Building House in Udon

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Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Sun Apr 11, 2010 3:32 am

In keeping with the "Read Me First" sticky, I will share my building experiences here for anyone who is interested. Pictures will likely come after everything is finished in June *crosses fingers* and I may not reply to most posts here, but I will try to reply to all PMs.

I recently broke ground and things are starting off well. Boy, oh boy do I have a lot to share! I hope you will be pleasantly surprised with some revelations about the processes and hoops you might otherwise have to jump through leading up to digging out that first scoop of dirt which may totally BLOW AWAY what you have read here and elsewhere.

Anyway, here goes!

THE HOUSE PLAN

I spent months researching websites like this one (my favorite), talking to real experts and engineers (in the US), visiting materials suppliers in other countries, attending home construction trade shows in Bangkok, investigating all sorts of builds going on around Thailand, spoke with and researched local builders (Thai and foreigners), etc., etc. You name it - I did it. So much that I might seem to jump around a bit and not follow the typical chronological blah, blah, blah style. Forgive me in advance.

***Commercial Break***
This is a great website chock full of excellent info as you might already know, BUT beware that if you read enough posts, you will discover that many members who you think might be "gurus" really aren't - some are armchair gurus who have dabbled a bit and pass their days haunting Thailand forums like this one. BUT there are those who really do know what they are talking about and are consistent in their wisdom and advice. I will leave it to you to figure out who is real and who is faking it. I say this as a caveat and not so much as a criticism when weighing and following advice offered here.
*** End Commercial Break***

After getting the idea in my head that I really wanted to build in Thailand, the first thing I did was start looking at house plans. So, I picked out a really nice plan that had everything I wanted right out the box, including having a design that could use local materials. Paid about $1,300 or so for it and all the CAD stuff. Hey, I figured it would be a breeze to press a button and instantly convert everything from imperial to metric, right? Wrong. The CAD files were such that a manual conversion had to be performed and the provider of the files and even the original architect wouldn't do a conversion for any reasonable amount of mooo-lah. So, my search began for someone to convert the CAD files. I ended up spamming architects and engineers in India. Great idea! Expertise AND low cost. Quotes I received from firms and freelancers ranged from US $8-$15 per hour. I went with what seemed to be the most professional and experienced and we agreed on $550 for full metric conversion, 3-D renderings, and 3-D walk-through capability (not to be confused with 3-D walk-through movie). They told me it would take 2 weeks. It actually took 3 months and a whole lot of back and forth because nobody on their side was doing any proofing or quality checking. No problem for me, because I gave myself puh-lenty of time for this sort of thing. Can you tell I have lived in Thailand for a long time already? - LOL. I was, however, happy with the final product and would recommend them WITH reservation if anyone wants to use them (send PM).

Take-away lessons: Look beyond your own country or Thailand when looking for talent that only requires a brain and skill. Give yourself triple the time (or more) you think you may need for getting anything done that you do not control. If you buy CAD files (especially if the plans use imperial measurements), get them as Revit files (.rvt) if you can. That software is awesome.

I'm skipping a lot of stuff for now which I will cover later.

What happened to those plans? Well, I presented them for review/approval and got the "gimme some money" run-around. Everything was good to go and approval was assured in advance by some connected people UNTIL the officials saw how "fancy" the house was. They did an about face and suddenly I was asked to cough up what would amount to THB 100k or more for their "engineering review and approval". Sorry, that boat don't float with me. I will spare the interim details, but I simply whipped out my plan B house. The plan B house is a design that is a real house built in their district which they at some point already approved. So, all that BS about needing to pay up for approval SHOULD go out the window, right? Hah! They still tried. But sorry - it turns out that houses built in or around most villages are not required to have an engineering approval stamp AND you have the right to opt-out of having them approve anything at all! Yup. Just say you do not want approval. They will draft a letter saying that you cannot hold them responsible if the house falls down on you. Sign it, pay a THb 2 per sqm standard fee, and off you go!

Really, what do you get if they sign-off, anyway? Are they going to rush in and rebuild the house they approved if it collapses? Hell no! They are going to blame the builder. The builder is going to blame the materials, etc., ec. And really, look around for Xmas sake. Did you notice all those shacks and shoddy works of architectural and engineering splendor in their district? Did you notice their crappily designed and constructed offices where you GET their approval? They (in theory) approved that crap! So you are going to pay those same people to let you know if your design is correct and safe? Do you suppose all those villagers obtained approval? Ha! Ask them and they will laugh at you. They buy the land and plop down whatever darn well pleases them without so much as a stray thought of getting approval. Puh-leeeeeze. There's one born every minute, though...

