances continued to grow at 2.9 % in 2013 and 2.5 % in 2014. In December 2015, the Thai Tourism minister surprised many observers by announcing that 2015 was Thailand's best year ever for tourism with over 30 million visitors. 'Thailand is a very successful Asian country with an awful lot going for it,' says James Morris, an international commentator who writes for foreign publications in Bangkok. 'If you look at Thailand's history in the last 50 or 60 years, you can see that despite political instability, the country has more or less been very stable and has developed quite well in the context of other Asian counterparts.'

Love, marriage and property

One of the key questions facing many foreigners or westerners when they meet an eligible Thai love partner is where to live or whether to buy a property in Thailand. Even western men who come to Thailand to find a Thai partner to bring home will consider these options at some stage,' says Carla Boonkong. 'You can never really take a Thai woman from Thailand. The culture and tradition is so strong that eventually the Thai woman will return to Thailand and in many cases with the foreigner accompanying her. I have seen some exceptions to this but it is not as common,' says Carla Boonkong. Indeed M/s Boonkong points out that it is also something that foreigners visiting Thailand should be aware of. 'You will often see foreigners when they visit Thailand become quite impressed at the property prices compared to western countries. I have seen many instances where this facet alone has become a trigger for the western man to decide to base himself in Thailand whether permanently or on a part time basis. In fact, the numbers for western foreigners living in Thailand cannot be confirmed but it is estimated that there are up to 1 million foreigners living in Thailand at any time although some commentators suggest that the figure could be as low as 500,000. The ongoing relationships between westerners and Thailand and Thai women has thrown up some remarkable new trends.

Young European men with 2nd Thai homes

There are now many westerner particularly from Europe who have purchased second homes especially condominiums in the country. This is especially true for the Bangkok area where property prices are a pretty good bet. 'Bangkok is simply very convenient and has the facilities. Property prices are growing steadily in the city and lately in surrounding areas of the Bangkok metropolis,' says James Morris. This trend is specifically applies to younger high earning European men, many from Scandinavian countries who have now begun to live part of the year in Thailand and in Bangkok. 'While the stereotype of the retired expat living in Hua Hin and Pattaya is still true, this is a new trend among younger more affluent and active foreigners. I have two or three friends like this and in nearly all cases they have paid for the properties in cash without recourse to bank loans.'

Finance and loans for property in Thailand

In general it is not possible for foreigners to secure bank funding or mortgages for property purchases in Thailand although in the last decade this has begun to change. The financial situations where this has changed really involves foreign men purchasing properties in the names of their Thai spouses and where the level of equity being invested by the foreigner, often in expensive properties, is large enough to secure the bank's' position. 'Like everything to do with such deals, it's down to finding the right bank manager but in the last four or five years, there has been a significant amount of lending in relation to property in Thailand and many banks now recognise foreigners as a key growth market,' says James Morris. 'However I would stress that it is very difficult for a foreigner so secure funding in his or her own name and most of these purchases involve buying property in the name of the foreigner's Thai partner.'

Environment for foreigners purchasing property in Thailand

John Taft is a Newcastle man originally but who has lived in Thailand for nearly 40 years. He owns a substantial engineering facility in the country and has been well established since 1978. However Mr. Taft divorced his Thai wife in 2010 after 25 years of marriage of marriage and he has the following advice for foreigners thinking of investing in Thailand.

'I have lived in Thailand now for forty years, I love this country but I tell every lad I meet not to ever think of Thailand as home. I make it a point myself to get back to the UK once or twice a year to keep my bearings. When I came here first in 1978 I spent nine to twelve months looking around and doing my homework before I set up here. I think that was time well spent. Over the last forty years I have bought a few properties but I have always only purchased what I needed. I think any foreigner coming to Thailand engaging in speculation is only asking for trouble myself,' he said. Mr. Taft now owns two homes in Thailand as well as his extensive business premises and a holiday resort which he recently ceded to his former Thai wife as part of the divorce settlement.

