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Further Reading:

Construction Quality and Prices

This month I will respond to a question posed by Dr. Robert Lim of Singapore who writes as follows.

"I have seen a variety of two and three bedroom homes listed for sale with prices from under one million Baht to those over ten million Baht. Can you explain why there is so much difference in price"?

The stock clich? answer to this question is that there are, in the often quoted words of Conrad Hilton, three reasons. Location, location and location. While this answer is very applicable to Phuket, with its limited, and highly sought after, titled beach front property, there is another very significant and often overlooked factor in the Phuket pricing equation.

This factor is construction quality. One need not look too far to see relatively new buildings literally falling apart. In reviewing quality I include not just the actual building structure, but the finishing materials and the mechanical and electrical work (wiring and plumbing).

Q uality has a major impact on price, which can for the very simplest buildings be as little as 4,000 Baht per square meter (about 15 US$ per square foot) up to as much as 30,000 Baht per Sq.m. for a traditional Thai all teak wood structure.

The first thing to note in this respect is that, while planning approval is required for building in most parts of Phuket, this does little if anything to ensure minimum standards. Basically the only requirements are to show that the building is structurally sound and that the drains do not discharge directly to the street.(!)

Let us look at what makes up a house in Thailand. The first significant thing is that they are nearly all of frame structure (as distinct from load bearing masonry). Historically Thai houses have been of wood frame structure. The exceptions to this rule are typically imported styles, such as the Sino-Portugeese shop houses and mansions still to be found in some of the older quarters of Phuket.

With the increasing shortage and rising price of timber, concrete has over the last few decades taken over from wood as the structural material of choice for all but the most expensive of homes. This is in contrast to the West, where the high cost of manual labour makes concrete expensive and houses of prefabricated (often wood based) panels the cheapest.

In essence almost all Thai built homes start in the same way i.e., with a reinforced concrete frame structure and non load bearing rendered brick or block walls. At this stage the only cost differences are related to the overall weight of the building - a single storey building with a lightweight asbestos roof needs a structure less massive than a two storey building with reinforced concrete floors and a heavy clay tile roof. That said quality control of the concrete mix and pour and good foundations are critical to the life of a concrete building.

The real cost differences, however are to be found in the finishing and mechanical and electrical works - doors, window frames, hinges, lock sets, sanitary fittings, floor finishes and wiring systems. The range of qualities, function and prices are staggering. Typically the better quality products (and I am not referring to fashion items like gold plated bath taps) will cost ten times the price of the most basic product. A one piece porcelain toilet with cistern at about 25,000 Baht cost almost 100 times what you would pay for a basic white porcelain squat-on-the-floor device that you flush with a bucket of water.

The climate in Thailand is harsh. External woodwork rots from humidity - softwoods may last only one year, most hard woods five to ten years and the increasingly hard to get teak wood much longer. Poorly plated steel fixtures can rust or corrode in as little as a few months in the salt air.

High price will not always be a guarantee of better quality, but if you want a quality house you will have to pay a premium. The cheapest house will most certainly get a building with a limited lifespan and significant maintenance costs.