Looks like my plan A house may be the next one I build with the opt-out option.

Take away lessons: NEVER assume that what you've heard or popular consensus is how things really are. Think of how you would handle things "back home" and chances are that there are laws on the books that will allow you to do just that! A lot of Thai law is based on English law - they adopted most of it, so it does make sense in your favor sometimes - provisions you would expect should be there often are in fact there.

More later. My fingers are aching.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby pklongball » Sun Apr 11, 2010 6:45 am

Ok, I will be the first to jump in here. The work and effort sounds like this ill be a great build. Maybe its me but you left me a little confused now about if you are building the house you paid to have all the conversion work done or the second off the shelf plan?

Good work and good luck on the build
The complete picture story of our house build can be found here--My Gallery!
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Sun Apr 11, 2010 10:46 pm

Going with the plan B house.

The Land Search

The search for the perfect location was tiring, but not difficult. I started by making a list of what I wanted. The list had things such as proximity to others, shopping, resources, views, topography, price, etc., etc. I then scored the importance of each item on the list. When I would look at property, I would check off items which were on the list, then add up the scores. That is how, despite emotions, I would be able to objectively evaluate and compare the dozen or so properties we found. I am very happy with what we ended up buying.

So, how to find land? Back in the States, we have the MLS (multiple listing service) and www.realtytrac.com. I can assure you that these and other resources pale in comparison to the Granny Network. Accessing the Granny Network is simple. You just drive around areas you like and stop and ask the elders. They have the scoop on everything in the area (most just sit around and gossip all day). Prices, motivation, location, history, caveats, municipal planning, gotchas, etc., etc. Just go with the most pleasant person you can find (my wife in my case, but may be different for others). You and that person should dress down with no flashy gear on such as gold, watches, etc. Try to stay out of sight and shut up. When talking with the peasant classes, the idea is to make them comfortable and not intimidated. Using this method and checking with 2-3 people in the same area, we got the real scoop on the real prices and lots of additional information useful when negotiating.

FYI - The common practice is to bump up the price of the land THB 25-50k per rai over the last sale within gossip distance - actual proximity doesn't matter much at all. More than that may be a flag that you are about to get ripped off. I cannot count how many plots we came across where some dumb foreigner grossly overpaid and jacked up the prices for everyone else. I've seen non-build-able swampland command the same price as nearby build-able plots. It's crazy.

Yes, I did look at land offered by banks, realtors, and at LED auctions (www.led.go.th). Banks and realtors where in all cases far, far higher than nearby plots being sold privately. I'm talking double and triple or more. The LED auctions are great if you have the patience to wait for the plot you want to actually be auctioned, but nothing - I mean nothing - compares to the bargain basement prices you will find with a little effort via the Granny Network.

We started and completed our search in about one helluva exhausting week of all-day driving around with a kid and a rabbit in the back seat. The owner was motivated, and the negotiations were a breeze and very pleasant. After we agreed on price, we had a 12 day wait for the Land Office to process all the paperwork. Yes, we did have to grease the wheels a bit to get to the front of the queue, but it was worth it and not too much (I think something like THB 15k). The alternative (so I was told by my person) was a few weeks wait.

I am holding off from my next post ("The Team") pending resolution of some interesting recent developments. Stay tuned!
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby dozer » Wed Apr 14, 2010 8:54 pm

This post turned into a flame war. I removed the entire string of posts as they were personal and also there was some name calling going on.

One of the points made that is probably valid is that generally there should an easy way to convert from any measurement type to another within the CAD application itself. In ArchiCAD for example, I just did a sample and it was a matter of just changing the units on the fly. In this case I believe the poster only had DWG files and as such the files can be viewed in another any CAD application but modifications are limited. updated information as of 18/4/10: I did a trial and error experiment opening DWG files between applications (eg. ArchiCAD, AutoCAD) and found that normally you can indeed update dimensions automatically with just one option update. There are however exceptions for example dimensions which are entered as text (these must obviously be manually updated).

