David Knowles has over 20 years of experience in the building trade, and 10 of those were spent here in Thailand. He operates his own independent building company, and he chats to Tropical Living about renovating and adding value to your home.
Can you explain Bangkok Home Services and the services that you offer?
“We will consider anything from changing a bathroom or kitchen, up to the complete building of a house, but we don’t do ‘handyman’ work because it’s tricky to control costs on small jobs, and there is a lot of competition for this type of work. We also do visual surveys; it’s not a full structural survey, it’s more a case of ‘s there any sinkage , does it have termites, is everything working?
We are also starting a new service where we look at a property that someone may be considering buying and consult with the buyer to see what renovation work they want to do post-purchase. This puts them in a position where they can push for a discount on the sale price. Our change for this service will be small because we would hope the client will use us to complete the work.”
What is your background and experience in the trade?
“My initial was with British Gas as a gas and heating engineer, so I’m very used to the service industry. Builders are typically not interested in the end user’s wishes; in fact, many I have met in the past have been quite ignorant to their needs. In 1989, one of my friends offered me an opportunity to work with him as an apprentice builder. It was sold to me on the basic that, ‘building is an easy game made complicated by idiots! Once you’ve learned how to read a drawing, it’s really very easy. “ It wasn’t quite as easy as he made out! I spent nine years with Berkeley Homes in total. I did not want to set up on my own unit a friend pressured me into agreeing to do his extension; it was a 6000 sq foot extension on a 6000 foot house! So I said, ‘yes’. Regarding my eventual move to Thailand in 2000, I can cite two reasons; golf and food! I was here on holiday to begin with and I just loved it.”
What are the easiest ways to update a home, to make a more enjoyable place to live and to add value?
“In a nutshell, kitchens and bathroom. Most houses over here have what would consider adequate floors, either hardwood floors or tile floors, so the sort of thing that would be prohibitively expensive back in the UK. You can’t beat changing a bathroom to update a house for style. A lot of the house is ‘window-dressing’, and you need to make sure you get this right. Sometime I have clients ask me to swap out their beautiful floor, and I will say, ‘no, change the dressing. This will be a more cost-effective option’.
We use 3D modeling to render life like graphics of what the finished room will look like, and clients can often make a decision based on the computer drawing. The quality of the installation, of course, is key to longevity. You cannot cut corners, and you need to make sure all of the preparation work is perfect. For some of our windows, for example, we work with Project Supplies Direct in Phuket, who are the best in the region. Their attention to the work is incredibly detailed.”
What type are most common residential renovations you are asked to do?
“Condominiums. There is only one reason; all of our clients are Americans or Europeans. Foreigners can own condos in their own name but obviously not houses, so that is the reason. Even when a foreigner buys a condo, there are certain stipulations. You must buy in a building which has at least 51% Thai occupancy an also prove that the money has come in from abroad. We’ve done a lot of work with studios, one-bed and two-bed. The most common is the two-bed, two-bathroom type, and some of these are a nice size. We get spoit over here in terms of not realizing how big 140 sq m actually is. Back in the UK, it,s ‘make it smaller, I want to save money!’”
Living amongst mess and escalating costs are reasons why home-owners are put off renovating. What advice can you give to those who are considering renovation?
“Anybody considering doing any contact work should get an absolute guarantee from their contractor that they will clean every night before they go home, and that they protect every single piece that they can in the house. As a matter of policy , we make cover all floors with protective sheets, and shield baths and bathroom, doors and windows; we make sure everything is protected and it’s clean. We have teams constantly cleaning up and taking rubbish away so the house does not look like a building site. One of the good things about Thailand is that a lot of the client are already renting a property while we do the one they have just bought, although we have actually done full renovations with people living in the condo. This would be highly typical in the UK, but it’s rare here. We like clients to visit a site and think, ‘wow, this is clean’, because you get more work this way.”
What is the typical process clients go through when they use your services?
“We don’t take every job, but we do always meet the potential client, because it’s important that it works in terms of personality. We meet, we assess the needs, and we go through the wants and needs. We make sure it’s something we want to do, and we make sure that we can definitely help them. We then take them through all the choices, then pricing, the acceptance. It should always be this simple.”