Hot Seat

Neil McDonough

Accommodation is always a hot topic among teachers in Thailand for many reasons. Apartment rent often consumes the biggest chunk of a teacher’s monthly salary. So let’s talk living space with Neil McDonough, the Director of EasyHomes.

Q

Hiya Neil. Introductions first. You’re a 35-year old guy from Liverpool in the UK. You’ve been in Bangkok for 10 years and in the real estate business here for 7 years. Was this something you did back in the UK or something you got into it while living here?

A

Although I was not working as an estate agent back in the UK, I have always been involved in the property industry and used to work in a management position at a road construction and house building company in the North West of England. So the property market in one form or other has never been too far from my attention.

Q

I’m having a gander at your website easyhomes.tv

It’s a nice site Neil but there seems to be quite a few of these Bangkok / Thailand property websites around. I guess this must be a very competitive business?

A

Yes that is correct; it is a very competitive business, and not only with the established real estate agents, but also there are many free-lance ‘real estate agents’ who try and get into the market. The key for our business is to stand out from the crowd. We fortunately get many referrals and repeat business. I like to think it is because we act in a more professional manner than perhaps others and yet still retain a friendly and approachable persona.

Q

If we take EasyHomes business as a whole, what percentage of your dealings is rental and what percentage are actual sales?

A

We have traditionally dealt with more rentals on a daily basis as we have a lot of access to most of the best condo buildings and apartments in Bangkok. We have a database off-line of over 9 000 properties and this increases daily. We also have a sales department that specializes in property sales, but of course these take longer, but the rewards greater. So the sheer number of clients is of course higher in rentals.

Q

Because ajarn is a website aimed at teachers Neil, I’m going to focus on apartment rentals if I may. What percentage of your rental customers or rental enquiries come from teachers as opposed to expats on a big fat expat package?

A

I was waiting for this question. I would say that probably 25-30% of our clients are actually teachers of one form or another. However we also have a good number of clients who are not actually teachers, but do have similar budgets and needs of our teaching clientele. So this boosts the percentage to about 50%.

Q

Does EasyHomes have a bricks and mortar office or is it purely a virtual company? How many staff are actually involved apart from you?

A

As a legally registered and established property agency we must by law have a registered office and we indeed do. Our office is located in Asoke, so we are in easy reach of both Sukhumvit and Ratchada, two very popular expat areas.

Q

Now be honest with me. A teacher calls you up and says they are looking for something in the 5,000 – 10,000 baht a month range. Would they get the same treatment and level of customer service as someone looking for a Sukhumwit mansion with a huge relocation allowance?

A

When we set up EasyHomes we decided that everyone would be treated equally regardless of budget, and we have tried to stick with that. However all clients regardless of budgets have to be realistic. The market dictates the price, not EasyHomes and not the individual landlords. So when clients come to us they have to understand that we can only offer them what their budget dictates. This is the same if your budget is 5,000 Baht or 50,000 Baht.

Q

Neil, I’m looking for an apartment near Onnud BTS for less than 10,000 baht a month. What’s the next step?

A

Presuming you have a PC, then check out easyhomes.tv and see if there is anything that comes close to your requirements and give us a call. We will then get all your details and requirements and start a search for available properties immediately. Remember the market changes hourly not just daily, so we have to check the latest movements.

Then when we find a few units that meet your criteria, we organize access for you, meet up with you and show you the properties at your convenience. Again presuming you decide on a property that we show you, we will organize the contracts, collect the deposit and first month’s rent and pass these to the owner, your new landlord.

We are then always there for the period of contract to call if you need to ask a question.

Q

I’ve always maintained – and I even say it in our ajarn.com guide to renting an apartment – that pounding the streets and wandering up and down the sois is the best way to find an apartment. I can see on your website that you’re not a man who would agree with that statement. So what are the main reasons for using an agent such as yourself?

A

I presume Phil you are referring to some of the blog articles on our website. In a nutshell using a respectable and professional real estate agent can provide the following:

1. Save you time

2. Save you money

3. Local property knowledge

4. Negotiation skills

5. A wealth of experience

6. Security and peace of mind in a foreign environment

Our clients on the whole are talented specialists in their chosen fields, whether teachers, business owners, chefs or doctors. Therefore we do not expect them to be experts in the field of Bangkok Real Estate as well. So just as I would go to a Doctor with an illness or a first class restaurant for a top meal, rather than try and heal myself or try and cook like a Michelin Chef, I would encourage your readers to use a professional to achieve the best results. After all, let us solve your problems, rather than you waste your time, and very possibly waste your money trying to solve the problems for yourself.

Using a property agent in Bangkok is free, so you have nothing to lose. Let us do the work, whilst you concentrate on earning more money for yourself at the job you have specialized in.

For a more in depth answer go to easyhomes.tv/blog/

Q

Teachers who are thinking of coming to work here often e-mail me and ask “what’s the best area of Bangkok to live in?” Do you find that question as impossible to answer as I do?

A

Well I guess everyone will have a different answer for this question. Certainly I would say Sukhumvit is the most popular, but does that make it the best? I don’t know!