"engineering review and approval"
Yes, good you walked away from this sounds like a scam. Also remember planning approval is by locality and often isn't required at all, but in some areas like Pattaya there is no opt out.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Thu Apr 15, 2010 12:30 am

Thank you, Dozer! Removing those posts is much appreciated.

Ok, now back to the program. :lol:
Ok, this post is probably going to be a bit premature, and I may end up making some changes. I will try to stick with posting after-the-fact stuff after this post.

The Team

Plan - check! Land - check! Builder - whoops! And so began my search for a builder. Now this couldn't be just any builder. I'm not building this first house to live in. I'm building it to sell, try out a few things, and ensure I have the right team to build other houses going forward. Someone suggested that I am therefore considered a developer. I consider a developer as someone who has actually built quite a few houses successfully already. So, right now, I am just a guy building a house. Period.

Now, if I were just building a house for myself, I would go with an established builder, or buy something off the rack. In theory, that should mean less muss and less fuss. But I am building for sale which means, among other things, I do not want to pay profits to somebody else. I essentially want to pay labor at cost and materials at cost. The next best thing is to rent an already established team that works well together. A team-for-hire.

I will skip a whole lot of gibberish about the different types of builders you may run into because I think that is covered elsewhere on the site. I will say that most foreign builders started out like me and put together their own team or they started out as a fully functioning Thai builder who hooked up with a foreign customer to be their way into the foreigner market. Some of the info their people cough up would surprise you - but let me not be the one to kick another man's rice bowl. So, anyway, wanting to cover all my bases before approaching a team-for-hire, I went about checking with already established builders.

In the Udon area, I was shocked to hear THB ~12k/sqm quoted everywhere I checked. That was for everything except whatever wasn't in the plan. I know Udon very well. Well enough to know this was a rip. Perhaps price fixing amongst the big boys in an effort to compete on quality or something other than price. Anyway, none would agree to providing labor only. They wanted ALL the profit. So, having confirmed their pricing and position about labor only, I went off in search of teams for hire (yes, I thought about stealing one of their teams, but that would just create other problems down the road). This was a frustrating search. It's like you know damn near everyone in the rural area moonlights doing construction when there is no farming work, but finding a good team seemed near impossible. A lot of "This person can do this and that person knows somebody, etc.", but very few already functioning teams were to be found that way; and I had no way of evaluating the work of those I did find. What to do?

Then it hit me like a stone on a hard hat. I simply drove around checking out in-progress and near-finished construction jobs and found goldmines of people ready to line up the next job. So, after checking work quality, worker dispositions, foreman's knowledge, experience, and leadership ability, I handed over the plans for a quote. The foreman reviewed the plans for a couple of days, made some notes, asked some good questions, and even made some well-presented and sensible contributions to the plans which weren't already there. I have to admit I was a bit impressed. He gave me his quote with the caveat that it was negotiable, but I agreed to his price with the promise that I get his team's BEST quality work. Handshake and signed contract. Done deal. Everybody is happy.

Wait, hold on. TIT. So, I pulled in my Uncle, a long-time worker who knows all the tricks of the trade, but doesn't have the disposition to be a foreman. His job is to sit on his bump all day and check and recheck quality, measurements, quantities, methods, etc., etc. and be my eyes and ears for any dubiousness or irregularities. I also pulled in my little brother. Also experienced in construction, but his job is to control materials, place, receive, and verify orders and be the go-between and gateway for anything having to do with money. My nephew hangs around and does the crap jobs that need to get done but there is nobody free to do. I also pulled in the English-speaking "freelance agent" who helped me navigate the system and avoid pitfalls and scams (see prior posts). Her job is to continue watching my back and be the point person for bureaucratic issues as well as a sometimes translator when my fluency with technical Thai falls short. And of course, there's my wife (Superwoman if there ever was one), daughter (supreme money counter and second opinion provider for optional stuff), and the rabbit. Well...he and his incessant gnawing of wires had to go back to the wild. One less mouth to feed.

So there ya have it. That is the Team. Stay tuned. We broke ground already, laid footings, etc., and things are happening as I type this. The journey continues next post! :arrow:
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Sun Apr 18, 2010 10:55 am

Update 1

Wow. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a well-written contract in place. Only a couple of weeks into the build and the builder is already trying his hand at nickle and diming as well as outright lying about "his costs". Yes, I know I agreed outright to his price, in part to disway such behavior, but there he goes... Will he be successful? Not a chance. My people are all over his schemes and I am prepared to let him go if it comes down to that. Gimme a roof and I may be proactive about it.

