There is some confusion over the law for foreign purchase in Thailand. Most developers and government officials agree that foreigners can buy up to 49% of the units in any one particular condominium building. However, the law used to limit foreign ownership at 40%, and this was increased to 49% on a 5 year basis. This 5 year period has now expired and so legally the limit should revert back to 40%. However, most people are still working on the 49% rule, meaning that many new condominium units are being sold to foreigners unlegally.
For the rest of this article, let's assume that the law is actually 49% (as is the common belief). I recently visited a very nice, luxury condominium in the Sukhumvit area. It is a low rise 8 story building, which is the maximum height that the law allows for given the width of the access road into the concessions. Each unit in this deluxe new condominium project has 4 bedrooms and measures 300 sq.m. All I can say is that it is a stunning building, very classy. However, it also commands a very high price tag, with each unit being sold at over 40,000,000 Baht.
The developer had this concept of a deluxe condominium, where all owners are affluent and wealthy individuals. However, the developer has now hit a problem. They have sold 49%, the full foreign quota, to foreign buyers, but they have sold only about 10% of the remaining 51% to Thai Nationals, some of which were associates of the developer. The problem the developer faces now is that they can not find enough wealthy Thai nationals to buy the remaining units, meaning that they are stuck with them. As a developer, this represents a very large percentage of the profits of this development.
Thai law prohibits non-Thai nationals from owning land, so condominiums are the obvious alternative for foreign investors. However, if you are a Thai National, then you could buy a very large house for 40,000,000 Baht, so why would you spend that much on a 300 sq.m. condominium unit?
Because of this, there are a number of new condominium buildings in Bangkok targeting the high end market, that have sold-out the foreign quota and now are struggling to sell large and expensive units to Thais.
There are not that many Thais in Bangkok that could or would choose to buy a 40,000,000 + Baht condominium unit. If you did some research, you would discover that new condominium projects offering small studio, 1 and 2 bedroom units are selling like hot cakes and most of the buyers are Thai Nationals.
Here's a thought, perhaps a developer who wanted to build a luxury Grade A condominium with only large and expensive units should consider building another condominium in an adjacent land plot, with small units, and register both areas as 1 condominium (like Tower 1 and Tower 2, but branded as two separate entities). That way, they could attract more Thais to purchase smaller units and the luxury units sell to wealthy foreign investors. Perhaps they could separate both buildings with a wall and have separate access points too, just a thought.
Or despite the Government could reconsider the 49% foreign ownership limit. The law has in the past allowed up to 100% foreign ownership of units in any one condominium building, but this was back when the economy was crashing and extra stimulation in the economy was required.
So, why 49% now? Well, technically as the owner of a condominium unit, you also own part of the voting rights of the building and part of the land. So, in theory if there was more than 50% foreign ownership in a condominium, there would be more than 50% ownership of the land. So what does this mean, that the foreign owners could collorate together, outvote the Thai owners and sell the Land? Well no, the Condominium Act 2522 requires unanimous voting of all 100% of co-owners to demolish a condominium building. It also requires 75% co-owner approval to sell common area land of the condominium. So the real question is, should the government reconsider this 49% rule, after all it is really hurting some developers.