Really the best area of Bangkok is the one that suits you best. If for example you are working in Sathorn, then living in Sukhumvit may be a bit of a drag, with a longish commute.

However if your school is in Pinklao then living in Sathorn or Sukhumvit may become an unnecessary expense.

Yes the question is essentially impossible to answer, but what we try and do here at EasyHomes is offer as wide a range of locations as possible and as wide a range of budgets as possible, to help combat the impossible.

Q

I didn’t really want to talk about buying a Bangkok condo or an apartment, but there’s an incredible amount of development work going on all over the city isn’t there? Everywhere I go, I see new condominiums with fancy names. Who’s going to live in these places or is it just developers being greedy? We’re in the middle of a recession for Pete’s sake.

A

Yes of course you are right here Phil, there are many large construction projects on the go and many of them are providing condos and apartments. Of course as foreign individuals we can only buy condos, but there are more and more to choose from. Also more foreigners are buying condos now than they used to. In 1997 only 1% of the Bangkok condo market was owned by foreigners, now it is 17%, and rising. The basic facts are that whilst of course we are in a recession, Bangkok property still represents great value when compared to property in the West or even cities like Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, so foreigners will buy to invest.

As for who will live in these condos, well I hope it will be your readers and our clients. The great thing about all this development is that not only does it provide more choice to the market, with fantastic new buildings and facilities, but also it means rental prices cannot rise as fast, and in some areas have come down a few percent to accommodate the increase in supply.

Q

I’ll tell you the problem I would have with buying an apartment in Thailand Neil and I’d love to get your opinion. I would buy an apartment as an investment. As I guess most people would. My biggest fear would be the building management not sticking to their rules and allowing property to go downhill and depreciate. About ten years ago I thought about investing in a condo just off Rama 9 Road. One of the rules was ‘no washing to be hung out on the balcony’ and I thought that was commendable. Nothing looks worse than apartment buildings with balconies festooned with tatty linen, especially if you’re the poor bugger trying to sell an apartment unit. Six months later, I drove past the same building and there was more washing hung out than you’d see in a back-street in Milan. A classic case of building management not following the rules they’ve laid down. Do you get my point?

A

I totally understand what you are saying here and have witnessed the very same scenarios again and again. Sorry to put a plug in again, but this is another reason why going with a respectable property agency is in your interest. If you speak to the correct agent then they will advise you of the condos to buy, who have the best and most reliable juristic management team. It is the quality of this team that will be the difference between the building looking in good condition in 5-10 years time, or run-down.

Unfortunately, like in any industry anywhere in the world, there are fewer good juristic management teams then there are average or poor ones.

Q

Let’s go back to apartment rentals. I always have a saying – it doesn’t matter whether you’re paying 5,000 baht a month or 50,000 baht a month – a place is only as good as your neighbors. I’ve lived next to (or near to) some real arseholes (all-night parties, fights, arguments, noisy kids) Would you disagree and say the more you spend, the less chance you have of being woken up by someone smashing a beer bottle over their wife’s head?

A

This is the simplest question yet, and the answer is yes!

Sorry to sound snobby, but unfortunately this is the way of the world in general and we get no complaints of this kind from clients with larger budgets. In fact we try and pride ourselves on providing clients of all budgets with decent accommodation so we do not have many complaints at all, but we do get many stories from clients who say they found a place before they contacted EasyHome, that they thought was fine, and then this, that and the other started and they just ended up dreading going home back to the apartment or condo.

We try then to relocate them to a more tranquil environment.

Q

And why do so many foreign tenants seem to have problems getting deposit money back? Have you noticed this?

A

Again I think this goes back to your comments about ‘pounding the streets of Bangkok’ yourself, which is something I disagree with.

Let’s face it we have all landed in an airport in a new country before, jumped in a taxi or bought something locally and been ripped off. I know it’s happened to me, and it is because as we leave the airport we are glowing bright green! We are targets to be scammed!

This is no different to when someone who is not a specialist in Bangkok real estate starts ‘pounding the streets’. Opportunist landlords can see you coming a mile off. They know you have no weight with the law and they know they can take advantage of your situation.

Again if you contact a real estate agency to do the deal for you, then proper contracts will be signed and witnessed. The landlord will understand that the agents are acting on your behalf and will not stand for any underhand behavior. In addition being a legally set up company, they will carry weight in the eyes of the law.

In addition to this the situation of withholding deposits is unlikely to happen as the agent will probably have dealt with the landlord before and have a relationship with him/her, which is beneficial to both parties. The landlord will then not want to rip-off one of the agents clients, therefore souring the relationship.

Q

I also noticed on your website that you are very Bangkok-focused. I did a search for apartments in Pattaya and Kanchanaburi and got ‘no results found’. You mean to say you can’t find me an apartment in Pattaya for less than 10,000 a month, far from the entertainment so I can get down to some serious bible study?

A

No, sorry. I am afraid not. We are specializing in Bangkok only properties; so that we can make sure we are on the ball with all that is going on in the city.

We leave costal resorts and other parts of Thailand to the other specialists.

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