You should never buy a condo in Southeast Asia under any circumstances. After spending so much time in the region I am positive about this. Because I bounce around so much, I have gained a lot of experience in this area. I have stayed in condos all across the continent. Sometimes for a few days. Sometimes for several months. And I have seen some things.
As a foreigner, you are not allowed to buy land in Southeast Asia. But most of the southeast Asian countries have rules in place that will allow you to buy a condo. Think about that for a second. Why is it that they’ll happily let you buy a condo, even though you can never hold land in your own name?
And why exactly are the condos going up at such at rapid speed in countries like Thailand and Cambodia? What is behind this massive growth and high rent? These are the things you need to thing long and hard about before you ever pledge a large sum of money to buy a tiny room in one of Southeast Asia’s many new high rises.
Condos in Southeast Asia are low quality
Building standards in Southeast Asia range from lax to no-existent. When building inspectors even exist they are impotent and ineffective. They either can’t or wont enforce rules. Assuming rules even exist. And in the odd case they find something they don’t like, a little tea money can usually fix the situation.
Last year I moved into one of the newest condos in Cambodia. The place pushed a luxury feel. And I was one of the first people to stay there. The view was nice, but the problems started showing up immediately. There was a huge gap above one of the windows because the building was not straight. When the wind blew it came right through the gap. After it rained, so did a bunch of bugs. The air conditioner wasn’t strong enough to heat the whole condo. The door frames were lop sided, so you couldn’t shut the bathroom door all the way. And then there were the daily power outages that the generator was too small to deal with.
Another thing to remember is that there is no real concept of maintenance in Southeast Asia. The buildings aren’t that good to start with. And they only get worse over time because there is no upkeep. I stayed in a new condo in Thailand five years ago. I looked at it again recently and the place is trashed. The walls are dirty with big cracks and mysterious multicolored stains. There were cockroaches crawling all over the place. One of the two elevators was somehow permanently broken too. And the swimming pool water was green.
A condo is Southeast Asia is not a good place to live
Whenever I stay in a condo, it seems like I am always surrounded by party throwing assholes or families with noisy undisciplined kids they barely pay attention too. That is mainly who moves into the new condos you see everywhere. Do you think Somchai the taxi driver and his lovely wife and kids are paying 35,000 Baht a month rent? That was the rent on my last condo in Bangkok. There were a few Thai-Chinese businessmen with rooms in the building that I rarely saw. And then there were a whole lot of Chinese people who made more noise than a wolverine on yaba in a cymbal factory. The only Thai people I saw regularly were mopping the lobby.
There is no concept of peace and quiet whatsoever in Southeast Asia. I was up the entire first night in my most expensive “luxury” Bangkok condo. Even though it was way back from the main road, I could hear the modded tuk tuks and motorcycles tearing up and down all night long. The booms and bangs came right through my 27th story window. And it never stopped.
No one else in the building cared or even noticed. And that’s the reason why the place is how it is to begin with: no ones cares. Some of it is fun and great for guys who want to go on an adventure. But we’re not talking about spending some wild nights at Nana Plaza on a week long holiday. We’re talking about buying an expensive condo in Southeast Asia.
New location, same situation
Another new Bangkok condo I stayed in was built eye level with a freeway. Motorcycles, buses and trucks in Thailand are noisy as hell. And the sounds they make poured into the room all day and night. It never stopped. Even some Thai girls who seem otherwise immune to noise complained when they were in my room.
A condo I stayed at in Chiang Mai was turned into an Air BnB hub. There were all kinds of families and tourists piling all through the hallways day and night. Forget about using the gym or the swimming pool. You couldn’t even find a place. The building rules said the rooms couldn’t be used for short time stays or rented to tourists. But no one follows the rules in Southeast Asia.
Luckily, I am always able to leave a condo whenever I get sick of it. That’s the beauty of renting. I can pack up and go at the drop of a dime. I can even leave the entire country and never look back if I want. Not so for the poor guys who actually buy these things.
What’s that smell?
Every condo in Southeast Asia stinks. It doesn’t matter where they are or how much they cost. They don’t even have a sewage system in Phnom Penh. So you expect it there. But what about embassy row in Bangkok, where you’re nestled between the multi-billion dollar malls? Yea, those stink too. And I’m not the only one who notices it.
What smells even worse are the condo sales deals I see. They make all kinds of promises and guarantees at their little displays in the malls. But it’s mostly bullshit. The real money is made by the developers and their friends who get in early before the deals go public. The profit is made long before the first scoop of dirt is dug.
Do you really think that there’s an entire industry set up to help western people come to Southeast Asia and profit with ease? That it is as easy as walking into a mall and signing some papers? I know this kind of stuff is appealing to people. That’s why they buy lottery tickets with unbelievable odds. But a condo is a major investment. And in Southeast Asia, it is not a good one.
Southeast Asian condos are not a good investment
How much is your condo going to be worth in five years where the pool is unusable and half the stuff in the building is broken? Especially when there are five new condo buildings nearby that were just built. Who will pay more for a used condo in a worn down building than a shiny new one?
And forget renting it out too. In a lot of places you are not allowed, because you’re a foreigner. If you are allowed, you are taxed to death for doing it. And running a business like that can mess with your visa situation. Plus you might need to hire local help to run the operation. Or any other number of things. Not to mention dealing with the people who stay in your room. Do you want an underpaid career in hospitality? Finally, it can all go belly up overnight, like when Japan basically banned AirBNB in 2018. Too much work for too little reward.
A condo is not a house or land. And Southeast Asia is not North America or Europe. Incidentally, anyone from any country can buy land and houses in America. And the prices are high but more or less consistent with real underlying value. Condo prices in Southeast Asia are insanely inflated. The condos aren’t worth what they sell for, and they don’t hold their value. They aren’t good investments. They won’t get better over time. And they’re not good places to live permanently. That’s why foreigners are allowed to buy them.
So you should never buy a condo in Southeast Asia. Just rent them as you need them, then move on. But you should definitely buy condoms, to protect you from the hard-to-cure drug-resistant gonorrhea that’s all too common in the region. And that is all I have to say about that.