Beginners guide to purchasing property in Phuket

By Katie Walsh

There’s some exceptional villas on sale in Thailand

Phuket is a beautiful jewel set in the sparkling Andaman Sea and it has proven enticing to many foreigners looking to buy property in tropical Thailand. Here are a few tips, ideas and warnings of the potential hindrances you may encounter if you dream of acquiring a holiday pad on the island.

Reasons to buy property in Phuket

There are many reasons to choose to buy your dream home in Phuket, the main allure for foreigners often being the endless sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Phuket is also fairly westernised in comparison to some of the other Thai islands as it has decent road structures, fabulous houses and all the amenities you would find in a western city.

Sports: as well as the idyllic white beaches and stunning waters that offer great diving, Phuket is also famous for its golf courses. Good courses with magnificent backdrops of the ocean or tropical jungle are found throughout the island and prove extremely popular with expats and tourists alike. Professional yachting marinas attract boat enthusiasts and mixed with the many water sports on offer at the larger beaches, there is something to keep all the family fit and healthy.

Property: Phuket boasts one of the most burgeoning property markets in Asia. Environmentally friendly height restrictions and planning laws are in place to keep Phuket from being spoilt or losing its charisma.

Living costs: Compared to Europe, America and Australia, Phuket is a very affordable place to live in. It is a tropical paradise that is comfortably westernised, where you can get more for your money.

Schools: there are international schools that follow American and British curriculums, making the island appealing to families as well retirees. However, they are not cheap and average approximately 60,000 baht per term.

Health care: there are international hospitals on the island that offer a high standard of care at a fraction of the price in the West. Insurance is a must and try to carry ID on you as in the event of an accident, the hospital will need to see proof of who you are.

Rental returns: if you are purchasing a property with the intent of letting it, then it is useful to know that Phuket offers a high rental return even in the current economic crisis. Visitors are continuing to choose to spend their holidays in a private villa rather than a hotel and with Thailand being cheap to holiday in; Phuket will undoubtedly ride out the current crisis better than many other holiday destinations.

Read about living in Phuket

Popular places to purchase in Phuket

Making the choice of where best to buy in Phuket will depend on your personal taste as every area of this charming island offers unique attractions and various ambiences to suit a diverse mixture of people. In general the West coast is the most desirable location, and site of the popular beaches and majority of the property development. It’s also considerably more expensive. With hilly shorelines views are numerous but you might be a few minutes walk to the beach.

Others opt for the cheaper property away from these areas just to be on the island. Many full time residents prefer to avoid the tourists and buy into the successful gated communities in Chalong, near Phuket town. And the newer developments are found on the quieter East or Northwest coasts away from the action. Much of the east coast is mangrove however.

Many villas for sale come with excellent seaviews

If you are looking for wild nightlife or easy accessible shopping centres filled with amenities from banks to restaurants, then the main tourist spot of Patong would be an ideal choice. If you wish to be close to the action but not in the centre, then the outskirts of Patong or the slightly quieter areas like, Kalim Bay or Karon would be ideal. Bang Tao and Surin Beach are stunning areas set further away from the tourist crowds and remain popular with expatriates.

Other popular choices are Ao Po, Naithon Beach, Nai Yang Beach, Mai Khao Beach, Phuket Town and Chalong, Cape Panwa, Kamala Beach and Nai Harn Beach. Wherever you choose in Phuket, you are within fairly close proximately to the beaches, shops and restaurants that make this one of the most sought after places in Asia. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, it can take up to an hour to get from the airport to Rawai in the South, for example. And with the hilly terrain and traffic in places you might find yourself picking a particular part of the island to confine yourself to, so it’s important to know the character of the island before buying.

Types of property

Once you have decided where to buy, the next step is to choose what type of property you want. Be sure to take into consideration how often you will be using the property as a small condo suitable for a holiday home may be not be so attractive as a full-time living space. There are four main types of property in Thailand: villas, houses, apartments and condominiums, all of which have their own regulations and stipulations about how a foreigner can purchase one.

