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Property Watch: Phuket reality versus hype



PHUKET: Phuketians and long-term expatriates will recall the days when moving between beaches and Phuket Town required a scrambler bike due to the lack of roads. Umbrellas were occasionally sighted in Patong near the sandy Bangla Road track.

The property market in Phuket and the reasons for Thais and foreigners to invest in Phuket have radically changed, as has the tourism market.

Those who value solitude, peace and tranquility now have very limited options in Phuket; multi-million dollar villas in the hills, or near the rocks with a sea view, and don’t dare to leave home. The cost of tranquility is therefore extremely high per square meter. Economically, it would seem obvious that if the reason for buying a private exclusive villa is privacy and peace, you could simply build one somewhere past the Sarasin bridge in Phang Nga Province and pay substantially less than in Phuket.

However, the truth is that the attraction of Phuket is not really solitude, peace and tranquility for the high end-high priced villa market; the middle market; or the lower tier market. That simply isn’t why people move to Phuket, anymore. It can’t be.


The dream of living on a desert island is indeed just that. Once there, most humans will then yearn for creature comforts. A wooden hut will suddenly have a substantial roof and a teak wood sala; the fruit of the land will suddenly become processed meats and delicious cheeses in Villa Market and Tops. A homegrown mango will become an imported passion fruit. Rice whisky will become a single malt with a cigar.

Phuket is no different. It was great when Tesco Lotus arrived, but greater now there is also Tesco Express, I think. Central Festival meant you didn’t get moody stares in Robinsons when you asked for something not on display, and now there are other retail therapy options and even more coming soon.


Wiki-addicts will know that there are 76 Provinces in Thailand. If you ask foreign investors if they would buy a villa in some of the most naturally beautiful tranquil provinces – Nan, Tak, Mae Hong Son, Sisaket, for example – the answers might include “where”, “why”, and “what ‘amenities’ do these places have?’

Foreign investors might not understand that Thais actually live with lots of amenities in each Province very comfortably, thank you very much, without the constant whirring of cement trucks; underpass construction jackhammers and speeding green plate taxis; mini-vans and metered taxis competing in the daily Phuket F1 roulette wheel of accidents and carelessness.

Notwithstanding ALL of that, Phuket has become, and still is, a desirable set of postal codes.


Lake view townhouses; detached golf course view villas; marina berth condominium pads; east and west coast stunning vista penthouses and mini-estates; vibrant Phuket Town traditional conversions; simple convenient moo-baan family homes with pool and gym facilities. All of this choice within a stone’s throw from sailing; golf; high-end supermarkets; low-price Supercheaps; quality massage and sauna experiences; busy Thai markets; and a calendar of Phuket events on a weekly basis. These intangibles are what makes Phuket more expensive.

As many Phuketians will sometimes say to a foreigner who has lost his or her temper and control; can’t stop complaining; or seems to want to bracket one bad experience into an overall persecution of Thailand – if you don’t like it here anymore, leave! The fact is, there will be plenty of people left behind, still enjoying their experience.


On roadshows and exhibitions, I used to be asked about the legal framework for foreign investment. Now I am more commonly asked commercial questions and one of the most frequently asked is, ‘What is the re-sale market like?’ Well, existing owners actually create the real estate re-seller’s market in part, through perception.

If you are still trying to sell others on the idea that Phuket is a quite tranquil place of only outstanding natural beauty, then you are creating a false market, and the market will collapse. If you constantly complain about the presumably well-researched informed choice you made, then you are damaging your own market. But if you sell Phuket and your property with something that often seems to be a stranger to many, the truth, then the market will be more orderly, reliable and sustainable.

Desmond Hughes has been an owner and operator of his law firm in Thailand for 12 years, and is a Senior Partner at Hughes Krupica law firm

— Desmond Hughes


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