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Reader finally gets it done his way

originally a comment here: Reader: Construction Cost Estimation and Plans

Very good breakdown of costs. I wish my property in Mae Sai could have been completed for the same money. We decided to employ sub contractors and supply all the materials ourselves. Here are the rough costs I paid for approx. 250 sq m living area/1200 sq m of land:

Land Purchase – 500,000 plus some “taxes” Backfill for the land – 125,000 (Raised land 1m above the road) Walls around land – 60,000 Construction of temporary 2 bed bungalow – 280,000 (Somewhere to live during construction) Basic structure of house – 2,000,000 Wood work to exterior (roof etc) – 120,000 Hand carved hard wood Doors/Windows – 130,000 – A total of 36 windows and 18 doors Electrical – 150,000 British specs and imported fittings Roofing- 180,000 + 60,000 (had to re-work a considerable amount and it is a huge roof) Plumbing/sanitary – 75,000 All American Standard sanitary ware Floor/Wall tiling – 60,000 Internal woodwork – 100,000 All hard wood Ceilings – 65,000 Kitchen – 450,000 (including fitting by Bangkok company, Granite worktops, appliances, marble floor etc.) Landscaped gardens and external tiling, patio, BBQ etc. – 100,000 Decorative ironwork and gates – 30,000 Providing 3 phase power supply – 20,000

In addition to the above there were countless other expenses, which at the end of the day took the grand total to approx. 5,000,000 Baht, or 20,000 per sq m. If I deducted the cost of the temporary bungalow of approx. 90 sq m then the cost would be around 19,000 Baht per meter.

However, I must admit that I insisted on the best quality and it is a very large property. There was also the Thai factor involved – which I rather foolishly forgot about. It is something like this: “Why is my kitchen only 3 meters deep?” “5.5 meters too big for you. Everybody like 3 meters.” “I am not everybody and I want my kitchen 5.5 meters, just like the plans. Knock the wall down and start again.” “Mumble, mumble, OK, we use pre-cast columns for corners.” “No, you will cast the columns and footings exactly like you have everywhere else in the house. And this time make absolutely certain that both the windows are exactly the same height.” Come back two weeks later, pre-cast columns are installed, windows wrong and different heights. Take sledge hammer, knock down and start again. Cost – Lots of money.
Or:
“Do not form the valleys like that. I have shown you before what to do. Please do it MY way.”
“Okay.”
3 Months later, roof leaking. Inspect the works and, sure enough, they have done it the Thai way. Rip half the roof off, re fix properly. Cost – lots and lots of money.
And:
After the bath is installed – “Why is the top of the bath sloping down by 11/2 inches?”
“So the water will run away. Stupid Farang.”
“No, if you look at the inside of the bath you will note that the bottom slopes toward the drain. The top of the bath must be level. Stupid Thai. Also, did you install the trap under the bath?” “Not need trap. Thailand not use.”
Rip out the bath, ruin god knows how many tiles, level the bath in, fit the trap. Cost – lots of money.
“While we are at it, why do we have all these pipe brackets for the soil pipe left over? I thought I only gave you just enough for the pipes that were installed. Do you remember, last time I was here I bought them, marked the positions above the ceiling. I told you to install them BEFORE the downstairs ceiling was installed.”
“Not need. Thailand use wire. More cheap.”
Oh well, there goes another ceiling. Rip it down and install the brackets.
But, the best one:
“Okay, I want all wood skirting and coving. You see this sample of wood? Well I want all the wood this colour – a nice light colour. I do not want anything dark, that is why I have so many windows. And the stairs, they must also be the same colour.”
“Okay, no problem.”
Return after a couple of weeks. The skirting and coving is the perfect colour. The wooden stairs, however, are dark – almost black in comparison. I am not happy. Not happy at all.
“No problem, we will stain the same colour.”
“How will you stain dark wood back to the same as the light wood?”
“No problem, we do.”
Two samples later, there is no way the stairs are going to be the same colour. If anything the sample they have has turned a red colour. “Okay, leave the stairs this colour and varnish them. Now, you see all the hardwood coving and skirting you have installed, and the doors?” I want it all painted white.”
Look of utter incomprehension. “Cannot paint this wood. Too good, very expensive. This wood all hardwood.”
“Paint the wood white please.”
“Cannot.”
“Paint the wood white or you can go home now.”
Next day – “What are you doing?”
“Paint wood white.”
“What about undercoat.”
“Thailand. Not need. Too expensive.”
Purchase undercoat, prepare sample, show them this is much easier. Next day they are applying undercoat with more care than they were the final gloss paint. Not only that, but they were applying two coats of it!

Then there was the walk in closet/dressing room which “disappeared” because they thought a larger upstairs sitting room looked better. Too late for me to stop that one. And the toilets which could not be installed where I wanted them because: “They look at the front gate. Bad luck. Must fit on this wall.”

All in all a very, very frustrating experience but, at the end of the day, very satisfying and I believe worth spending the extra money to get things right. The construction took almost 2 years – mainly because I refused to allow anyone to touch the kitchen until I had time to supervise every single item.
Would I do it again? Yes, if I could sell this house.

My advice to anyone wishing to build – by all means employ sub contractors and supervise it yourself, but a word of warning. Be prepared to be on the site every day from start time to finish time. Even take lunch breaks when the workers do. DO NOT LEAVE THEM UNATTENDED.

editor: Thanks for the very descriptive write up. I had to laugh at the stupid farang comments. How true and frustrating it can be. One moment your contractor is nodding in total agreement, but at the same time he’s thinking ‘stupid farang, we don’t do it that way here’. A lot of times it is just supposedly better to ignore the entire conversation and maybe he (the farang) will forget the entire episode. I do this for a living (thinks the contractor) and he doesn’t.

glad you stayed the course and it worked out in the end. As far as costs, obviously costs vary depending on amenities and construction grade. This gives the readers a really good indication of building costs on the luxury end of the scale. Please send in a picture of the finished house.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Laurence

    I couldnt agree more with your unhappy experiences

    there seems to be a kind of bloody mindedness that develops in some thai male minds, determined to show that they are much more clever than stupid falng, always want to do it their own way

    I think you have to make this very clear at the outset and impose penalties for failing to follow the drawings (AND construction detail). Thais cannot read drawings. the foreman might understand a ground plan and thats about it.

    They should also be made very aware that you will fire them for disobedience. You are the boss and they must accept this or go away. Start as you mean to go on.

    do not assume anyone has any skill until you have seen it with your own eyes. Many of the best trADESMEN will have worked overseas. There they get all the horseshit knocked out of them. I have had very good tilers and blockwork guys who knew their business (but nothing else)

    you must break the whole project down into bite sized pieces, each one costed

    YES im afraid you have to be with them from dawn till dusk especially at the early stages

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