Building a house: UK .v. Thailand – Part 1


So, how different is it, really? C’mon… you want to build a house. You have, or can get, land. Should be straightforward, right?

Well…let’s see. One of the countries IS fairly straightforward, but which one?  


United KingdomThailand
Finding land for building is difficult. The UK is crowded. There is high demand for building plots. Land has to be allocated as ‘building land – you cannot just build a house anywhere. Building land is expensive. Part of the high price is down to the market being whipped up by estate agents and owners, plus the classic supply-and-demand.Finding land is considerably easier especially out of the towns and cities. Crowding is actually about the same – both countries have around 65M people. The demand for building land comes from developers or foreign expats who want to build a house. In general, any land can become building land. The cost is 5-10 times cheaper to buy land to build. The estate agent concept is limited to conurbations. In rural Thailand, you are more likely to find land by word-of-mouth.
You will need the services of an architect. He will produce the plans for you – a complete set including everything needed to make the submission. Depending on his workload this might take a lot longer than you had envisaged. Also, architects like to charge a percentage of the house value as their fee, which can end up running up a bill of £000’s. If you try to do the whole submission yourself it will almost certainly get rejected, adding more time to your project until you can amend and re-submit.You can sketch out your idea yourself, or use an off-the-shelf drawing program which will create plans. You will need Certified Engineer or Architect to carry out the calculations for your build, and to add the Thai language annotation. If you employ a good professional here, he will make sure the plans get approved, making any changes if requested, and re-submitting. Cost for this at the time of writing, can vary between 30,000THB and 60,000 THB (approx £700 – £1500). There are pre-calculated and approved plans available in Thailand which speed up the whole process still further.
Planning Permission
Once the plans are ready, you get an application for from the Local Authority. Fill out the form, attach it to your planning submission and pay the fee. The fee is non-refundable in the event that your plans are rejected. Depending on the LA, they will set a timescale of several weeks before they officially respond the decision to permit or reject the development. If your application is refused, you can appeal the decision, but you must have a good reason to do so. Simply being unhappy about the decision is not enoughYou, or your Engineer / Architect, physically takes the plans bundle to the OrborTor regional administration office (Local Authority) and presents them to the Resident Engineer. Yes of course, the plans are checked, and the calculations verified. None of this ‘planning permission team only considers applications every 2 or 3 weeks’. The engineer can carry out the checks in a couple of days, then advise the OrBorTor that the plans can be approved. No one else is involved. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the Engineer works WITH you to make sure those plans are acceptable, so there is no need to appeal
Ground Survey
The plot will require a survey to determine the bearing capacity of the land, and whether it will support the structure. This can be a simple visual survey or a costly one with equipment and experts involved. This is one area where the requirement is ‘bigged up’ and costs associated with it also rise. Part of this requirement stems from the way houses are built in the UK, with strip foundations, and load-bearing walls forming the house integrityThe building type in Thailand is predominantly the RC frame with non-load-bearing infill walls, no strip foundation is constructed, as in UK. Unless the building is small and single storey, the ground will have to be checked, again for the spot foundation support, or if piling is needed. It is totally possible that the OrBorTor office has a plan of soil types and strengths and can refer to it for your application, so the survey may not even be required
Timescale for Planning Permission
The concept. The plans to be drawn following a meeting with the architect. The planning permission to be sought. The appeals process if the plan is rejected. Enquiry. Witnesses. The slow process in the planning department itself. The reality that the LA planning department will almost certainly reject the application All this could amount to 4- 6 MONTHS and even longer if there are objections. You might make a submission 2,3,4 or more timesComing up with the idea, and sketching it out. Any number of certified engineers to turn your sketches into plans, and present them at the local authority offices. Make any changes based on the recommendations of the LA Engineer and resubmit. Permission and the associated Building Permit are almost always granted All of this can realistically be completed in 1 month IF everyone is available and your sketches are not too complicated. Even with such hold-ups, a 2 month timetable is easily achievable.
