This is a story about what can happen when you hire a builder in Thailand. I hope anyone hiring a builder take note.
In January 2009, I met with a builder concerning the construction of a house. He showed me some designs in a book and I chose one I liked. I told him I wanted to make some changes to the floor plan and to add built-in closets, cabinets, bathroom vanities, and total air-conditioning. The builder told me the price quoted would be purely for the house. The price would not include furniture.
He told me I could take the cabinets and vanities with me when and if I ever moved. I told him they were designed for one particular spot in one house and would be difficult to transplant. After a lot of discussion the builder agreed and asked if he could build the 'extras'. I told him that was fine as long as they were professionally-built. He assured me that wouldn't be a problem. I asked him the final, all-in price and was quoted two million baht. I told him that was too much for the size of house I wanted and it was more than I could afford. So we negotiated and finally settled for 1.65 million baht - less the air conditioning which I agreed I would pay to have installed. I told him I couldn't afford to build the house from start to finish in one go. The house would have to be built in stages as and when I earned the money. And that might take a year or more. The builder agreed that was fine.
He then asked for a 10% down payment for both materials and labor. He drew up a generic building contract which basically stated that I would pay X amount of money for X amount of work. When that work was completed, I would pay X amount for the next phase of work and so on. There were four stages. I agreed and I gave him 150,000 baht.
The builders started work on the footings and I left the country. While I was out of Thailand, the construction team completed the footings, foundations, grade beams, and slabs. I wasn't there to give the boss any more money to continue so he stopped work altogether.
I returned to Thailand and met with the contractor. He told me that before he could continue, he needed 400,000 baht to build the columns, walls, and roof. I told him I didn't have that much, but I could spare 250,000 THB and the balance of 150,000 THB would be paid a month later. I made it clear to the builder that it was all the money I had for a while and when that money ran out, he would have to stop until I had the funds to continue. He agreed and started working on the columns, walls and roof.
Five weeks later, the columns and half of the walls were finished and the roof was nearly complete. The contractor told me he needed a further 200,000 baht. I told him again that I didn't have the money to continue. He reminded me that materials were expensive. I told him this wasn't a 'cost plus job' and if materials were too expensive, then he should stop and down tools. I reminded him that he had quoted for the job in phases and he was the professional that gave me that quote. If the money wasn't enough, he would have to stop. He said that his men needed paying. I told him that all I had was 60,000 baht and while he was welcome to that, the sum of 60,000 would be deducted from the cost of the next phase. The contractor agreed.
Two weeks later, the roof was complete. Guess what? The contractor told me he needed money. Again, I told him I didn't have any more cash and that would be the situation for a while. He became very upset and started screaming. During his rant, he told me I could go to prison for several years. I said "so now you want to talk about killing me?" He said "no but I am angry and I want money. I asked him why he'd played the prison card. He didn't answer. He told me he had to finish paying for the roofing materials and I told him that the the 400,000THB was supposed to cover that. I then asked him where that sizable chunk of cash had gone. The contractor started screaming again and I told him if he was going to rant and rave, I wasn't going to talk to him. Realising the situation was hopeless - at least temporarily - he finally left.
The next day, the contractor, a lawyer, and several other hangers-on came to my house. The lawyer told me I should pay him because if we went to court, the judge would examine my visa and passport. He went on to say that the judge could even hold my passport indefinitely. It was a ludicrous threat. I told the lawyer I was in Thailand legally. To scare me even further (or attempt to) he told me that the police could make an arrest.
The lawyer told me I could face a lot of problems but I was adamant that I had done nothing wrong. I had paid per the contract and that was all I was willing to shell out. A lady then came over to talk to me. She told me she had personally loaned the contractor the money to finish my roof. I told her that any loans between her and the contractor was none of my business and that she was a fool to loan money without a guarantee of getting it back. I had paid what the contract stipulated and that was all I was paying. Period. The lawyer piped up again and told me that if I paid 290,000 baht there wouldn't be a problem. For the umpteenth time, I told them all that I wasn't paying a penny more and if that didn't satisfy them, I would see them all in court.
So, I am left with a house with half-finished walls and a roof. I hope this helps others see what can and does happen in Thailand when one makes a contract with a builder. I am sure not all contractors in Thailand are like this one, but watch out, they are out there. I'll keep you updated.
Bloody hell Ralph! What a nightmare. You do sound though as if you've managed to maintain a level of composure and dignity throughout the whole ordeal and I certainly commend you on that.
My wife and I had a house built about five years ago, and while we didn't experience the problems you've had, the process wasn't without its difficulties. In fact, my wife still refers to it as her 'nine months of hell'.
I knew from the get-go that choosing the right construction company was crucial. My wife read your horrific account of building a house and sadly, it came as no surprise to her. She's convinced that the vast majority of Thai construction companies are crooked. You only have to peruse a few Thai discussion forums to see that this isn't just a case of some dodgy builder trying it on with a foreigner. These things happen to the Thais as well.
When we first put our plans into action, not only did we choose a company that had a very visible high street presence and advertised in a lot of magazines, but we drove around Bangkok looking for samples of their work. This wasn't difficult because the company would display a huge sign in front of the construction to let passers-by know who the developer was. And in several cases, when we saw a house that had been built by the company we were interested in, the homeowner would be delighted to chat with us and show us around their new home. We got some very valuable feedback that way.
We too drew up and signed a contract with the construction company and we had a clause that stated my wife and I would be paid X amount for every single day over and beyond the proposed completion date. I thought this was a very good idea because it meant we could go out and buy furniture and stuff as the completion date got nearer.
If I had to give just one piece of advice to anyone thinking of building a home, keep on top of the workers as much as you possibly can. I don't mean get in the way and make a nuisance of yourself but at the end of each day as the workers are packing up their materials to go home, physically go into the house and do a quick inspection, particularly in the latter 'cosmetic' stages, when walls are being painted and plug sockets are being chopped in. Unfortunately this responsibility fell to my wife because I had quite a heavy work schedule at the time and couldn't be on-site except at the weekends. But my wife would call me every evening with the day's tale of woes, and trust me - there were always plenty of them. "Today I caught one of the workers trying to paint around the light switches with the biggest paint-brush imaginable. There was more paint going on the light-fitting than on the wall" This was typical of her catching the workers doing shoddy work.
We were not out to become Mr and Mrs Unpopular by standing behind the workers and tut-tutting at every opportunity. These workers earn a pittance. How would you feel if you were building a modest little house that you could only dream of living in and you wouldn't be living in anyway once it was finished. These guys have little incentive to do things with a great amount of care. We were fully aware of that but there has to be some standard or benchmark, especially when the construction company have seduced you with glossy brochures of what your final dream home will look like.
An update to this article on building a house in Thailand was written in February 2010