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Sea view, two little words, one powerful phrase

Two words: sea view. These two words, two syllables have a great deal of power. The addition of the words ‘sea view’ to a residential development’s list of assets enables that developer to tag a premium to its sale price. These two words imply that returns on rental properties will be greater; everyone enjoys a holiday at the beach. The promise of a sea view instills feelings of relaxation, of intimate occasions or of grand, glamorous parties. Yes, these two little words have much clout.

Flip through any glossy Thailand property magazine and you’ll find that as many as 70% of the advertisements for residential developments around the island, promise a ‘sea view’ as part of the package, but what exactly is a sea view? How can a villa with direct ocean frontage be compared with a villa that has but a shrouded strip of blue horizon to view?

Buying Phuket property is an investment into a lifestyle. Nowhere else in Thailand, perhaps nowhere in Asia, offers the affordability, accessibility and liveablility that the Phuket package does. The buyer market is dominated by Hong Kong buyers, typically Western executives who can easily take the short flight over every weekend to enjoy Phuket’s offerings. Expatriates in other Asian capitals like Beijing and Singapore are also attracted to the island lifestyle and increasing numbers of Europeans. In 2004 Europeans were the third largest buyer group with a 10% market share.

Within this hungry market, demand for sea view property is fierce, Ms. Charlotte Filleul, Phuket Sales Manager for CB Richard Ellis said, "most people want a sea view property more than anything else!"

Mr. Steven O’Brien, Managing Director of Knight Frank Phuket qualified, "Sea views are the number one reason why tourists holiday in Phuket and why investors buy. The better the sea view, the more appealing it is to buyers. There is a great demand for apartments with sea views at the moment in Phuket and in meeting this demand, developers could well charge upwards of THB 75,000 per sq.m."

Most Phuket agents quote that sea view properties along the west coast can range between THB 60,000 – 85, 000 /sq.m. The east coast is still approximately 25% cheaper than the west coast but popular opinion suggests it won’t be long before these prices rise.

Mr. Bob Andrews of Phuket LandSearch Ltd. suggested that currently the premiums attached to properties with direct water frontage could be as much as 200%. "Certainly for a property directly on the water the premium is massive. Set back, up a hill but with good sea views, and sunsets, the premium is quite large; around 100%. The thin strip on the horizon will get a premium but only small, perhaps 25%."

Ms. Tara Sudlow of Phuket Realty explained that, "the average price per sq.m. of a seaward property is difficult to define, since it depends a lot on the quality of the specifications, the kind of build (i.e. flat land or hillside – hillside being a more expensive build), the location of the land; NW, W & SW all vary in price and specific pockets of land can be more or less expensive than others. The East coast pricing is similar."

In 2003 the Phuket Treasury office reported an island-wide increase of 65% in government-appraised land values. The momentum gathered by the market saw prices rise even higher toward the end of 2004. Since the tsunami, land prices have stabilized, but as Ms. Filleul pointed out, "sea view property is a finite commodity, and in the future we’ll see a premium put upon resale values."

Mr. Andrews agreed, "Building permits near the water are going to become harder to obtain. Prices have risen dramatically over the last few years and show no signs of slowing down. It is still cheap compared to centres like Hong Kong and Singapore but more expensive than other Asian countries, which lack the political stability and infrastructure of Phuket. There will be resistance at the US$1million per rai (1600sq.m.) mark for a while, so we have at least another 50% increase on average before we get there."

The sea-view market is dominated by the island’s west coast. Most high-end developments are located within Phuket’s "Millionaire’s Mile"; a stretch running along the north-western coastline from Patong up to the airport. This area of the island is extremely convenient for the dominant buyer group, because of its proximity to the airport as well as the island’s leisure and entertainment sites. The west coast’s grandest natural features are the long stretches of soft sandy beaches, dramatic headlands and the famous Phuket sunset.

As land in this stretch becomes more densely populated many developers are turning to the east coast. Chunks of prime real estate still remain, but there are already over five high-end estates being built and more have been slated for development over the next few years. The east coast is home to the island’s four marinas and rumour has it that there may be as many as four additional marinas built along this coast over the next few years. The protected waters of Phang-Nga Bay provide smooth sailing year round and the hundreds of tiny islands dotting the bay display a completely different sea view than westward properties.

