This article is based on my recent experience of actually going through the process of obtaining estimates of the cost of building a house in Thailand including getting quotations from builders in Thailand and also using unit build rates (how much square meter) to build a retirement house in Thailand.
It will be useful to anyone retiring in Thailand or planning to retire to Thailand and build a retirement house.
The Two Main Two Ways To Estimate the Cost of Building a House in Thailand
There are basically two ways of pricing a building project in Thailand.
1. Using Unit Build Rates To Estimate The Cost Of Building A House
The first and simplest method is by using Unit Build Rates, i.e. how much per square meter it costs to build the house in Baht/m2. There are a range of Unit Build Rates for houses in Thailand and these vary according to the standard of the building and the location in the country.
There are other factors that affect the price of building a house in Thailand and these are not normally allowed for in unit build rates.
Just one example is that the cost of building depends greatly upon the particular builder chosen as quotations for the same property from different builders varies greatly.
Unit rates for use in estimating the cost of house construction are readily available where I live in the United Kingdom (UK). There are many websites that list these unit rates and also there are pricing books that give rate per square metre for a range of building types and sizes. This method is commonly used in Great Britain, and other Western countries to work out a budget cost for building a house.
However, in Thailand the situation is different. I have not seen any ‘official’ Unit Build Rates for Thailand but several websites, notably those Forums catering for expats living in Thailand, give some rough figures from people who have built their own retirement house in Thailand.
But that’s all they are – a guide – and really barely worth using even for budgeting purpose.
Two Examples from Thai Websites of Unit Rates for House Build Cost in Thailand
Bangkok: “As of March 2006, buyers had to pay 81,975 baht/m2 in average to acquire a condominium unit in central area of Bangkok compared to 72,596 baht/m2 in the last twelve months”.
Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand: “A house built to western standard will cost between 160 to 300 Euros / m2″ (At 45 Euros/Baht (Jan 2010) that works out at 7,200 to 13,500 Thai Baht per m2).
Notice how the unit rate for these two examples are so different.
Another way to get unit rates for Thailand is to approach Thai builders and architects. Unit Build Rates recently sent to me by one of Thailand’s leading Bangkok-based design-and-build companies are in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 Baht/m2.
The method of application of the Unit Build Rates is simple. You work out the total floor area of the proposed building including all floors and multiply by the unit rate. There is no need to find or involve a builder for this method once you have decided on the the unit rate to use.
There are inherent inaccuracies in this approach because the mix of different types of usage will be different in different building.
For example, using my own proposed property in Pak Chong, Thailand, as an example, the house is a typical ‘post’ house and half of the ground floor is left ‘open’ to be made into usable rooms at a later date and the other half simply has blockwork walls to for a workshop.
Clearly the unit rate for these areas is different and different from the first floor that contains kitchen, bedrooms and other living area.
Another example of different type (and hence costs) of building usage using my Pak Chong house as an example is that on the first floor I have a very large (compared to the rest of the house) patio area and also another semi-open area both of which would be a much lower cost to construct than the living accommodation areas.
The fact is that new build houses in Thailand are very often of completely different style and layout to other houses. This is in comparison with the UK where new houses are often built in their hundreds all to the same design. Everyone knows what you will get in a ‘3 bed semi-detached house’ in England. In this situation unit rates can be safely applied.
So what area is used in the cost calculation? Do you use the total area including the ground floor open area and workshop and the first floor patio and semi open area plus the living accommodation areas? Or do you use the unit rate just for the living accommodation and take a percentage of the unit rate for the lower cost areas?
The problem is that I don’t know the basis for the unit rate in the first place. i.e. whether it was for a property similar to mine with the open areas included, or whether it was for a property with a greater percentage of actual living area.
In conclusion the Unit Build Rates method in Thailand can only be used to get a very rough idea of the likely cost and is really not accurate enough for establishing a budget.
2. Obtaining A Quotation From A Thai Builder For Building A House In Thailand
This method depends upon finding a builder to prepare a quotation based (usually) a set of drawings (also called house plans) for the property in question. (The house you want to build to retire to in Thailand) Obviously, the more accurate and detailed the house plans, the more accurate the quotation can be.
Other documents may also be provided to supplement the house plans and these include a Scope Of Works describing the scope of the project (not normally produced in Thailand) and Schedules. The Schedules are typically a schedule of finishes, schedule of doors, ironmongery etc.
There are three major difficulties with this method.
1. Obtaining The House plans And Other Documents
I’m lucky in that I can use the Autocad Computer Aided Drawings (CAD) software package and am familiar with building design so I was able to produce my own CAD drawings and schedules for my planned retirement house in Thailand.
Also, I didn’t start with a blank sheet of paper, instead I downloaded some existing Thai house plans from the Thai Government website (Search for ‘download Thai Government House Plans’) and selected one to use as a starting point for my own Thai house design.
If you don’t fancy this do-it-yourself approach you will have to find someone to make the house plans for you. Whilst this is easy in (if somewhat expensive) in the UK, if you try to find a Thai Architect to do this for you then you may have problems.
Firstly finding an Architect in Thailand is not easy although I did find an architectural and construction company in Bangkok and I subsequently appointed then to make the construction drawings for my own house – but that is another story.
Secondly, how do you explain to an Architect what you want? This is particularly difficult (impossible?) if you don’t already have your own preliminary drawings as I did and if you aren’t in a position to sit down in the same room as the architect and pour over ideas and concepts.
Doing that by email from starting from scratch from outside of Thailand is next to impossible.
2. Translation Of The Documents Into The Thai Language
This is not so difficult if you are prepared to pay for a translator in Thailand.
A translator can easily translate the schedules but adding Thai to CAD drawings in not easy unless the translator also knows how to use the CAD software! My own house plans and schedules are in English only and I was able to get a quotation from a Thai builder.
You might try English only and just get the translator to translate the technical phrases that the builder doesn’t understand. Again, much easier to do if you are in Thailand alongside the translator and builder.
3. Finding A Builder In Thailand
This can be one of the most difficult tasks you have to do.
My wife has contacted at least six builders from within Thailand and only one has produced a price. That price was based on the house plans and schedules that I produced but was about double what we expected, at 2.1 million Baht, which works out at 16,000 Baht/m2.
The answer we get from most of the builders is that they are too busy to work on providing a price for a small house build job. It seems that many builders are engaged on large projects in the coastal resorts of Thailand (e.g. Phucket) and that our tiny little project in Pakchong is not worth their while.
The method I used to find builders consisted of knocking on doors “You have a nice house, can you tell me who the builder was?” I find it easy to approach people and one day I was chatting with the Security Guard at our hotel, “The Mansion” at 8/8 Soi Tedsaban 8, Mittrapap Rd., Pakchong, Thailand, and he announced that he could get a price from at least two builders.
We took him up on that offer but never received the quotations. One was too busy and the other wanted 5,000 Baht up front before preparing a quotation in case we didn’t select him as our builder! By the way, the Security Guard said that his commission was 10 percent!
In this short discussion on how I obtained budget estimates for a retirement home in Thailand I have covered the two main methods, using unit rates and house plans, to secure a budget price and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Also I have explained the three difficulties you will face when trying to get a builder in Thailand to give you an estimate for building your retirement house in Thailand.