House Hunter: Thailand

'Is it safe to return to Phuket - and buy?'
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The problem

The problem

ALISON LEEDER OF SOUTHAMPTON WRITES: I would love to buy a beach property on coastal Thailand. The problem is I have no idea if this is even possible. Many years ago I travelled through Thailand and decided it would be a lovely place to come back and settle in. My main knowledge is of the west coast - around Phuket - though I understand that this was the area devastated by the tsunami on Boxing Day last year. I wondered if you could tell me whether the area has recovered and are there any properties available for sale. If so, what can you get for your money?

Though Phuket would probably be my preference, are there any other places you can recommend for buying a property to reside? I don't speak Thai, so it would need to be a tourist area, though I don't want to be stuck in a tiny apartment of the sort found on the Costa Blanca - even if it does have a sea view. Something in a traditional Thai style would be lovely. I would also want to live near a beach and all the other amenities such as shops, bars and restaurants.

Can you give me some advice about the buying process and how complicated it is? And will I need to use a lawyer?

The advice

KATY POWNALL REPLIES: It was indeed West Coast (or the Andaman Coast) that bore the brunt of the Indian Ocean tsunami in Thailand. The result was destruction, a tragic loss of life and economic downtown in an area that had become virtually dependent on tourism. Thankfully, the Thai government and the tourism authority of Thailand went into overdrive - as did reconstruction efforts - and, miraculously, most areas are up and running again.

Phuket, for example, has already bounced back, with more than 85 per cent of the island's hotels reopened and very little sign of structural damage. As well as physical repair, much effort has been put into re-instilling confidence in holiday makers and investors. This seems to have paid off, with already healthy volumes of bookings for the remainder of the year and beaches and bars alike beginning to throng with tourists.

In answer to your question about property in the Phuket area, rest assured there is plenty. From off-plan apartments for £50,000 to multi-million-pound privately built beach-front villas, there's a lot to choose from. And, according to local agents, neither prices nor demand have tumbled as a result of the terrible events of 26 December. International property doyens Knight Frank report very little impact on the lifestyle luxury market in Phuket, with projects continuing to sell in the early months of this year. Investor confidence has been a little more shaken, though this is expected to be fully recovered by the last quarter of the year.

Phuket is undoubtedly the most popular place for overseas purchasers; accordingly, land prices have risen considerably (though they are still excellent value by UK standards). With this in mind, property development aimed at the overseas market has begun in earnest on the east coast, which borders the Gulf of Thailand. The Hua Hin area, in particular, has boomed over the past 15 months and offers cheaper property, six international golf courses, lovely beaches and is just three hours from Bangkok. Condos and apartments are available here from around £15,000 and you can design and build your own home from £100,000.

As a rule, foreigners are not allowed to own land in Thailand, though you can buy a unit in a registered apartment. Due to such restrictions on ownership of land (as distinct from the building itself), homes with long-term leasehold on the land are popular. Do not even consider attempting a purchase without consulting an independent lawyer with a good knowledge of the Thai language and property law. You wouldn't buy a property in the UK without a lawyer, so why would you on the other side of the world? As well as a vast selection of lawyers based in the UK, there are many good international lawyers on Phuket island, whose primary business is assisting foreigners with their property needs. Usually, the total cost for all the necessary legal work is around £1,000.

The solution

Property one: Two bedroom villa in L'Orchidee Residences, Patong Bay, Phuket

Price: $472,000 (£246,500)

Agent's details: Set amid 28 villas, each with a private pool, this property boasts lovely views over the Andaman Sea. The communal gardens have waterfalls, a clubhouse, spa and gym. Three- and four-bedroom properties are also available

Agent: Knight Frank, 020-7629 8171

Property two: Three- bedroom villa in south Phuket

Price: £249,000

Agent's details: Located close to Rawai beach, this villa is within the Sirinthara development and boasts views towards the mountains. Each villa has a private swimming pool and private deck area

Agent: Ocean Estates International, 00 66 986 77154, www.oceanestates.com

Property three: Three bedroom beach house in Cha'Am, near Hua Hin

Price: £199,000

Agent's details: Five villas on Haad Chao Samran Beach in Petchburi. At high tide water surrounds the complex. Made from natural materials including teak, maka, black granite and marble, the property boasts four bathrooms, large terraces, two parking spaces and self-contained guest quarters

Agent: Manora Company, 00 66 32 530532, www.manoraproperty.com

If you would like House Hunter's help in finding a property in the UK or overseas, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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