Living Abroad: The Business of House Hunting

Posted April 8, 2013 by Lauren Manuel in Expat Life

House at Koh Samui

Once you have decided to linger a little longer in a chosen country and dig your roots deeper into a city you would like to call home, it’s time to find more permanent shelter.  Beach huts, tents and bungalows big enough for just you and your backpack may suffice for your first few weeks, but there after you’ll probably yearn for a tad more comfort and space.  I moved to the island of Koh Samui over three months again and already I’ve slept in four different beds. House hunting on the island is quite a precarious business and we’ve racked up quite a few scooter miles trying to find our current home.

Here’s how to go about looking for digs in Koh Samui:

1. The Streets are your classifieds

There is no newspaper or classifieds that lists (in English) which houses and rooms are up for rent.  I once saw an ad for a luxury villa to rent up on a notice board in the supermarket but that was about it.  The exceptions aside, the only way to find out what’s available is to drive around the island.   Every part of it that is, not just the main roads because most residential spots are off the beaten track and deep within the corners of suburbia.  Look out for signs reading ‘House for Rent’ and the telephone number.  Call and pray they speak some English. As you can imagine the hunt can take days sometimes weeks of daily excursions, so take a hat, sunscreen and snacks for the road each time you head out.

 2. Meet with the landlord in person

Because the probability that you can speak fluent Thai at the start of your stay is low or the hopes of the landlord understanding your English are slim- the best way to chat about rental, wifi and the electricity meter is in person.  This in itself is an operation.  I found that once we reached the landlord on the phone, getting directions on this island is a nightmare.  Sois (roads) here are nameless and go by numbers within their different neighborhoods whilst privately owned roads have no numbers at all.  Every landlord, scooter rental shop and hotel concierge has used the closest family mart has a landmark.  Get to know the locations of all family marts.

3. Negotiate for long term rentals

Landlords are willing to negotiate the monthly rental if you are staying for a few months.  So make sure you give them some indication that you are not just a fly by night tourist.  You can easily find bungalows for one or two people from 6000 baht upwards, but most of these will not have a kitchen, fridge or a stove to cook on.  If you aren’t keen to on daily dinners from the market, look to pay between 8000 and 11 000 baht on a one-bedroom place with an area to cook in.  Some places are wifi inclusive; others charge about 500 baht per month.  Most rentals will exclude electricity which you will have to pay once you get the bill.  Find out if your resort pays government rates of 3 baht per meter or private rates of around 6 baht per meter and then decide just how many hours a day you really need the airconditioning.

4. Hold your ‘give notice’ cards close to your chest

When our landlord flew to Thailand from Australia, we really regretted telling him we planned to leave in a month’s time.  Whilst contracts in most countries are legally binding and state that you have to give a certain amount of notice in Thailand, I’ve found that lessors and lessees don’t pay much regard to notice periods.  As soon as we told him he went about hammering, drilling and sawing on our balcony, beneath and next to our house.  If the constant noise was not enough, they put a ‘House to rent’ sign up a month before we left and brought people to view our house every few days.  Needless to say, we wished we had just disappeared into the night.

5. Do a thorough check of the house with the landlord

Just to be sure that you are not tricked out of your deposit, take notes on what was broken when you first arrived.  When we moved into our new place, it had not been cleaned, the electrical box to heat our water was broken and some windows didn’t close.  If you fully intend to get your deposit back, do the necessary recon.

6. Pick your priorities

Our first bungalow on the island had the most idyllic view of the azure ocean, was a hop across the road from the beach and in a quiet neighbourhood.  Unfortunately it was also really far from the schools where we teach, had no wifi and leaked the craziest smells from the drain.  Our house now is closer to school, has a beautiful garden and modern look and feel but is not close to the beach.  Pick your battles, budget and what’s most important to you.  We have yet to find a house here that has it all.

About the Author

Lauren Manuel

Six continents later, Lauren still has itchy feet and wanderlust for adventure in all corners of the earth. Together with her husband, she is traveling the world pausing only to find work, take photos and write. She is currently mentoring English teachers in rural Malaysia and sharing everything about her expat life on WildJunket. Follow her wanderings on The Travel Manuel .

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