These can come from the LA, from neighbours, from any of the services and utilities, from adjacent businesses, the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority, etc etc etc. a large number of ‘interested parties’ can raise objections to the planning proposal. Loss of amenity, loss of view. Dangerous access point, under a flight path, lack of services or Underground services directly in the path of the development, contaminated soil, hostile or jealous potential neighbours. Any or all of the above, and more besides can be put in the way of your development proposal. You can counter some or all of it by liaising with the interested parties, agreeing a revised solution together, producing your own letters of support, but all of this takes time. With many objections, there will be an enquiry and this can really add to the time and costsThere is not really an ‘objection’ process where interested parties can comment on the planning proposal. You are under no obligation to notify anyone of your intentions, apart from the Local Authority. Therefore, this potential minefield does not exist in Thailand. However… …it’s a double–edged sword. Yes, it speeds up your proposal and application. No pesky people causing problems. You get your permission and start building, right? That’s fine, but it’s the same for other ‘developers ‘too. How would you feel if you completed your dream home and six months later a supermarket was built next door? Or a bar/disco? Or a pig farm?! You must ‘keep in’ with the OrBorTor office to learn about such proposals so you can raise a timely concern.
After what seems like a very long time, the ‘decision’ will be issued. In the UK, for small or single dwelling developers, the decision is almost always rejection. The whole system is stacked against a person who wants to build his own house, and in the process, is a nice little earner for those Local authorities – you pay, whether you win or lose, remember?. There are plenty of cases where an individual is denied permission to build an a particular piece of land but later a developer’s scheme on exactly the same piece of land is approved – all the initial ‘objections’ seem to magically melt away. Is it corruption? Back-handers? Possibly, it’s not for me to say but for 100% sure the planning process is more a case of who you know, not what you know.In Thailand, you are not judged on whether the Engineer thinks you deserve to be allowed to build. The plan is submitted. The plan is checked and considered and usually the plan is approved. That’s it. No dramas. Of course, sometimes ‘big business’ can influence who gets to build in a particular place, usually if they have a direct interest in that building, but it is nowhere near as widespread as in UK. The whole thing is low key. No making you sweat on the outcome. No building up the drama. You get told via a call or even just popping in to the offices of the Engineer. Unlike the UK, Planning control officers do not see themselves as ‘gods’ to be buttered up. No, in Thailand, they are hard-working professionals who want you to succeed. In the UK, those same professionals default position is for you to fail.
Appeal / resubmission after revision
There is a well-worn process for appealing the decision if, as is mostly the case, it is rejected. The appeal needs to have some new reason if it has a hope of succeeding. There is more hope with the resubmission route. The initial decision will state the reasons. If they can be addressed, the application can be re-submitted and that has a higher chance of success. It comes down to whether the planning control officers accept that the revisions cancel the reasons for rejection. Since the overwhelming majority of planning permission submissions in Thailand are granted, the appeal process is virtually non-existent. Even if some revision or addition to the submission is requested, often the Engineer will move forward on the understanding that the item will be corrected. Once again, the planning officers’ work with the applicant to achieve success.
UK and Thailand – Granted Permission
Here is where the two countries processes are similar. Assuming you are lucky enough to actually get a decision granted, An approval certificate / Building permit will be issued, detailing the build, the timescale for the commencement of building, etc