While the east coast is quiet and peaceful, the west coast is home to approximately 90% of the island’s hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, shopping and entertainment venues and if we are to compare the coasts we must ask: "Why has the east coast been left alone for so long?"

The east coast topography is quite different to the west; there are only a few pockets of beach, the ground is softer and the slopes are steeper thus rendering construction a difficult and costly task, but the technology is there; many west coast developments are built on steep rocky headlands. What it really comes down to is what the buyers want. Phuket is a lifestyle market and what better display of tropical lifestyle is there, than to have a luxurious private villa just metres away from a white sandy swimming beach?

Mr. Andrews compared the coasts, "The east coast is great if you are a sailor but for the white sand, clear waters during the high season and sunsets it has to be the west coast."

Ms. Sudlow who describes the east coast as "nearly developed" believes, "It is more peaceful and visually attractive with lovely views over Phang-Nga and the islands. The area is more tidal; there are mangroves and mud, however there are also some nice pockets of sandy beaches as well."

Ms. Filleul is also rooting for the east coast, "The east coast looks onto Phang-Nga bay which is beautiful and personally, I think this is more interesting than the west coast view because the bay is dotted with so many little islands and there are boats sailing through all the time. The east coast sea view plots are already being bought and developed. I think many of the east coast developments actually represent much better value than some west coast properties. Many developers have already built on the west coast and have now moved east, bringing their experience with them. This means they have a better idea of which contractors to use, what the best building materials are, best designs etc. In this way developments on the east coast offer more than the west coast ones."

Mr. Andrews agreed, "There is more value on the east coast but infrastructure is weaker. It will boom over there for sure; it has started already. At the moment the east coast is cheaper, but I think there will always be a margin for the west coast even though this margin will narrow, for sure."
Trends in Phuket design make use of natural materials for their aesthetic appeal and exotic accents. However with some of these natural materials used on a seaside property, come hefty maintenance as Mr. Andrews demonstrated, "it is very popular to build using a lot of wood but if you do so then high maintenance does become an issue."

Some other problems associated with seaside property as Ms. Filleul suggested, can be the steep land, which means properties almost always need a lot of steps, and the lack of control of the areas surrounding the property. "Unless you have direct ocean frontage, there is always the possibility that something else could be built to block your view."

When asked to suggest some of the better west coast developments with true sea views, the professionals cited in this article all proposed Trisara, as a good example. Topping the bill for west coast development, Trisara presents palatial residential homes adjacent to its luxury boutique hotel. Each villa is built to the highest specifications and offer between two and five bedrooms, separate pavilions for dining, living and food preparation, built around large 20m swimming pools. Situated on the headland between Nai Thon and Bang Tao beaches, all villas have either direct ocean front plots or are set high, in pockets of tropical forest overlooking the sea. The resort offers residents and tenants a restaurant, bar and private dining facilities, library, spa and salon, gym, tennis, beach access and a swimming pool.

Villa Santi is located on the hillside of Santi Bay, 2km north of Patong Beach. The project land area covers 28,000sq.m (seven acres) and features sloping hills facing Patong Bay and the ocean beyond. A thin strip of road lies between Villa Santi and Kalim Beach, a rocky but picturesque swimming beach. The resort village consists of 20 spa villas, 21 apartment suites and six superior residences all on elevated terraces, all enjoying total privacy and uninterrupted sea views.

Villa Santi is a real estate project which focuses seriously on creating rental returns for the villa and apartment owners. With 22 years background in boutique resort management, Villa Santi’s operations are able to manage the resort community to compete with 5 star hotels to offer travellers an experience beyond traditional hotels. Estate facilities include a common 25 metre swimming pool, reception, pool bar, global cuisine and a great selection of old and new world wines, fitness centre, squash and tennis courts and covered car park. Mr. O’Brien commented that, "the Villa Santi development represents very good value for money and all the units have sea views. Villa Santi offers a wonderful fully integrated resort plan. All the facilities you could need are on site, so there is no need to go out for anything. In terms of ROI through holiday rentals, this is very appealing." Villa Santi owners can expect returns of 9% per annum when joining the rental program offered by the professional management of the resort.

The spa villa floor plans feature connecting pavilions in private courtyard settings, with outdoor gardens and plunge pools facing the ocean. The central living area, the bedrooms that flank its sides and the master suite are all positioned to capitalize on the sea view.

