Hua Hin in Thailand is known as an immensely popular resort among Scandinavians. And it is a favourite to the extent that those Nordic Europeans are more recently also invading the place as residents, increasingly buying homes.
But further south along the coast there is another much smaller place, called Huay Yang, which is increasingly also gaining approval among the northerners. For here, a five hours road trip from Bangkok, there are attractive housing estates to be found bordering on the sea. And the beaches in the area – believe it or not – are practically empty and endless, and the area as pristine as the sea water is clean. And this is the location for one of the pioneering and so far most successful Scandinavian property projects, namely Thailandfastigheter.
For those who have visited Thailand before it is a fairly good indicator of development to talk about pre- or post 7 Eleven. The scale of development in Huay Yang village is still in the pre-stage, which says a lot. But the seemingly innocent coconut landscape area hides an already extensive and growing community of foreigners and houses so it probably won’t last long before the usual convenience stores pops up.
It was probably the virginity of the area that also got Leif Egnehall turned on by the sight to the extent that he and his business partner decided to set up their daring business venture in this area which was completely unknown to people in Thailand not to mention Scandinavians.
“We came here to look, and I went down to the beach and stood there. I looked around for a couple of minutes and then I felt: ‘Now I am home. Wow!’ It felt right. And that was before I even saw the land plot, the place was right. Then we looked at the area which was also ‘Wow’. It was a feeling of the moment,” recalls Leif.
The Swede, married to a Thai woman since 16 years, had in fact been looking for land together with this business partner for quite some time without finding any desirable property, and had almost given up hope.
“We had been everywhere where there is sea but not found the type of land we felt for, or in the right price category. This land plot, we learned of through an acquaintance in Sweden about a lady who needed badly to sell her land to pay off debts.”
After having bought the plot the first buyer was not long in coming and Leif clearly remembers that lucky day when he sold the first house, having no idea if the venture would succeed or not.
“It is far away from Bangkok so I was worried. But you don’t live in Bangkok if you are about to buy a beachside house. Then you must go somewhere. We decided to develop here because the water quality is better further south of Hua Hin.”
But why build so far from Hua Hin?
“There was no attractive, affordable peace of land nearer Hua Hin as we have another thread: walking distance to the beach. We don’t build 10 or even 2 kilometres from the sea.”
Staking their future on Thailand the business partners were however not only guessing. Leif had some valuable knowledge with his background from selling houses in Spain. Seeing the trend and having already built several houses for himself in Thailand, he wanted to start developing there instead.
“Within one or two years I believe Thailand will take over entirely. Spain started its downturn already in 2002. All general expenses are high; you cannot cope with having the same prices as in Sweden. So they have failed on that. You cannot go out and have dinner like before. Prices on houses can always go up, but there is not one single multimillionaire from Sweden who wants to throw away his money,” says Leif about the current Spanish property market.
Also the Swede is not hesitating to praise Scandinavian Village who paved the way for others as the first Scandinavian housing project in Thailand.
“They rolled out the carpet for us with their massive campaigns and created an interest for living in Thailand. But people’s reaction was negative about their costly membership living concept,” says Leif.
“Thanks to them we have succeeded. Many who have been at Scandinavian Village have bought from us. Customers went there first and then came here instead, as they thought this was great. At that moment we were the only alternative,” which makes Leif thinks that had somebody else come up before them it would probably have gone just as well for them.
Of the prospective buyers visiting the area some appreciate its authenticity while others react in the totally opposite way.
“But we are not aiming at 100 per cent of the market, we are happy with getting our share of it.”
The plan was to start with a show-house, but they didn’t even have time to finalize one before sales started.
“We thought it would take time for the Thai market to ripen among Swedes and Scandinavians so we had anticipated it would take perhaps five to ten years for the boom to come. The idea was to work hard the first years and then within five years it would become the ‘new Spain’. But it has grown faster.”
With the sales a lot over expectations so far, Thailandfastigheter has up to August 2006 sold 250 houses since the land purchase in 2003, and must be seen as a remarkable success story – which is far from over.
The strongest possible recognition came when Thailandfastigheter in 2005 was selected as one of only two entrepreneurs to represent the province to be awarded by His Majesty the King for their achievements.
“We have become recognized here. I had not dreamt of getting the chance to meet the King. That was too good to be true. So I said afterwards: ‘What should one aim for now?’”
“It has been a fantastic trip so far and one has learned so much on this. The life experience obtained is fantastic, absolutely incredible, I am very grateful for that,” continues Leif.
Customer relations colleague Lars-Åke Persson fills in: “It is something fantastic that has been achieved with very basic methods – but in exactly the right way. I think it is much part of the secret, there has been a lot of heart behind it, and I think customers take notice that here it is not: ‘Come and buy,’ but rather that if they like it, there is an opportunity.”
“We never pressure the customers here. We are always honest with the customers: ‘Are there snakes in the area?’ ‘Yes, lots of them.’ Many are trying to beautify saying that it is problem-free, which is of course not possible. Customers can go around and ask anyone. And different people view things in a different way. We have no secrets, adds Leif.
When being asked about the concept the MD becomes a bit secretive – for understandable reasons.
“That is our business secret. Why we are succeeding I don’t want to talk about so much. But basically, being close to the sea is an essential ingredient. Houses near the beach at walking distance.”
Being no experts on house construction Leif could still use the knowledge gained from having spoken to hundreds of customers in Spain: “We draw houses which we like and make the area plans, and then the architect do the rest.”
”And since this is Thailand, we cannot build after Swedish norms, because then it would be a disaster. Here you must isolate against heat for instance.”
Their definition of quality is customer satisfaction and getting what they expect.
Which is? “What we are offering. Those who have been down here, who even work within construction has said that the buildings here are over-dimensioned, which isn’t negative.”
“We have raised the quality on the houses too. When we have received many remarks, we have made adjustments in order to improve.”
Today their houses starts at about 3.350 000 Baht.
Meanwhile, price on land in Huay Yang has gone up twelve times in three years and since recently other Thai developers are following suit, also targeting foreigners.
“They are trying ride on our wave, and I look positively at it, as long as they don’t take customers from us right in front of our nose,” says Leif.
And Thailandfastigheter will not continue building there forever.
“We have succeeded so well here in collaboration with the locals. We won’t continue exploiting here only in order to earn money. When we think it is enough, we’ll change place.”
For those wanting to join riding on this wave as developers, Leif’s answer is that it is possible for anyone.
“But you must expect a curvy road ahead. They have to find out for themselves. That is what is so good: ‘Good luck and welcome back in three years,’ the profitable Swedish developer says to them.