With nothing certain in life including their retirement pensions, Europeans are actively searching for good places to live and Hua Hin is emerging as a prime destination.
Tapping the rising trend are the Austrian developers of The Falls Hua Hin, a 70-rai estate on a hillside in Khao Takiab.
Paul Derstroff and Michael Ruess, through their Swiss-owned company Vital Residence Ltd, have obtained Board of Investment privileges for the 1.3-billion-baht project.
The two Austrian friends say Europeans are increasingly looking for good retirement homes in a more affordable and friendly country not only to stretch their pensions but because some pensions might not exist in future.
"Our target group is quite stable because these people have worked for 30 to 40 years. They have assets. They have money somewhere already and they have a good pension now which we are not going to have anymore in 20 or 30 years," Mr Derstroff said.
While European authorities cannot back out of the existing contract they have with retirees and those close to retirement, Mr Derstroff said his generation did not trust the continuation of this contract and expects that they would be allowed to work until 70 years of age rather than retire at 55 as most public-sector employees there generally do, or 65 at private companies.
Their biggest fear is turning into a nursing case whereby they would need nursing care 24 hours a day because this service is not paid for by the state. However, in a country such as Thailand this sort of care is cheaper and sometimes a disabled person can get by with the help of a couple of maids.
"We call them soon-to-be-retired, the people who are now starting to think about what they are going to do in three to five years. This is ... exactly our target. The people who come here are from 55 to 62 years old."
In working out the details of a luxury resort that would appeal to this specific group, the developers have schemed in a medical centre with professional medical staff, emergency and nursing rooms. Other facilities include a beach club, spa zone plus swimming pools and waterfalls. An appealing architectural touch involves terraces like Bali rice fields so that all the 91 villas and 120 units in the three-story condominium have clear views of the sea.
The developers had as many as 20 countries on their list but chose Thailand in large part because of the friendliness of the people.
"We like Buddhism, and then how families raise children to respect older people, something we have not seen in other countries. And of course with the respect comes taking care of older people and those who are sick. You don't have this in Europe," said Mr Derstroff. "There they take care of you but not with pleasure. Here people really take care of older people and respect them. This is something."
Hua Hin meets the needs of their target group who want a calm place to live and not a party town. "It has all the infrastructure you need such as hospitals, shopping centres, nice restaurants and golf courses. So our target group is not looking for parties and noise. They like peace, nice restaurants, going boating. It's close to Bangkok, you can have everything you need from Bangkok."
The developers also think that Phuket and Samui are pretty crowded and their potential clients might feel the lack of infrastructure there. "What if I am sitting in Koh Samui and have a heart attack or something? Or what if I wanted to buy some equipment or a new car. Everything is complicated there."
Their clients also like the fact that Thais too enjoy visiting Hua Hin because they appreciate the balance between locals and foreigners.
Getting started took some time because they wanted BoI privileges. While this is not difficult, it is a long process. "If you do everything according to the regulations and the law and you stick to the rules, then everything is possible."
Because the estate is being sold as a 30+30+30 leasehold for a total of 90 years, Mr Derstroff feels it might not appeal to Thai investors who would prefer freehold land. However, well-off Thais would find prices appealing with a 68-square-metre one-bedroom cond costing 3.5 million baht, rising to 20 million for a luxury villa. Another attraction is the location that is not far from two new condominiums - Marrakesh being developed by Major Development, and Baan San Suk by Sansiri.
While the Austrian friends are very happy with progress so far and expect to complete the three-phase development by 2011, they hope that the Thai political situation stays calm and stable. Outsiders seem to be concerned as they naturally want to move to a safe country.
Mr Derstroff, who had previous experience developing real estate in Russia, pinpoints the key mistake most property buyers make is not consulting a lawyer before parting with their money. "Just go to a lawyer and check all the legal issues in the country, the documents and contracts before you do anything. And come here for a couple of days to see if this is really the place you want to be in." Bangkok Post