Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Re-Purposing Property in Thailand

Thai law is a minefield. It is not consistently applied and in many cases foreigners are allowed to have de facto ownership of land and property, especially if they have a Thai partner. Despite strict and xenophobic laws regarding land ownership the Thai way is not to mount witch hunts against groups in society.

Part of the reason for this is the common Thai belief in 'live and let live'. While many Thais may harbour nationalistic notions about Thailand being for the Thais they tend to shy away from individual acts of revenge; rather they bow to hierarchy and follow the line of headmen and other influential local people.

Another reason for this turning a blind eye attitude is the lack of clear lines of power in Thailand. Outside of Bangkok are fiefdoms focussed around policing and other areas where 'tea money' and personal influence are important. Regimes change in Bangkok, new regulations are made and the memos are not passed on; or if they are then they are ignored. A clear example of this are visa laws. They change and often the changes are not reflected on the ground. The recent fiasco with 10 year visas is an example in point.

The point of this digression is that you if you are considering re-purposing your property in a rural area of Thailand you don't necessarily have to apply for planning permission at the land office. Putting feelers out in the local community is a good idea, though. You see dozens of 'hotels' on Agoda that were clearly once residential villas designed as a place to live, not as a business. They have become spas, yoga centres, retreats, diving accommodation and even backpacker hostels. There seems to be an acceptance with re-purposing private property in Thailand.

And it makes sense from a utility point of view. The jungle takes its toll on villas. The wood gets attacked by insects, the ground shifts, building faults appear, rats come etc. The best way to keep a property well maintained is to use it.

Recent trends in tourism show a growing interest in 'activity-based' holidays. People want to go to the jungle or the beach and ride mountain bikes, qualify as a scuba diver, get a teaching certificate in yoga, detox. The list goes on. English teaching, learning Thai. Mastering kite boarding. Working out in a Muay Thai gym. It is a big part of the Thai tourist economy.

Places like Sri Thanu in Koh Phangan have re-branded themselves as yoga centres par excellence. Several unused bungalows, guest houses and private villas in the area have now managed to tap into this income stream by re-inventing themselves as dorms, yoga studios, cafes, luxury accommodation that comes with a yoga package.

Especially if the changes to the property are superficial. If just a change of furniture and decor is needed then why not go for it? You might have on your hands a business with a reasonable rate of return; you might interest buyers; you might discover that also really love yoga or mountain biking. Finally it should be mentioned that people are prepared to pay more for niche activities and often want packages and turn-key holidays so that they can totally immerse themselves in their holiday mission.

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