It’s a cautionary tale…
“It’s raining and blowing down here and your windows and doors are open! Your power and water have been turned off. I haven’t seen your maid at all this year. Your house is full of geckos and who knows what else!”
So came the phone call last week from our neighbour on Koh Samui. As we had paid the maid in full through to the present, this was more than a little alarming.
My husband and I first visited Koh Samui, tropical island pearl in the Bay of Thailand, ten years ago. We loved it. On a subsequent visit, six years ago, we signed “contracts” with a “licenced real estate agent” to build our retirement “dream home”: a small two-story pre-fabricated challet with a wonderful sunset view over beach flats, on a small block of land within a “resort” complex. If you have ever dealt with a property purchase in a country that doesn’t follow anything resembling British common law, you will understand my use of quotation marks: nothing is as it seems.
The building never quite went to plan. One year came and went, and although the house wasn’t finished, the cupboard doors were already sagging off their hinges. Two years crawled past with little change: we were supposed to move in, but had to pay to stay next door because the water and electricity still didn’t reach the house. Three years on and we were in, but the infrastructure (the roads and pathways, the communal pool) was not; the owner of the complex seemed to have run out of money and/or motivation. The cheap paint on our exterior was already peeling, and our cupboard doors were still hanging.
We are not completely naïve: unlike the many farang who come to Thailand and invest their life savings in a house for a bar girl who has a heart of gold, a sick buffalo, and a noisy extended family, only to end up broke and broken hearted, we made sure that we only spent as much as we could, worst case scenario, stand to lose. Even so, it was a blow when, after four years, we discovered that we still didn’t hold title to the property. It was a further twelve months of emails and phone calls, legal fees, and greased palms before we could celebrate our ‘blue book’: our “legal” proof of ownership. Well, as “legal” as you can be in Thailand, where following the law to the letter is a bit like playing a catch-22 scavenger hunt while blind-folded.
Of course, by this stage, the owner had allowed a two-story building to be built in front of us, obstructing some of our view, and the maid had installed tenants who weren’t paying rent… Not long after we got the tenants out, the geckos moved in and the maid disappeared with all the linen and a bundle of money, and we got that phonecall from our neighbour. My first reaction was: “That’s it! Let’s sell.”
So, this weekend we took an unscheduled weekend trip to Koh Samui, with the intention of putting our little cottage on the market. We spent most of our time shopping for replacement bedding and other missing inventory, talking to tradesmen about electrical, plumbing carpentry and painting needs, and discussing where to get new furniture covers.
We took time out to go snorkelling one glorious afternoon in the warm seas over a nearby reef while hand-feeding countless varieties of colourful tropical fish. We wandered along almost deserted beaches on an uninhabited neighbouring island before sitting in the sun staring at nothing in particular. We motored back to our island through the most vivid of sunsets before overindulging in a ridiculously cheap meal of Thai spices and fresh seafood.
And somehow, as we breakfasted on our balcony, watching the light play on the sand and the distant islands, and as we sat under the awning in the evening rain, listening to the frogs, we fell in love with the place all over again.
So, we’ve organized a new property manager, and we’ll be back again soon.
I suppose we could visit the islands without all the challenges of property ownership, but where’s the fun in that?