The house of horrors (final part)
The fourth and final part of Ralph Sasser's amazing story
This is the story of one teacher's attempt to build his dream home in Thailand and all the perils and pitfalls that go with it. Before you read the final chapter, I recommend you take a look at the first three instalments. Ralph's story began in November 2009 when he discussed the plans for his new home with a local builder.
In the first half of the following year (2010) Ralph not only had to deal with rogue contractors, but also a physical handicap that cut short his teaching career.
The third update to the story came in late 2010 when Ralph entered into a long court case (are there any other kind in Thailand?) and was left with a half-finished building. Surely things could only get better? So here we are in mid-2012, another 18 months down the line. Did Ralph's house of horrors story finally have a happy ending? Read the fourth and final instalment.
For those of you that have never had cause to go into the court system here, the court system in Thailand probably works very differently to where you come from. It is a sharp contrast to the US court system.
After a year of monthly court and mandatory mediation hearings, producing the picture evidence and receipts that clearly showed why I cancelled the contract, the contractor re-thought the amount he was suing me for and dropped it to half of the original amount (which was 290,000 baht)
I refused his offer. I wanted to go to court in front of a real judge. The mediation officer was a friendly man and had the authority to settle the case, but I felt the case would never be settled with him. Of course he was neutral as he should be, but I felt he leaned more toward the contractor going on his remarks and actions.
Not being fluent in Thai, there was a lot I didn't understand. But I had done nothing wrong and wasn't about to let this crooked contractor get away with any more of my money. I felt that by going to court, any reasonable judge would plainly see that the contractor had duped me and I had every right to cancel the contract. My attorney also advised me not to settle. Having exhausted all the mandatory mediation hearings, I was finally able to go in front of a real judge to get my case heard. Eventually. But it took another four months to finally get a court date.
When I walked into the court room, I was shocked to see that the person I thought was the mediation officer was in fact the judge. He had seen and heard all my evidence from six months of mediation hearings, but now it was the attorney's turn to try and solidify their case.
My wife was called to the stand first. They asked her the usual questions that had led up to me terminating the contract. Several times it became a shouting match between the contractor's attorney and my wife, but she stood her ground and gave only the facts. My wife was on the witness stand all of the first day.
The following week we went back to the court and they called my wife back to the stand. The judge wanted to clarify some details in her testimony and ask her some more questions. When my wife had finished, I was called to the stand. Because there was only an hour until the court closed, the judge had me sworn in and clarified submitted evidence.
During the mediation process - when I was ask to clarify something by the contractor's attorney - I noticed that he constantly tried to twist the facts in his favor. I know attorneys are trained to do this because I have a good friend who is a lawyer and he's told me many things that they are trained to do. I always felt like my contractor's attorney was waiting for me to make a mistake. But, when you're telling the truth, one doesn't make mistakes with the facts.
The third week, I was called back to the stand. The contractor's attorney seemed to be having a hard time asking me straightforward questions. Even though my house is a single story house, he referred to it as a first floor and the roof as a second floor. I corrected him, but he continued to make the same mistake. He asked me to describe all the problems with the first floor. When I started describing the problems, he cut in and started asking questions about the second floor. He had done this several times, so I stopped him and told him in a very sarcastic way, "I'm not finished describing the problems with the first floor yet. We aren't up to the second floor" The attorney looked at the judge with a smirk and told the judge I was being a hostile witness. The judge told him he was also getting confused and to only ask questions on one floor at a time. Score one big point for me.
The lawyer continuously tried to confuse me, but he never got what he wanted. One question he asked me was, "what does the house look like now?" I told him, "That is irrelevant. What is relevant is all the problems that had to be corrected that the contractor refused to correct." The attorney looked at the judge and smiled. The judge didn't say anything.
Now to the fourth week of the case. I went back on the witness stand and the judge asked his attorney for a list of roofing supplies he used on my roof. I knew then it was going to cost me more money. The attorney told the judge that his client didn't have the receipts. The judge became clearly annoyed and told him, "Your client is asking 290,000 baht for roofing materials he installed on Mr. Sasser's house and you have no proof of what it cost?" He mumbled and told the judge that this was indeed the situation. The judge told me to call a roofing contractor and get a price on just the roofing that was installed as seen in the pictures.
The following week, I went back on the stand and gave the judge the estimate for the roofing supplies - 57,000 baht. After the judge looked at it, he called a recess and told the attorneys to stay in the courtroom and everyone else to leave. When we went back in to the courtroom, the contractor's attorney looked like he had got a good spanking. My attorney told me that the judge was very upset that the contractor had tried to get that amount of money without any evidence.
In the end, I had to pay the 57,000 baht for the tiles the contractor had installed on the roof. The judge told me that if I had taken off what he had done and not used it, I wouldn't have had to pay anything. The judge's decision seemed reasonable. But of course I was hoping to not have to pay anything.
A week later, my attorney brought me a pay schedule of the amount I would need to pay the contractor every month, because I flatly refused to pay him all at once. I thought that with all the headaches he had caused me, this was just a small way to get back at him.