Once the approval has been confirmed, a Building certificate is issued. Although the process is low-key it is important to retain that Certificate as it confirms the construction is legal. This is very useful when the time comes to sell the house


Managing a project remotely


First of all…. if you can avoid this…do so! Trying to oversee the build without actually going to site can let smaller issues go unresolved. You do not develop the rapport with the build team. You don’t get a ‘feel’ for the house as it takes shape. Being on hand is always better if possible, but sometimes, it is not possible.

In my case, the remote project management was unavoidable, because I was in the Middle East, and PJ was in Bangkok, over 100 Km from the site. If you add in that we did not have a car, and in any case she was nervous of driving such a distance on her own (she was right to be, even though she has a full driving licence, because you cannot foresee what other, less capable drivers might do in your vicinity!)

As a result of this, the house project needed remote management, so if you are in this situation, you need to have a few things in place.

  • That contract

Signed agreed and a copy with both parties. This becomes your (and the builder’s) reference and depending on how you write it, and what you include, it should steer the project along. This is why I stress that it is important to take your time creating the contract, and make sure everything is covered. It is important too, that the builder is clear about what the contract controls – he needs to understand it. He need to understand that he has to follow it. He will sign to confirm this.

A combination of a well-translated contract and discussion in Thai and English, until everyone is satisfied, all questions have been answered etc. is vital. Don’t rush this. For anyone who may be interested, a copy of the TD Towers contract is available to purchase if required. This will guide you how to create your own contract, and possibly help you to avoid leaving out anything vital! Click here to contact me for more information.

  • Site representation

This is very important.

So…you can’t be there. That’s understood. So… are you going to just let the builder and his team ‘get on with it’ and several months later, they hand you the keys?(and of course, you have made all the payments). If you are wise, the answer is…of course not!

Nominate someone to ‘check’ on the progress, someone with some build knowledge, and not just a spectator. Provide them a copy of the plans and the contract, so they have the project documents to refer to if there is a doubt.

Your nominee must be empowered to make a judgement on site, as in effect they are… your official representative. It is up to you how much power you give them under that title. Finally, they must communicate with you along the way.

In our case, we employed the Engineer from the OrBorTor’s office! He was perfect for the role as he had approved the plan so he knew exactly what should be done and how it was to be completed, based on best building practise. He has not let us down.

Additionally, PJ made unannounced visits to the site, to see for herself, and to be available face to face if the builder needed any clarifications.

  • Progress reports / photos

In the same way your site representative updates you, the builder needs to show he is progressing the build as per the contract and plans. This will need communication and more specifically, visual confirmation of the work. As part of his role, the builder should produce daily progress photos / videos and send them to you. This confirms work is completed, which is in the builder’s interest as he gets paid on completed sections

How we are paying for TD Towers


Of course, when you set out to construct anything, anywhere…sooner or later you have to think about money. The finances. How it’s all going to be paid for. You may be lucky, and rich. Perhaps you were left some money by a distant relative, or you had a winning streak at the bookies.

Or perhaps you didn’t.

For most of us, the cost of the project is very important, because we need to know that we can afford to complete that project and not leave it ‘hanging’ with 80% completed, because the money ran out and we can complete it only after working and earning some more.

Actually, that’s not unheard of in Thailand. Unforeseen costs, or optimistic financial planning can bring a project to a stop, and it will restart once the funds are again in place and the builders are available. It happens but it’s not really ideal.

No, you need accurate costings, a final contract price agreed with the builder, with no hidden ‘extras’ (see my section on the contract in pre-start paperwork), and a payments schedule all worked out, and most importantly, that you have enough money to fulfil the contract you are agreeing and signing. This is the same, if you are building in Europe or in Thailand – people need to be paid! And more importantly, the builder needs to trust you. This is why I said that you need to spend enough time on the plans, costings, contract and financial backing arrangements – you cannot skim over it.

For us, the build costs were in Thailand so the labour cost is a LOT lower that in UK. Added to that, some raw materials were also cheaper – here you need to go out and research those lower costs. Understand the cost of a metre of concrete. How much rebar is? Plumbing supplies. Wood. It may seem crazy but how does that saying go? ‘If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail’, and the other one, ‘knowledge is power’ is also very true in this context.

So, we had an idea, we turned it into plans, we spoke to several builders, and we got prices. We were able to break down the selected contract value into agreed, sequential stage payments which meant we did not have to find, say 25% of the contract value up front.

From my work in the Middle East, and with a foresight of the build to come, I started saving for it about 4 years earlier. No… I did not have a 4 year pre-build plan but I knew I was going to build at some point and a chunk of savings was going to help. We had used some of those savings to purchase the land, and the rest was used to start the stage payments. I also had an independent savings plan with my last employer which I knew was going to pay for the final stage payment (if you read the contract section, you would know that the last payment was intentionally larger as it included much of the builders profit, payable after the snagging list – go have a look if you have not done so already!)

Meanwhile I was still working and saving. Each stage was around 30 days and there were 10 stages, so I just had to find the stage payment on time. Using some savings and some earnings, I was able to make all 10 payments though a couple of them were delayed slightly due to money being moved around!

However you plan to do it, look at what you want to build, and get the all-important build contract costings. Then, and you must do this – honestly look and make sure that you can afford to do it.  Don’t get swept up in the excitement of building a house, especially if accompanied by ‘encouragement’ from your better half (!). Don’t let your desire to build that dream cloud your judgement. Make sure you have the money, it’s as simple as that.