Apartment suites are built with two or three bedrooms. The 178sq.m. 2-bedroom units are split level and just 50 meters from the ocean. Three-bedroom units have between 206sq.m. and 215sq.m. with infinity-edged pools merging seamlessly into the Andaman.

Being the most prestigious homes on the project, the Residences feature 570sq.m. of inside and outdoor living space on two levels. The design includes spacious living areas, separate dining room and kitchen, two master bedrooms, two guest bedrooms, a family terrace, a maid and laundry room, a 36sq.m infinity-edge swimming pool on a large deck and a private garage. Floor plans demonstrate that the designer tried to capture the sea view from most areas of the residences.

Mr. Anthony James, Chairman of the Plantation, a collection of apartments, duplexes and several stand-alone villas in Kamala, believes the keen interest in the Plantation has been predominately "generated from the location. This is paramount in the Plantation’s success. Quality development should only ever be developed on a quality site." Among other influencing factors like credibility and design quality, the site of the Plantation has been key to its success. From the elevation of approximately 40m the view spans 180° from the Laem Son headland across to the Amanpuri headland with the glistening Andaman Sea taking centre stage. The Plantation cascades down some 44 rai with a maximum elevation of 80m. The upper half of the site is devoted to stand-alone villas while the apartments and duplexes occupy the lower areas. The views from any elevation are magnificent.

A narrow road separates the Plantation from the sea, but the site’s steep gradient makes each property feel even closer to it. This topography posed some challenges not only in terms of structural engineering but also in access. The developers devised some ingenious solutions for example the inclusion of an ‘inclinator’ which is a lift that runs on a 45° angle to bus residents effortlessly from the beach access right to their doors. The driveway up the hillside incorporates a fly-over ramp allowing vehicular access to conventional cars.

The apartments have 225sq.m with spaces assigned to 2 bedrooms, a study, kitchen, dining and living rooms. The internal areas while not being terribly spacious are functional and aesthetic. Approximately 50sqm is devoted to the outdoor space on the terrace and a transitional indoor-outdoor area links this to the dining and living spaces. The absence of internal doorways in the design enables the view to penetrate almost every room of these luxurious apartments.

The fact that the Plantation is being built by Pacvest, the group responsible for two of Bangkok’s most prestigious addresses, Somkid Gardens and the Saladaeng Colonnade, also attracts investors. The resounding success of these projects has left the company with a staunch reputation in a high-end niche.

The Plantation offers a true sea views, luxurious yet utilitarian designs and a development company with considerable experience and reputation. The mixture of these elements promises investment return rates of up to 11.5% within only five years if buyers choose to utilize the rental management options.

When asked to suggest some of the east coast developments with sea views and great potential, the professionals cited in this article all proposed Cape Yamu, as a good example. This property boasts a unique sea view. Nestled along the shores of a private gated peninsula, Cape Yamu is Phuket’s newest ocean front resort community. The peninsula stretches a kilometre out into ocean on Phuket’s east coast commanding views on both sides. On the north sit the Phang-Nga Bay Islands in the background with Naka Noi, Naka Yai and Raet Islands in the foreground. The eastward outlook is of Yao Noi, Yao Yai and Phi Phi Islands with the Krabi hills in the background. The view south looks out to Rang Noi, Rang Yai and Maphrao Island as well as the entire Sapham Bay with the hills of Phuket Island in the background.

Initially, 38 luxury villas are being offered. A five star boutique hotel with spa and other resort facilities will also be built together with additional hotel villas and luxury cabanas. Collaboration between world famous designer, Philippe Starck and international architect Jean Michel Gathy of Aman resort fame, has created villa designs that "retain the elements of Thai traditional architecture yet offer fresh and inspiring spatial and visual approaches to ocean front living."

Large estates, averaging two rai each, are being established and almost every property is oceanfront, nestled along 3 kilometres of beaches and bluffs. Cape Yamu presents villas of various sizes and layouts all with private swimming pools. Community facilities will include secure, landscaped entry with guard house and gate, spa, international restaurants, tennis facilities and children’s’ playground with common swimming pool, reception/management offices and a small grocery market. Management of the villas, for upkeep, housekeeping, amenity services and rental program will be exacted by the hotel. The five star hotel will be small, under 75 rooms, located on one of Cape Yamu’s hill tops with commanding 360 degree views of the Phuket sea.