When my lawyer took the first payment and the pay schedule for the contractor to sign, the contractor told my attorney he didn't want any interest put on the total bill - in fact he didn't even want my money at all. My attorney brought me back the unsigned payment schedule and my money. He told me he had never heard of anyone doing this - and to pay the contractor when and if I ever wanted to.
So in the end, the contractor is the loser. For now anyway. I'm not in any hurry to ever pay him. My attorney told me to not worry and if anything is said to call him right away.
My home is complete now - and it's finally the house I wanted.
I sincerely hope that if anyone is considering building a home in Thailand, they read what can and might happen.
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Let me offer my opinion based on plenty of real life experience, having built plenty of homes in Thailand. Firstly I can only feel sorry for the awful situation the writer found himself in. For those who palm this off as nothing or feel this person did something wrong, let me be clear: Until it is your home and you experience the complete lack of care, misuse of your hard earned money, stress, lies and misery some contractors can cause, then you have no real understanding or can have any true empathy for the victim.
There are some good genuine contractors in Thailand but sadly a minority. The cases of taking money and running happen. Lies, deceit and misinformation do happen. Incredibly slow progress and breeches of legal contracts common. Terrible workmanship and hiding of mistakes happen. But when it is your home and your money, it is hard to even imagine what this does to your state of mind, those around you and your life. It is without question horrible, unfair and grossly unprofessional. But sadly some do not care, have no moral compass, no principles or any true professionalism at all. In fact I would go as far as to say, some even find it funny and do it deliberately. They can be totally non responsive, tell lies after lies and do everything to upset you and the successful completion of an opportunity you have been kind enough to give them. They are eating because of you, they are working because of you and they throw it back in your face with disregard, lack of any form of care and in instances with a degree of spiteful behaviour.
I am so glad the situation resolved itself and you won in the end. The damage these type of peole do is endless and causes serious emotional stress and heartache. I have nothing but contempt for them as the horrible, worthless creeps they are.
By David, US and Thailand (14th March 2015)
Of course I expected a few problems even before I started the house. There are always minor problems when a project is this big. I had no idea the problems would lead to what happened.
Yes, my comment was sarcastic and was meant to be. I think it was warrented. No one ask him to read my story. He did it on his own, so he wasted the "2 minutes of his life."
By ralph sasser, nong khai (2nd August 2012)
I think the suggestion to biuld a bridge is a sarcastic comment
And un warrented
Sounds like some one has a axe to grind over something
So comments like that are rather childish
But i am aware that there are some problems
With builders all over the world
But this is your money your house
So why should you not expect to get it built as you want
I have three friiends in issan that has just built thier own house s
Three different locations three different builders
And problems with every build so at the end of the day
You pay your money and take your chance
So the only thing i can draw on is find a builder
Aggree a price pay in instalments
And buy all materiels your self
Thats what my friend did and his house is finished
But he had a few headaches with his builder
I think thai biulders have a distain for westerners
And just try it on
So stand your and tell them this is how i want it
If you cant or wont do it my way ill find some one else
Good luck with your life and future
By Simon, Thailand (2nd August 2012)
Obviously, you know more about my business than I do. Building a bridge would be a waste of your time since you are so knowledgable.
By ralph sasser, nong khai (2nd August 2012)
What a yawwwn of a story. 2 minutes of my life wasted reading that. As a previous poster said, this kind of story is not a unique Thai experience. It happens everwhere in the world. You got a suspect tradesman and you didn't do your research...probably time you built a bridge.
By Jon, Melbourne, Australia (1st August 2012)
Thanks Ashford. Yes, it was a nighmare. Building a house can be okay with the right contractor and care in picking one. but, be "very careful" and get a lawyer to check the contract first. Remember, money trumps everything to a Thai. IMO.
Yes Rebecca, it does happen in the west, but I live in Thailand, so this is what happened in Thailand.
Yes, I did have a contractor place a lein on my property in the states for no good reason, but after he fixed his mistakes, I paid and it was removed.
By ralph sasser, nong khai (26th July 2012)
this really is a nightmare for you
i really was thinking of building a house myself
but reading this and other stories
makes me think dont think i will now
i will buy ready built or will rent one
i dont doubt that there are some good builders in thailand
but finding one would be a challenge as they probally start with good intentions
but then money is important to them
for example to do as little as possible
for as much as they can get away with
i wish you good luck with your home
but one concern i would have in your case
that one of your contracters would stew over the situation
and pay some one to break into your house and rob you or worse
so security in your house should be your number one priority
whether you are there or not
but good luck with it
By simon ashford, sisaket (17th July 2012)
Thanks for the story, but I feel a need to point out that there's really nothing uniquely Thai about any of this. What you've described is something people experience all over the world, including more developed, Western countries. You had a problem with your contractor and it took a while to get him off your back. Have you ever had a contractor's lien placed on you, for no good reason, in the U.S.? It's about the same, except you can understand what is being said, when you finally get your day in court.
By Rebecca, Philadelphia, PA (15th July 2012)