Now, what to do if it turns out that you don’t (quite) have the money?

Again, it’s quite simple.

Build something a little smaller, a little less grand. Do you really need 4 beds when 3 will do? You can add that swimming pool later, so leave it out of the contract. No need to go crazy with a big, western-style kitchen if your Thai partner does all the cooking outside. Maybe you don’t need hardwood flooring in absolutely every room? We went through this process. We chopped out the pool and put hardwood flooring in 3 rooms. Will it affect our enjoyment? Not one bit. We will add that pool at a later date. We will have wooden flooring in the main living room, and for most of the time anyway, we will be outside or under zone 2!

The other area you can cut costs is where you can do some of the work yourself. So, in our contract, we cut out the kitchen fabrication and fitting, because I knew I could do that myself later on. That can be a massive saving, and that’s just one area. Same goes for dressing rooms / fitted wardrobes, if you are a handyman. We will also landscape and plant the garden, making another big saving.

Finally, it really helps to have a great builder that you can work with to make it all happen. He needs to be flexible if you want to take on some of the work, and cut parts of the contract value accordingly.

The equipment we use to produce this blog


Not everyone realises the time and effort, plus the equipment requirement needed, to produce blog content! We have had a few requests to know what cameras, software, etc. we use to produce this blog, so here goes…

Still images

All photos were shot using a Canon 5D DSLR, a Canon 7D DSLR, a Canon PowerShot, and a Samsung Galaxy Note Smartphone.

Lenses… just 2. the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS III USM and the Sigma 10-20mm, plus of course the phonecam shots

Video footage

While videos could also be shot using the above cameras, in fact for ease and simplicity, all video footage was shot using the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S Smartphones. (S5, S8+, S10, and S20 Ultra).


No drones used. No image stabilising gimbals used. Gitzo GT1543T carbon fibre tripod (now superseded by the GT1555T) used when shooting still with the DSLRs.

Photo Editing

Almost exclusively Adobe LightRoom, though there have been some parts completed using Capture One Pro.

Video editing

Exclusively Filmora. The latest version, Filmora 10 is absolutely amazing.

Blog writing

Good old Microsoft Word (Part of Microsoft Office2016). All the spell-checking and grammar suggestions you need. You may even have it already!

Website template

One of the many created by WordPress, who have a range of free and paid for options. This template is the ILLUSTRATR paid option.

Web hosting

Services provided by Webfundament



They say anyone can build a house… and anyone can…in theory.

However, you need steely resolve, tenacity, single-mindedness and of course funds if you are to end up with what you want. We were not rich so that ruled out a lot of locations. Time was not on our side so we could not wait for the 2-3 years’ worth of deliberations and rejection that is so prevalent in planning offices in the west. And the design itself would probably fall at the first in those locations too!

In fact, attempts were made through the years to get plans through the system, but all to no avail. Seems it’s more a case of who you know than what you know!

We never gave up though, just looked at other ways to make the idea come to fruition. That’s how we ended up building our dream home in Thailand

The Idea


Like many, we had dreams of building our own place. The satisfaction of taking an idea, even a design,  a dream… and watching as that dream became a reality. A lot of people have ‘build a house’ on their bucket-list. Most of them remain an unfulfilled wish. But for us, after a lot of work, determination, negotiation, selection and of course time (!) we have managed to tick off that bucket list entry.

That idea was more than just a ‘build a house’ – this was to be the house we would settle down in, a long term place in a rural setting away from pollution, noise and crowds! See below for how we planned, selected and built the dream…

What are we doing…?


Did you ever want to build your own house? The idea that from your design, a house emerged. I had such a notion, over 30 years ago.

For all the usual reasons, My desire was thwarted by lack of salary, bonus too low, land prices running ahead of my buying power. In fact, I put the idea on the ‘back burner’ and for those intervening 30 years, concentrated on conventional ‘modern box’ living. The idea for an individual home came again when, through a change in circumstances, I found myself living in SE Asia.

Everything that previously prevented my build plan was now eliminated. My salary had not really jumped crazily but it had jumped enough to make a house-build a viable option. Land was cheap… I mean…really cheap compared to Europe, and so were build materials and labour.

It looked like my build dream might become a reality