Restrictions mean Thai property market is artificial

One of the reasons for the attractive nature of property prices in Thailand is that the market is restricted. There are stringent regulations prohibiting foreigners from owning land and property in Thailand. The foreign ownership laws in Thailand are politically very popular with Thai people and indeed it is hard to argue with the need for such laws and restrictions.

UK man in favour of foreign ownership restrictions on Thai property

'I have many acquaintances and friends, UK men like myself who seethe at the unfairness of the foreign ownership laws in Thailand but the fact that property prices are held down or kept lower is the main reason why the Thai economy can get along or even why the pace of life in Thailand is not as hectic as in western developed economies. It's hard to argue with, isn't it, that given the interest in Thailand with foreigners all mad to stop here that if the foreign ownership was lifted, the result in putting property prices up across Thailand beyond the reach of the normal Thai person would be damaging for everyone.'

Corruption in Thailand and xenophobia

Many foreigners or westerners visiting Thailand are often shocked that the country has a two tier pricing policy for most thing. Indeed a recent controversy in Thailand involved the admission to public parks in the country where official government advice is that foreigners should pay twice as much as Thai nationals.

One recent news story in Thailand involved a foreigner or farang, as foreigners are known in Thailand, who had been charged double the entrance fee to a National park. The man on duty perceived the visitor as a foreigner despite the fact that he was a Thai resident and produced a Thai national ID card. The gatekeeper insisted on the larger admission fee. It transpired subsequently that although the man looked Thai, he was in fact an American citizen and the gatekeeper was vindicated.

This story provoked a storm of protest from expats or foreigners living in Thailand but for all the foreigners who object to this, there is a sizeable number who understand the nature of Thai culture and society. 'Yes Thailand is rather xenophobic,' says James Morris. 'You have to understand that Thailand is such a close knit society, it's almost like an extended family, therefore there is this ingrained attitude. In a variety of ways you would have to say, even apart from the image of Thai women in western countries, that Thailand is very much a politically incorrect place. To speak the truth, this is why I like it so very much,' he says only half jokingly.

Corruption in Thailand - is it so bad?

In a recent worldwide survey on corruption Thailand ranked 64th out 192 countries. Again to many expat cynics living in Thailand this did not reflect the perceived extent of corruption in the country which is admitted openly by all political entities.

The new Thai government under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan Ocha has promised to combat corruption in Thailand which is endemic in many areas but again it has to be understood in a Thai context. 'I've lived here 40n years and I've done a lot of good business here, I'm honest and I have a very realistic attitude. I find Thailand is a place where I like to do business more than other countries. There is corruption but it is not, in my experience, as sinister as other countries,' says John Taft. John's company employs 60 people in Thailand and generates strong export earnings for the Thai economy. While his experience has been a positive one, there are countless horror stories of corruption in Thailand involving foreigners and property.

An Irish man recently protested outside the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok at losing an extensive property portfolio in Phuket through the actions of his estranged Thai wife who had become embroiled in gambling debts. 'If you were to read all the stories and there are many that are not just true but involve not just loss of property but murder, I think any deep thinking foreigner would not set foot in Thailand again. But this has not been my experience of Thai people but then again this is because I expect good things to happen or maybe it's because of the company I keep,' says James Morris.

A UK man in an article for the ThaiLoveLines News Centre in 2012 recounted his story of two different relationships in Thailand with two different Thai women. The first ended in disaster with the loss of property, the second resulted in a blissful relationship with a sincere and trustworthy woman. In the UK man's situation, he was fortunate to be able to try again but many foreigners who become involved in property transactions in Thailand particularly through relationships are not so lucky.

Purchasing property in Thailand

'If I was advising anyone interested in buying property in Thailand I would insist that the person employs a reputable legal adviser and also a reputable property agent. The extra fees associated with the transaction are well worth it given the number of pitfalls that are open for any unsuspecting foreigners purchasing property in Thailand,' says the Bangkok commentator.

