House Hunting in Thailand: An Indoor-Outdoor Sanctuary for $1.6 Million

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This contemporary five-bedroom house sits on two hilltop acres in Taling Ngam, offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Thailand from the island of Koh Samui, 10 miles off the southeast coast of Thailand.

Called Quartz House, the three-story home is built into the rock with seams of crystalline quartz forming the interior walls of rooms on the first and second floors, said the owner, Hugh Kingsley-Heath, who designed and built the house, completing it in 2015.

The top floor of the 8,611-square-foot house is largely open-air, including two pavilions topped with angled wood roofs supported by V-shaped columns.

“The top floor just has lots of glass and 360-degree views,” Mr. Kingsley-Heath said. “However, the downstairs are quite dramatic too, with sea views on one side and the crystal quartz as a back wall.”

From the main five-car parking lot, a pathway through tropical greenery passes a 10-by-59-foot pool, Jacuzzi and pool pavilion, arriving at the central pavilion with an outdoor lounge, benches, hammocks and formal dining area. The dining area abuts a kitchen and bathroom, with a double bedroom beyond.

Walls are clad in termite-proof kiln-dried pine, while floors throughout are nonslip sand-wash terrazzo (comfortable for walking barefoot, Mr. Kingsley-Heath said). Bathrooms have polished terrazzo basins and countertops.

There are three kitchens in Quartz House; the one on the top floor, with stained pine-clad cabinets and quartz countertops, is the main European-style kitchen. One side has slanted windows with hilltop views shaded by an overhang, and the other has windows and doors opening to a sunken terrace furnished as a lounge. The terrace extends to the bedroom, which like all the bedrooms, has a handmade pine bed and en suite bath.

Stairs descend along the rock to the second-floor dining area with a small kitchen and another living room. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors open to a giant synthetic-grass balcony. A waterfall splashes down the interior rock wall of the living room. The second floor has two double bedrooms, including the main.

The ground floor has an indoor-outdoor Thai-style kitchen for large-volume meals, along with two double bedrooms that open to a covered terrace currently outfitted as a gym. One bedroom also has built-in children’s bunk beds. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors open to the terrace and pathways leading to a second parking area for three cars. The ground floor also has a large room for storage and laundry.

The property has winding trails that make it popular with yoga retreats and other tourism groups, bringing in annual rental income of $75,000 before the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Kingsley-Heath said. The angular roof over the main pavilion collects rainwater for irrigation, and drinking water comes from a filtered well. There is a 30-car parking lot for large events.

Quartz House is on a gated private drive in southwestern Koh Samui, a tourist-friendly island with about 70,000 residents. The nearest town is Nathon, the island’s administrative seat and business center, about six miles northwest. The closest beach, Taling Ngam, is a few minutes away. Samui International Airport is about 17 miles northeast, and there is ferry service to the mainland from the pier in Nathon.

Foreigners traditionally have found Thailand attractive for its reasonable housing prices, which continue to be lower than in places like Hong Kong and Singapore. In recent years, Chinese buyers have galvanized the Thai market, brokers said.

“There has been a growing component of Chinese money purchasing investment properties, especially in Bangkok but also in other areas,” said John Jepson, an owner with his wife, Kulchira Jepson, of Samui Property Locator, a company specializing in Koh Samui properties that has the listing for Quartz House.

Current prices for detached houses on Koh Samui typically start at about $130 a square foot, ranging up to $450 a square foot for a luxury home on the beach, Mr. Jepson said. Condominiums typically run from roughly $170 a square foot to $250 a square foot.

According to the Bank of Thailand, from 2008 to 2018, Thai housing prices rose overall by 46.2 percent, then increased another 5.3 percent year over year in 2019. Despite the global pandemic, which slowed sales among both domestic and foreign buyers, the price index continued to grow for the most part in 2020, climbing 3.3 percent year over year for detached single-family homes in the second half of the year. However, the condominium market saw prices decline 3.1 percent in the second half of 2020 compared with a year earlier.

Some developers in Bangkok significantly discounted their condo stock, prompting local buyers to snap up any remaining properties, said Tim Skevington, the managing director at Richmont’s, the Bangkok affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.

“Since then, the mid-low segment — $100,000 to $200,000 — has slowed, especially sales to foreign buyers,” he said. “But the luxury segment has been very resilient, and we’ve made some significant sales to both Thais and foreigners, particularly in hotel-branded residences in Bangkok city center and on the Chaopraya riverside.”

Whether luxury sales will buoy the market going forward remains to be seen, agents said. However, Mr. Skevington said Richmont’s has a backlog of inquiries from buyers in Europe and the United States who are waiting for travel restrictions to ease.

Virtual property viewings and purchases have enabled some foreign buyers to take advantage of price reductions, said Patrick Lusted, the director of Bangkok-based Siam Real Estate. “Property prices have leveled off and come down in some locations,” he said. “This is probably a good correction for the market, as property prices had been on a very strong run, and it will allow buyers to make purchases at prices below pre-Covid levels.”

Luca Bernardinetti, the chief executive of Mahanakorn Partners Group, a law firm in Bangkok that handles property services, said that if the market continues to stagnate, it may prompt individual and corporate investors to divest. “This will present attractive investment opportunities for investors who are able to weather the stagnation in the medium to long term,” he said.

Mr. Jepson noted that while the recent uptick in Chinese buyers on Koh Samui has been driven by tourism operators, more recently there’s been a return to buyers seeking out the island as a retirement and lifestyle destination. “There have been inquiries for homes with more space for gardens, et cetera, as people look for a comfortable living environment,” he said. “They’re not merely purchasing for investment and rental income.”

While Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, is the most prominent destination for foreign home buyers, many other areas are popular, such as Phuket (Thailand’s biggest island), Pattaya, Koh Samui, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai, Krabi and Phang Nga, brokers said.

Most foreign buyers come from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United States and Europe, Mr. Lusted said.

A significant community of French nationals on Koh Samui has developed, as French buyers were active until about two years ago when the euro weakened against the strengthening Thai baht, Mr. Jepson said.

“British buyers lessened after the Brexit announcement, when the baht gained 20 percent or more against the British pound,” he said.

Under Thai law, foreigners can own buildings, including condominiums, but not land. A common arrangement is to buy a house with a 30-year land lease from a Thai resident, Mr. Bernardinetti said.

In the case of Quartz House, foreigners could purchase the house with a land lease, or use a Thai business to purchase the home and land.

“If a foreign investor owns a business, where at least 51 percent of shares are held by Thai nationals, the company may own the house and land,” Mr. Bernardinetti said, noting that it must be a “a legitimate, operating business.”

Most buyers hire a lawyer to guide them through the complicated process. The price may range from 15,000 baht ($488) to 150,000 baht ($4,880), depending on what services are required, Mr. Lusted said. Closing fees on freehold home sales can range up to 6.3 percent of the price, with about 1 percent paid by the buyer, he said.

Thai banks won’t issue mortgages to foreign buyers, though the Thai operation of the United Overseas Bank of Singapore will lend on freehold condos with a minimum value of 3 million baht ($97,400), Mr. Lusted said.

Banks will finance a home purchase under certain conditions when done under a company’s name, Mr. Bernardinetti said.

Thai; baht (1 baht = $0.03)

There are no property taxes on this home. Annual maintenance fees, including for the gardens and pool, as well as insurance fees, are about $6,000, Mr. Kingsley-Heath said.

John Jepson, Samui Property Locator, 011-66-87-900-3086, samuipropertylocator.com

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