I have no problem with his work. They are a bit slow, but that's ok. I just want quality. It just plain amazes me that he risks (should be past tense) jeopardizing a relationship that could make him fairly wealthy just on the first 3-4 houses planned for the current plot of land nevermind the dozens to follow those. All because he wants to clip an extra THB 2-3k here and there. It is so petty, but TIT. The ramifications of such behavior just does not seem to enter into his decision making process.

So far, I know he tried to double charge me for a backhoe rental, then never paid the operator. So I got a call from the operator (a decent enough foreign fellow) informing me of the situation. So, I will be giving him a call to come visit when the next progress payment is due and they can sort things out at that time. More, he's been borrowing money from the neighborhood using his contract as a sort of guarantee. The people loaning him money are a bit daft IMHO, and we promptly informed folks that if his work is not satisfactory, he won't get paid and they will be out whatever they loaned him. It is clear he has some personal problems. Knowing this, everyone on my team is being extra vigilant and not taking anything at face value. I will tolerate it unless his personal problems begin affecting the build, which hasn't been affected thus far.

Take away lessons: Get a good contract, not a standard contract. Check the builder's background and references, but be aware that TIT and people are not normally going to be frank with you, anyway. Have a team that can discover and protect against shenanigans. Do not underestimate the pettiness.

The story continues next post! :arrow:
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby setaputra » Sun Apr 18, 2010 8:46 pm

Good luck with the build.

Personally - and don't take this the wrong way - you may be heading for relationship problems with your Thai builders and this may almost certainly affect your build.

You talk of your team and the builders as if they are conflicting forces. I have a fair but firm relationship with my engineers and architects - not too close but not arrogantly distant either.

Have a look at a thread by Isee on Teakdoor called £ Building for dummies..." or something like that. A long thread and shows his problems.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Mon Apr 19, 2010 7:46 am

For some reason, the PM does not seem to be working. Anyone else having this problem?

Anyway (as an open PM, I guess), I do not disagree with you and see it coming, too. I had to have a firm but fair chat with him recently after more shenannigans. Things started out amicable enough until the guy started to misbehave. Of course, my family (perhaps that is more appropriate than "team" here) is not going to be motivated to remain all chummy with someone they know is not only trying to cheat us, but actively attempting to invent more and different ways of doing it when it doesn't work.

Example: After what he did with the backhoe thing, he wants me to pay him to order CPAC because then I would get his discounted cost. What he really wants to do is jerk CPAC by buying on credit and blaming payment delays on me, use the cash for something else, then try to settle up with CPAC with the final progress payment. No thanks, we will order and pay directly as per the contract. So, then comes a suggestion to use a larger steel size where it isn't needed and claiming since it is a change in plan, I have to pay him more to do it (same effort for him, mind you). No thanks, it is an optional change that adds no tangible benefit - just more costs. Then comes a plea that he needs a THB 3k advance to feed his kids. Guy, you made that same plea 2 days ago for THB 5k, which I went along with at my wife's urging just so she wouldn't have to hear anymore (and she is extremely patient). I know how much he pays his people. All total, his payroll so far for the entire project is maybe THB 25k at most. I see less than that laying around in the form of his tools (which are not new) and long wooden sticks. So there is more than THB 50k unaccounted for anywhere on site. Empathy or sympathy for his "plight" would be a stretch.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby dozer » Mon Apr 19, 2010 11:42 am

For some reason, the PM does not seem to be working.


http://www.coolthaihouse.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=1765&start=0
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Tue Apr 20, 2010 10:18 am

SO
...after putting up with his incessant pleas to "help" him fix the problems he caused for himself like a baby whining for more ice cream after making it fall on the ground, I decided I'm going to help him - and in doing so help everyone. I took over his payroll, gave everyone a nice 15-20% raise, and I will be deducting it all against his progress payments. Hell, I may even offer OT. The workers love the idea as they have all been on edge as to whether or not they are going to get paid. The builder is elated because it lets him "save face" on a few levels. He doesn't love it because it means he loses money if progress is slow. Tough doodoo.