Sri Panwa is located on Cape Panwa, and presents 2 bedroom Pool Villas and 3 to 5 bedroom Residence villas created in the pavilion design, interconnected by spacious terraces and pool decks. All pavilions face the sea with some enjoying ocean views on both sides, and all include private verandas and spa-sized bathrooms and large infinity pools. Villas on the upper ridge offer 360° panoramic ocean views. Plot sizes range from 250 – 365 sq.m. for the 2 bedroom Pool Villas, to 800 – 2,000 sq.m. for the 3 to 5 bedroom Residence Villas.

Developer Songkran Issara is a 30- year veteran of the real estate business and Managing Director of Charn Issara Development PCL. He was taken with Cape Panwa from his first visit. The lush greenery and the mountainous slopes, offered wonderful vistas of the sea and rocky islands in the horizon, and he claims this inspired him to realize a life-long dream.

Ms. Filleul said, "Sri Panwa is a good development under Thai management. It was the first high-end project on the east coast. They have already sold all the units in Phase One."

Each villa will be custom-built to preserve the rich natural terrain thus floor plans have had to adhere to natural contours and landscapes, but the sea view is commanding in almost all living spaces. Villas designs are tropical contemporary employing abundant use of natural materials.

The Bel Air Panwa project, also located on Cape Panwa, is a Thai-Australian joint venture of Mystasia Company Ltd and Perth-based Watson Property Group. The project presents 82 two- and three-bedroom apartments with freehold title. The apartments are of varying size from 106 to 212 sq.m, with the latter being three-bedroom penthouses. Set in a gated compound, the development’s common areas include two large swimming pools, a fitness centre, reception area, Jacuzzi, sauna and games room plus a mini-mart.

Mr. O’Brien reviewed the Bel Air Panwa costs, "On average, the three-bedroom apartments [139 sq m] with a view of the sea are approximately THB 53,700/sq.m., with smaller apartments offering an entry point at 49,400 baht," he said.

He added that what makes the project unique is the fact that financing is available from Kasikornbank. "This is a huge drawing card for foreign buyers as obtaining a mortgage in Thailand for a foreigner is difficult, indeed impossible. However, in some cases, KBANK has extended financing up to 60% of a condominium’s value."

Dr Johan Marckx, Director of Mystasia, said extensive research was undertaken prior to the development and master plan being finalized. "The outcome of that research in essence was that there was a lack of affordable apartments with sea views anywhere to be found in Thailand and yet demand continues to be robust."

Ranging in price from THB 3.9 – 12.5 million Bel Air Panwa apartments offer a more affordable east coast sea view.

While all the developments outlined above offer great variation in views, architecture, interior design, types of units and price, they all have these things in common: each is located within 100m of the sea and each fully capitalizes on the sea view by allowing it penetrate as much of the property as possible.

Is this it? Could that be the true definition of a ‘sea view property’: one where the sea can be seen from most areas of the property? Mr. Andrews stated that, "as far as we are concerned a sea view has to be something that can be seen from the main living area of the property. Secondly it would be defined as "distant" or "great" depending on how close to the sea it actually is. In my opinion a true sea view is a property which is located within 400 metres form the sea itself. Once you start to go much further back it tends, not in all cases to be fair, to be a thin strip on the horizon."

Ms. Sudlow defines a sea view as, "any property that has clear views of the sea from the ground or living area. Otherwise the definition should be sub-categorized to clearly define its meaning, i.e. partial sea views, absolute sea views, undisturbed sea views, waterfront property etc.

The idea of sub-categorizing would surely make it easier for buyers to identify true sea view property in the future but this would render some developers and their advertisements without the wow-factor that the simple use of ‘sea view’ provides.

Ms. Filleul, advises developers to remain open and honest about the extent of the sea view. She says, "There is no point in fabricating anything because the clients will eventually go and see the site for themselves anyway.
Sea view: two little words, one powerful phrase.

This month features
 Thailand and Asia
 phuket travel info
Phuket Travel and Tours
  Tropical Living Magazine
  Koh Samui
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 Benjarong Magazine - October 2005, Volume 8 Issue 10


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