Key advice for foreigners settling in Thailand

To many western men and foreigner Thailand appears to be an exotic location where prices are cheap and there is a certain thrill and excitement about dealing with many of the dangers and challenges posed by the problems associated with the country. 'I am personally mortified to see many UK and Australian men , and I have a connection with both countries and living in Thailand who are regular visitors and who have a disdainful attitude towards Thailand and kits laws. I think that this a fatal attitude. Thailand has some of the most sophisticated laws in the world dealing with property and marriage. This may come as shock to many people but these laws are generally well administered. The key thing to be aware of is the complex nature of the laws and the key and extensive differences between jurisprudence in Thailand and the law in English speaking countries. This is why kit is extremely advisable for any westerner gto puts themselves in the hands of a reputable legals expert.'

Mr Morris points out that this raises another challenge or problem for foreigners doing business or engaging in relationships in Thailand. Thai law is in Thai language which is again culturally quite different to English. Western men who make assumptions based on western legal thought and accepted wisdom can be quite vulnerable.

Solid relationship with Thai lawyers for nearly thirty years

John Taft: 'Since I came to Thailand in 1978, I have dealt with the same family of Thai lawyers and have built up quite a good relationship. I do not trust anyone completely but they have earned my respect and I have learned theirs.; And this is how it should be approached. I will never call Thailand my home, I love living in Thailand but I am an English menu a Geordie at heart and so it will always be, I think that Thai people rather like this. I respect that this is their country and I am simply a visitors, I might be a very welcome visitor and I might be a very useful visitor but I am just a long term visitor.'

James Morris agrees: 'Yes I would agree with that, Thailand very much values it sovereignty and the Thai people vene at the lowest level and more so at this level, the people value their culture and identity. It is an irony that many of the expats living in Thailand who rail at the pretty injustice of many of the provisions of Thai law are here for the benefits that such provision to the Thai population as a whole. I would agree that respect is the key and respect is a two way street.'

Can foreigners own property in Thailand

A 2015 ThaiLoveLines survey of Thai dating members who are expats or who have a relationship with Thailand showed that 28% of those involved in Thai dating had a residence in the country and over 50% of these arrangements involved ownership of property while 45% were in rented accommodation. Under present regulations foreigners can own condominiums in Thailand provided that the number of condominiums in any development does not exceed 49%. There a number of other legal arrangements that are used by foreigners to own or have the use of property in Thailand and these area:

  • Long term lease on a property: In the TLL survey 17% of those surveyed owned their property through a long term lease. This is the maximum lease allowable under Thai law is 30n years but there is provision for an automatic renewal of the leasehold after 30 years. However the workings and terms of this renewal need to be examined in addition to the fact that there may be many changes in the law over the 30 year period. It is not uncommon for Thai governments to change foreign ownership rules and regulations and not all these changes are to liberal ones to the advantage of the foreigner.; KIt would be true to say that foreign ownership of property is very much a political football and is an issue that concerns many Thai voters.
  • Rental property: 45% of those involved in the ThaiLoveLines survey simply rented accommodation in Thailand on a 6 month or 12 month basis and this seems to suit many of those living in Thailand. 'For many expats living in Thailand it is quite easy to find good accommodation more so expats who have regular or secure income and like to move about Thailand at different times. The problem is that this arrangement obviously doesn't provide the same level of security and accommodation may vary from region to region.
  • Owning property through exploits: It is possible according to legal experts for foreigners to own property in Thailand however such arrangements must be approached very cautiously. The legal thinking in Thailand often looks to the intent of any arrangement that is put in place and Thai courts or government regulations or agencies may often upset complex legal mechanisms put in place by well paid lawyers to essentially go against the essence of the laws in Thailand which is that foreigners may not own land in Thailand except in exceptional circumstances. The different legal mechanisms are as follows:
  • Control of a Thai company through nominee shareholders or through arrangements of foreigners with their spouses or family. 'There are many small Thai companies that are controlled by foreigners in Thailand. This is currently being examined by the Thai authorities. In many cases these companies are providing employment but may be at the cutting edge of what is legal and what is not legal. There are recent indications from the Thai government that they make moves to change the way the law operates in relation to the companies effectively prohibiting foreign control through the company's directors. However this has not happened.
  • Purchase of the property by the spouse of a foreign or certain arrangements to this effect. This is the route that has caused a lot of the horror stories over the last twenty years involving foreigners with Thai wives or girlfriends who have been cheated or who have lost property. The laws in Thailand are very strict and essentially insist that the Thai spouse in most cases a Thai woman declare that the money provided for the purchase of the property at the point where the property sale is registered is in fact money that is originally owned by the Thai woman. Even under Thai marriage law which in principle respects the concept of joint ownership of property this principle is explicitly excluded when it comes to land. 'Basically this means that in the event of a dispute the property is solely owned the Thai national or The spouse,' says James Morris. However there are provisions under law where the foreigners or westerner can have the right of habitation or use of enjoyment of the property stipulated upon purchase. In addition to ownership of the structure itself as opposed to the land. These are complex arrangements and can throw up many different situations in the event of a dispute. 'I think many foreigners entering into such arrangements do so on the basis of trust in relation to their Thai wife or spouse and there are many instances where that trust is well founded. Indeed I'll stick my head above the parapet and say that I have seen many men with trusting dispositions who have not had any problems in Thailand and everything has gone quite well but there is a small minority of cases where things have gone pear shaped maybe perhaps because of uncertainty and doubt but really it's just done to people being people.'

Key advice on purchasing land in Thailand

Most advisors suggest that foreigners purchasing land as opposed to condominiums in Thailand exercise extreme caution and employ the services of both legal advisers and property agents. Even if it involves extra fees. 'In many instances I have seen foreigners buy property from friends or family of their spouse and I have seen situations where men have been advised that there is no need to waste money on fees. KIt is often the case that foreigners adopt a carefree approach to these transactions because the purchase price is well below the price of property in western countries and it is an opportunity for them to show respect or trust their Thai wife, spouse or partner. I certainly do appreciate this but it is foolhardy none the less. I have seen situations where foreign men are effectively putting pressure on their Thai wives or girlfriends who may themselves come under pressure from their extended family at some stage in the future when there is a financial crisis or some conflict of interest.

The key things to remember are:

  • This is still a significant transaction often involving a large amount of money saved while working in western countries and it should be appreciated accordingly.
  • Experts should be employed address all the circumstances of each transaction and to anticipate the pitfalls in the future and providing protection and solutions. I would advise any foreigner in this situation to speak with a lawyer or advisor without the Thai wife or spouse present. This might sound cynical but it is proper and ethical. The same sort of approach that western legal professionals adapt when advising any party about legal affairs more especially where property is involved.
  • It is important for foreigners and westerners to remember that if they adopt this approach, they are merely protecting their interests and avoiding a situation that may occur in the future that puts pressure on their Thai love partner or wife to precipitate a crisis. For instance if a financial situation arises within the family.

Morris points out that there are many property and legal transactions in Thailand which could be shown to be illegal and may be challenged in the future under certain and perhaps unpleasant circumstances. 'I have seen so many Thai women that are extremely loyal to their foreign spouses often taking their side in conflicts between their foreign husband and their families but I have also seen the other side of that coin where at the first sign of a problem or crisis, the first thing that the Thai woman or wife may think of is to visit the land registry office with a member of her extended family. That's where the problem starts.'

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Thai proprty prices attract foreigners to Thailand as well as Thai women
Against the background of worldwide migration, foreigners from western countries quietly move to Thailand in search of love and easier living. But Thai property prices are another key attraction.
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