Once you have chosen your property type and location, contact a reputable lawyer to assist you with the next part of your acquisition. Legal recourse is porous in Thailand and you may not have difficulty resolving contractual let downs. Furthermore, only Thais can legally own the land, so many developers resort to complicated proxy-ownership structures which can create problems.

Property guide to Phuket

Lawyers and solicitors

Purchasing property in Thailand is not simple and you will need to do some in-depth research before you buy. Seeking out professional advice from a lawyer is a great way to start but be sure to use a sound source that has been recommended to you. You also need to keep an eye on your lawyer, as they are not always bound by strict ethics from their association.

There are many different legal services offering services in Phuket, but it is recommended that you speak to other property owners before you choose who to use.

If you already live in Phuket you may have a good idea on who to use and meeting other non-Thai nationals who have already completed the process will be far easier.

If you are not yet in Phuket and wish to get a head start before you arrive, then research the different legal services and companies online. The biggest law firms have websites and there are many useful agents with websites, such as thaivisa.com and sunbeltasia.com, who will offer you impartial advice over the internet or telephone.

You need to look for a professional firm who will act in your best interest and offer you trustworthy advice as the laws and regulations surrounding the purchasing of property in Thailand can be confusing. Choosing a firm who has a native speaker of your language will also be a plus to avoid any confusion in the translation!

A Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) is another good route to take. Qualified CIPS designees can be of any nationality and have proven their proficiency in international real estate. There are only a handful of firms based in Thailand who have CIPS employees and Siam Real Estate is one of the top companies in Phuket who has a qualified worker.

Below is a list of some well-established law firms in Phuket:

           Belmont Limcharoen
           PK International Law Office
           Siam International Legal Group
           Mcevily & Collins Solicitors
           Tilleke & Gibbins
           International Law Office

Buying villas in Phuket

Thai laws in layman’s terms

Under Thai law, non-Thai nationals are unable to own land yet they can own a building that is distinct from the land itself, however the Condominium Act allows for registered Condo buildings to sell up to 49% of the floor space to foreigners who have outright ownership. Foreigners can also register a leasehold of a maximum of 30 years for all types of land and buildings, but they cannot own freehold land or more than 49 per cent of the shares in the Thai company that does own the freehold land.

The most common ways for a non-Thai to buy land are through long-term leaseholds and by setting up a limited liability company. With long-term leaseholds it is normal to lease the land for a period of 30 years, plus 30, plus 30, totalling 90 years. Although sale of the land would render the lease void, a simple legally binding document could stipulate a clause that guarantees the leaseholder fair compensation.

The latter option allows a non-Thai to own 49 per cent of a company with the remaining 51 per cent shared between Thai juristic people, which are easily arranged with a lawyer. The land will be owned by the company and as the managing director of the company, you will have full control of the ownership of the land. However, authorities have recently begun clamping down on proxy ownership through this method, investigating to see if the Thai partners did indeed invest money and play a role in the company ownership.

Whichever option you choose, be sure that all the necessary paperwork is legitimate and legal as taking short cuts to make the process cheaper and quicker can result in problems further down the line. At worst, property can be confisgated if deemed to be owned by proxy, or you might be at mercy of extortion from corrupt officials. Usually the seller/developer will suggest solid means by which you can own the property lawfully.

Whether you are looking for that dream holiday home or a full-time house, Phuket is a fantastic choice to buy your perfect property. The process of purchasing in Thailand can seem daunting but if you choose the right law firm and seek all the advice you need, living on this paradise island need not be as tricky as you think.

The right time to buy

With the world recession at it’s low point, and baht showing strength against the dollar and pound, the bottom has virtually fallen out of the Phuket property market where growth has outstripped the robust demand of recent years. This makes it a buyers market, but you would of course get less baht for your foreign money if the full transfer was due now. Many developers offer better returns by placing the property on the market at development stage, but buying pre-completion has it’s risks in a recession, since some companies have unsustainable business plans that will not weather the storm. Thailand’s property industry is noted for its boom and bust nature, leaving many people owning part of an abandoned concrete shell. If the project is backed by reputable companies then you might do well to bargain them down in the current economic climate, but only be liable for the down parment and early installments while the baht remains strong.

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