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Paul R – Where to Start?

from Paul RReally enjoy your site. Seems to be the only one of a kind.

We have a 1,200m2 site in Bang Pra (Chonburi) near the golf course where we are planning to build a 250m2 high quality home – hopefully starting in the next 2 months or so.

I have been in managerial positions in construction and property development in Africa, Europe and Australia for over 20 years. However I have no knowledge of the construction methods and details and codes of practice used in Thailand (some of which seem quite strange to me!). As you suggest it is my intention to purchase the materials and employ a contractor on a “labour-only” basis.

Currently we spend half our time in Europe (my property development company here earns the cash for the house there!) with the remainder in Thailand but obviously once we start I will have to spend more time there.

My problem? Well I have so many questions that basically I don’t know where to start! I have had the basic layout and concept put together by an architect here in Europe with the intention to have the plans and details “localised” there.

We are returning again to Thailand on the 10th April. A few pointers as to where I should look for an architect and a builder would really be appreciated.

Thanking you in anticipation for any advice that you can give us.

editor: Yes, indeed that is the trick — finding reasonable builders, architects, lawyers, etc. Before I used to think it was just a scale of good or bad, but this year I’ve happened to brush up against a number of clearly dishonest professionals. Suffice it to say, the reason is fairly obvious, you have a hugely successful ‘building machine’ going on here in the greater Chonburi area – which obviously attracts the cons, scammers etc.

I will do a post on my recent adventures with a bad lawyer at another juncture, but let me summarize it here. The Thai lawyer I am accustomed to using from time to time was out of town and I needed a bit of research done on an upcoming land purchase. I went to a ‘paralegal’ outfit I had used before, they said they weren’t competent to answer/research the questions and so referred me to a lawyer in Pattaya. When asked how much (of the new lawyers), they said ‘not expensive’. They then went behind my back to the land office, met with the one of the senior officials, and tried to strong arm me into paying 300,000 bhat or they claimed the deal couldn’t go forward. In any event it was all pretty much hot air, but the land papers at the land office did go missing for a week which delayed the processing of the transaction. I hadn’t paid any money so basically escaped unscathed, but they are still there, waiting for the next ‘fish’.

I point this out because it is a perfect example of what to avoid. Any professional office where there really aren’t that many clients coming and going, everything is ‘not expensive’, and at the same time there is some kind of plot going on to do something underhanded. OK, the exception and not the rule, but there are a lot of these ‘fat guy only’ shops (or big fish only) around – and even I can’t easily tell the difference.

Then there is another level, which is the expensive farang priced — but good, going across a range of professions, builders, accountants, lawyers, architects etc. And of course there are the farang professional one stop stops in which in my opinion is normally not the way to go here.

So, what can be done? First off, I would recommend allowing plenty of time to secure quality professionals. If language is any kind of barrier, get a translator – as this will be more cost effective in the long run than just gravitating towards the English speakers. Then go around and start looking at various construction projects. Find out who the architect was. Go talk to the architect. Also, get references. Going through this site and getting a visual picture of how construction is done overseas vs. how it is done here will give you some good questions to ask of builders. Talk to plenty of farang customers, but you’ll want to deal with Thai business people.

The first step is the choice of architect. You want to make sure you’re going to get a detailed plan done. You’ll know what you’re looking for with your experience. Just look at a typical building plan and you’ll be able to see what is missing: for example the standard plan doesn’t include electrical. The architect can supplement the design documents as you require.

Builders aren’t hesitant to do a fixed price ‘sub-contract’ labor only bid. They like it since their risk exposure is reduced to more easily computed labor cost. You will have no problem finding a few contractors to put in a bid. I recommend getting at least four. You’ll be surprised at the variations in price, they can vary by as much as 100%, making it well worth it to get several bids.

Also, the smaller building supply stores can be a good source of references. You might start by visiting a few supply stores and telling them what you’re doing and asking for some references.

One final caution, the two times I would consider I’ve been ‘burned’ or ‘semi burned’ (as in the bad lawyer above) it was due to me trying to find someone in a hurry and getting an inadequately researched referral. Seasoned, well checked out referrals, always seem to work out pretty well.

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