The fine print I put in the contract is such that I can do this AND if I really want to twist his arm, I can do things like pay his employees or any other additional workers double or triple time everyday and deduct it from progress payments if, for example, a target date is missed. IMHO, this is more effective and enforceable than the standard penalty payment provisions found in most contracts I've read - having both is ideal.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby setaputra » Tue Apr 20, 2010 5:46 pm

I will read your next few months posts with great interest and note how things will develop for you.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Sun Apr 25, 2010 11:32 am

Update 2

This past week was quite busy for me as we welcomed a new mini-me into the world. That had me doing a 10 hour each way daily commute. Despite that, the show continued.

The footings were finished and covered and work began in earnest on the columns and beams. I read in another post about using a concrete vibrator and was all set to tell my builder about it, but he'd already beaten me to the punch. Like I said, he may have personal and/or character problems, but he knows what he is doing and that is all I care about in the final analysis. Our relationship (for those interested) has changed from jovial to semi-hostile to sincere mutual professional respect, so far. We both crack jokes at the other's expense every now and again, but the site has definitely taken on an atmosphere of "let's all just get the job done". Example joke: he's doing his thing with the cement vibrator (looks very phalac) and I check the inside of my pants and shout loud enough for everyone to hear: "When you are done, can I have that back?". Or as he struggles with putting up the formwork for a stubborn column that keeps tipping, he'll say: "hey, can you stand right about here, please?". Everyone has a good laugh and carries on.

I continue to remain onsite most of the day with short breaks to Lotus for eats or the movies. When I'm onsite, I do an eagle eye walk-around pointing at this or appearing to measure that. Making a remark or asking a question about this or that (usually, "hey, this doesn't look straight" or "measure this again" or blah blah blah. It's mostly show just to keep them on their toes and make them think I'm actually checking everything. Sure, there are some things I really am checking, but he's usually on top of things.

My day also begins with a chat with my Uncle (the real quality control) and my brother (materials control). I want to know what we are suppose to accomplish today, what materials are required, are the materials here or will they arrive in time, and how much is needed for the day's orders. I dole out the money to my brother and let him take care of ordering. Then, having already done my eagle-eye inspection, I discuss any real concerns with my Uncle who will either explain methods to me or take my input and communicate my concerns clearly with the builder. Truth be told, it's usually a misunderstanding or methods knowledge gap on my part. At times, there's a back and forth passionate discussion with the builder (I.e. I wanted to use "real" steel formwork where he wanted to use wood formwork). The builder is usually right, but it lets him know what I am looking at and my concerns. He's become quite good at anticipating and being proactive so that my concerns are addressed before I even utter them. That is a very good thing.

Other things that happened include piped water finally arriving and the 3 phase electric arriving.

Take away lessons: Some conflict can be healthy conflict. Do not fall for the excuse that Thais should be treated any differently BECAUSE they are Thai. An ass is an ass and an angel is an angel regardless of culture, ethnicity, etc. Don't put up with shenanigans here that you would not tolerate "back home". Once you find the equilibrium, don't be shy to bump it when it needs bumping.

Also, check what needs checking and fake the rest. It's all the same to them.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby fredlk » Sun Apr 25, 2010 12:18 pm

MrRee wrote:Pictures will likely come after everything is finished in June

How come no photos during the build? It would make your story a bit more interesting.
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby setaputra » Sun Apr 25, 2010 12:35 pm

I agree with Fred, photos would be nice. But with a 10 hour each way daily commute I can see where there is no time for photos!
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Re: Building House in Udon

Postby MrRee » Sun Apr 25, 2010 2:21 pm

fredlk wrote:
MrRee wrote:Pictures will likely come after everything is finished in June

How come no photos during the build? It would make your story a bit more interesting.

Fair question. I'm keeping the story seperate from the build to stay consistent with the sticky guidelines for posting in this section of the forum. Just relating general experiences here as requested. As many longtimers know, photos and such have a way of inviting criticism (or praise) which often leads to thread hijacking, flaming, etc. All of which I prefer to avoid. I have a great team and we sort out the details and methods just fine. When I have questions or need feedback, I will certainly post them elsewhere in the forum along with any necessary pictures. I do agree that pictures break the monotony of text, so perhaps I will get off my patoot and edit themfor size and such then post. It just seems like a lot of extra steps to get a pic from my phone to the forum. But hey, I'm American. :wink:

I am planning to make an arrangement of photos and hang them inside the completed house to showcase the build quality and methods. My intention is to post the same here with narratives. I would appreciate scrutiny at that point to perhaps make the next house a little bit better.
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