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Although the two terms are often used interchangeably and on the surface the buildings may look the same, an apartment and a condo are actually very different kinds of real estate in Thailand both from a legal perspective and in practice. The key difference is that an apartment -serviced or otherwise- is exclusively Thai-owned (by whichever of an individual, a family or a corporation) and, not governed by the Condominium Act, is free to operate entirely under its own terms and conditions.
So while units within an apartment block can be rented (sometimes for as short as one night) and, in Chiang Mai, are far more prevalent and generally less expensive per square metre than condos, residents are subject to inflated utility rates and internet usage limited to the on-site WiFi network and which is often slow and unreliable but still chargeable; and, though there are exceptions, most apartments here are completely devoid of any communal leisure amenities with mass-produced rooms which are minimally and basically furnished, presented with little if any decoration, lack kitchen facilities and household wares and, geared much more to domestic folk, habitually feature a granite-like mattress!
Condominiums in Chiang Mai are by far the most popular choice of rental accommodation among foreigners not least as they’re accessible without the constraints (such as credit checks or references) which are nowadays the rule in the west. And to protect the interests of the owner and the tenant, Thai law requires a proper lease agreement to be signed by both parties and which is normally also accompanied by an itemised inventory and schedule of condition for the condo unit and its contents.
Whether to live in as a permanent abode or a second home, or else to rent out as a long-term investment opportunity or short-stay holiday let, a condo unit is the only non-landed property type in Thailand which can be purchased outright (freehold) by a foreigner. Provided, that is, that at least 51% of the total floor area (not the total number) of all the residential units combined remains under Thai ownership. Fortunately, this legal mandate seldom poses a problem in Chiang Mai since only a precious few of the city’s condos have already met their 49% foreign-owned quota.
At the moment, there are just over 160 named condos within the capital district of Chiang Mai which are move-in ready – that’s one every square kilometre, on average! And whereas most condos stand as a single structure, others encompass up to eight separate residential buildings within the same complex. From one-off condos constructed by independent local property concerns to a whole portfolio of branded condos from prominent Bangkok-based developers, Chiang Mai’s glut of condominiums exist in a near mind-boggling assortment of ages, conditions, sizes, architectural forms, design styles, comfort levels as well as resident capacity and demographic.
Broadly speaking, condos here can be neatly grouped into one of two time periods; from the city’s very first condominium launched in 1985 through to 1997 (when the Asian Financial Crisis hit Thailand) and, prompted largely by the earlier devastating flooding in Bangkok, those built following the revival of the real estate market in Chiang Mai at the end of 2011. Amounting to tens of thousands of residential units overall with anywhere from 14 to more than 800 of which per condo, the vast majority come air-conditioned, fully furnished and with attached balcony. Approximately a quarter of the city’s complement of condos are studio units, nearly 75% are 1 bedroom units, a tiny percentage are 2 bedroom units with the odd 3 and 4 bedroom units. Predominantly single storey but with the occasional duplex suite, condo units extend from a petitely proportioned 24 sq m to a whoppingly ginormous 600 sq m of usable space with city averages for studio and 1 bedroom units weighing in at 31 and 38 sq m.
And because the bulk of condo units in Chiang Mai are sold for individual ownership, no two interiors are ever quite the same so their potential liveability can’t necessarily be judged by the age or external appearance of the building alone! Admittedly, some units are shockingly dated, spartanly and shabbily furnished, ramshackle, soulless affairs barely fit for human habitation but many more are appointed to an excellent or luxurious specification with quality materials and finish, all the mod cons, homely feel, smart and refined contemporary décor, optimally laid out and bathed in natural light.
Like those the world over, condos in Chiang Mai enjoy ready access to a mix of one or more recreational and everyday facilities. Other than the standard fixtures of a laundry shop or number of self-service, coin-operated washing machines, water-vending dispensers, private parking and up to four lifts (elevators), WiFi is routinely supplied without charge but with the freedom for live-in owners and tenants to set up their own home broadband internet connection. Normally inclusive and for the sole use of residents, clubhouse amenities include everything from the customary outdoor swimming pool (some with integrated jacuzzi), gym, communal lounge and gardened grounds to a landscaped rooftop commanding magnificent views of the mountainous Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, open-air sala [Thai style pavilion], library, barbeque terrace, entertainment room, wine bar and even, in one case, a helipad! Not to mention the added advantage of a safe living environment courtesy of security guards (typically on duty round-the-clock), CCTV cameras, controlled entry to the property (frequently by means of an electronic keycard), staffed front desk and, increasingly, units outfitted with a digital door lock.
Apart from their residents needing to pay only the Government (cheapest) tariff for electricity, Chiang Mai’s condos are considerably more economically priced than their counterparts in Bangkok and cost an absolute fraction of those in developed nations. This, coupled with a monumental spread in pricing, means that every conceivable budget is catered for.
With roughly two-thirds of the condos for rent in Chiang Mai priced between 5000 and 20,000 baht, the cost to lease a fully furnished modern studio unit on a monthly basis in Chiang Mai starts at an almost implausible 3500 baht to a still reasonable 20,000 baht whilst an equivalent 1 bedroom unit ranges from a decidedly affordable 5000 baht to a wallet-busting 70,000 baht. For those instead seeking non-off-plan condos for sale in Chiang Mai, the cost to buy a fully furnished modern studio unit kicks off at a highly affordable 450,000 baht to upwards of 3 million baht with a corresponding 1 bedroom unit from 500,000 baht to the princely sum of 29 million baht (or, for the ultimate city condo, just shy of 35 million baht for a 220 square metre 2 bedroom, 3 bathroom split-level penthouse!).
In addition to the purchase price, each condo owner is obliged to pay a maintenance fee to cover the management and regular upkeep of the building, common areas and communal facilities; covering such matters as employees’ wages, pest control, waste removal, minor fixes and corridor lighting, the advance charge varies in Chiang Mai between 10 and 55 baht per square metre of the unit per month. Distinct from the maintenance fee, some condos set aside a reserve or sinking fund to finance large scale repairs or upgrades to the building, common areas and communal facilities; ordinarily collected from co-owners only once at the time of purchase, the contribution in Chiang Mai differs from 300 to 600 baht per square metre of the unit with 500 baht currently the norm for new condo developments.
The best value units are those in the more mature condo buildings which have been duly refurbished (when renting) or those ripe for renovation (when buying). And although location too does influence the asking price and said fees with condos in the outlying suburbs, surrounding districts and those away from well trafficked hotspots within the city imposing lower dues, the difference isn’t as noticeable in Chiang Mai since it’s a small city where virtually everything lies within easy reach.
Although absent altogether from the ‘Old City’, condos are scattered throughout the rest of the municipality and beyond with the densest concentrations in and around the trendy Nimman neighbourhood; along the mid-stretches of Canal Road; either side of the Mae Ping River between Rattanakosin and Mengrai Bridges (especially on Chang Klan Road in the midst of the Central Business District); and, representing the latest developer’s playground, within the vicinity of CentralFestival shopping mall and the nearby Chiang Mai Business Park. For their precise locations, be sure to check out our Map of Chiang Mai condominiums!
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