Koh Samui is one of the most popular islands for expats to settle and buy land and villas and has a robust property industry for those interested in settling here. Although foreigners are legally not allowed to own land, there are several investment mechanisms for leasehold to own tropical villas on this lovely island.
In recent years, there has been a tightening up of regulations and application of the law in the wake of a land encroachment scandal that broke in Samui in 2005. Rapid development of property for private ownership on the island resulted in some questionable practices and title deed issuances. However, demand continues, particularly from expats based in Hong Kong or Singapore looking for a part-time pad to escape to. Choice remains good, and investment opportunities have potential.
Typically, villas in Samui are offered under a structural lease agreement with the land ownership retained by the development company. It is, therefore, very important to do your due diligence on the background of the developer, the legality of the title deeds they own, and their reputation. It is also a good idea to do a background check on your local lawyer.
When buying land or villas in Samui, contractual ownership or compensation agreements need to be in place, since leases, which are limited to 30 years (renewable twice), become null and void if the land is sold. Generally, Thai law is not very supportive of foreigners who find themselves disadvantaged or swindled through such land deals. There is also land offered for sale for purchase under a Thai name or company and some foreigners acquire this through a trusted Thai spouse (or business partner), choosing to develop or build villas in Samui independently.
The majority of original developments are on the north coast, usually on higher ground a few kilometres from the beach. The seafront land in Chaweng, Lamai, Big Buddha and Bophut areas has been developed for commercial use or priced beyond the reach of private development of villas. The west and south of the island is occupied mostly by locals; the latter being lovely and quiet and more suited to houses, but away from the popular amenities.
There are, however, plots of land available on or near the beach on the northwest corner of the island – Mae Nam and Bang Po areas. But, most developments and suitable land are never far from the beach or ring road, while the interior of the island is hilly. By far the biggest choice of planned villas on Samui is along the west coast, where land near the beach is still available at reasonable prices. There are some exceptional locations, with guaranteed privacy, although this area is diametrically opposite from the popular areas of Chaweng, and the airport.
For part time residents, these pre-developed projects are the most sensible options when buying villas or land in Samui. Those who have lived longer on the island have the familiarity to find plots in Thai neighbourhoods that are more reasonably priced and offer good value.
In Thailand, land is measured in talang wa (4m2), with 400 wa making up one rai (1600m2, or 0.42 of an acre). If you’re buying a villa, the land area will typically be less than 100 wa. Prices really do vary widely depending on sea views, proximity to a beach, type of title deed and elevation, ranging from 3-8 million baht (US$90,000-240,000) per rai.
There is a significant difference between the Nor Sor 3 (common official title deed), Nor Sor 3 gor (more accurately demarcated title deed using GPS) and Chanote (semi official based on historic land claim and subject to dispute, or bribery). Some land plots that are offered on mountainsides have turned out to encroach on National Forest with deeds fraudulently offered. This has been a problem in Samui, resulting in complications and, in some cases, loss of property.
Ultimately, it is the price of the villa that counts when buying on Samui, the end product of developers taking care of the complex ownership and development stipulations, dealing with quality issues of local builders, positioning and design of the villas and reliable completion. This puts a premium on costs of buying villas but removes the risk in this foreign land. Expats in the know save a lot by doing it themselves. Otherwise you should expect to pay 10 million baht (US$300,000) minimum for a modest (two bed) villa on a hillside with sea views; perhaps double if it includes a private pool and is furnished.
This section includes several property agents for those interested in buying villas or land in Samui, and their websites display a large selection of properties to suit all tastes and budgets.