With over 14 years of experience, Overseas Property Portfolio (OPP) is one of the longest established independent professional real estate agents in Koh Samui. Selected for the judging panel for Property Guru Property Awards since 2020, they have established their position as one of the leading authorities for not only luxury properties but also land sales and long-term rentals covering a wide market spectrum.
They bring to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be only gained by unique insight into the island and its changing investment landscape. Since their inauguration, they have seen many changes to the island allowing it to develop and flourish. These changes, however, bring the need for vision and flexibility. OPP works hand in hand with their clients to accomplish their property goals in terms of island living for themselves, holiday home, part investment or just outright hands-off investment.
“There is not a one-suits-all solution and only by maintaining close relationships with our clients can we strive to gain the trust they place in us to not only make their island dreams a reality, but to also ensure those dreams are financially viable for the future with the appropriate exit strategy in place. It may be easy to enter the market but without the correct advice, it may be much more difficult to exit the market should the need arise. Forward planning is therefore essential at the time of purchase.”, says Overseas Property Portfolio‘s managing director, Martin Porter.
The Luxury Address spoke with Martin about the state of the luxury real estate in Koh Samui and investing in one of Thailand’s most sought-after destinations.
The Luxury Address: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you Martin. We are delighted to have OPP as one of our esteemed agencies on The Luxury Address. For the benefit of our readers, can you please tell us a bit about yourself? What led you to start a career in luxury real estate?
Martin Porter: After a lifetime career as a freelance IT consultant I always held a keen interest in properties and had already invested in many international jurisdictions (and had many unpleasant experiences). I already had a property in Samui that was for investment and retirement but when the opportunity arose to purchase a real estate agency business and escape the consulting lifestyle I jumped at it. I wanted to move to Asia while I was still young and healthy. Also after over 25 years in IT, I was ready for a new challenge in a totally different industry.
TLA: How different is it to sell luxury properties? What is something that would surprise people about the luxury real estate market?
MP: Of course, luxury property owners expect to be treated with respect and flexibility. They generally have far more stringent requirements for listings and viewings and also generally have limited time available for agents so appointments must be kept timely and sparingly but all relevant information must be gathered usually at an initial single meeting.
I do not think many things surprise me in the property market these days. I guess maybe the one thing that does stand out is the lack of motivation or willingness for most owners of million-dollar properties to have professional photos taken which are of course the prime motivator for any sale as they are the initial point of contact that will draw the attention of the client. We very often have to point out the poor quality of the photos provided and suggest a professional undertake a shooting but the advice is rarely heeded until a lot of time has passed and villas are still on the market. At this point, the client can be engaged in further discussion in the presentation of the villa not being up to scratch in the photographic online marketing which is generally the cause of lack of viewings of the price is accurate.
TLA: How does a realtor establish themself as a luxury agent? Or better yet, how do you differentiate yourself from the ever-growing number of agents and agencies out there.
MP: We have a highly visible office in the foremost prime business park in Koh Samui and we are one of the longest established agents on Samui at 14 years hence many buyers and sellers are already aware of our presence. We also pride ourselves in professionalism and transparency and we would never take advantage of our clients and therefore they have peace of mind that we can be entrusted with the purchase of their dream to make it become a reality.
Many agents in Samui consider short-term profit over long-term reputation which is not something we would ever consider. We support our clients at all times and we do not list any properties that have any questionable background. We also work with a small number of highly reputable lawyers to ensure that our clients are fully covered during the sale or purchase process. Failed sales take time and cause lack of trust so we aim to eliminate any potential issues before a sale is even being negotiated.
TLA: As more and more people are heading to the Internet to look up properties, how important has marketing on the web become for you? How much effort and resources do you pour into it and how has your partnership with The Luxury Address helped in that regard?
MP: Well in fact it is a very interesting question. With so many agents it has become an expensive task to pay Google AdWords or attempt to maintain page one status. This is not only expensive but time-consuming. We do use other portals in addition to our own website but we feel that we wish to direct our attention to niche partners such as the Luxury Address who can take the strain of the marketing activities and this then leaves us more time and energy to concentrate on the tasks we should be doing which researching the market and finding suitable properties for buyers and pricing correctly and finding vetted clients for our sellers.
We already have a direct partner in Japan that we signed up in 2021 and we will soon be adding Andorra, Dubai and China in 2022. We hope at some stage to add Hong Kong and Singapore depending on the interest level during 2022 as international travel resumes following an unprecedented 2-year loss of business due to the pandemic.
TLA: Let’s talk about your main destination market, Koh Samui. How would you describe the luxury real estate market in Koh Samui at the moment? Especially in today’s challenging times
MP: I would say that currently there is quite a lot of properties at 1m USD and over on the market. We have over 103 properties listed ourselves. There is a large selection to choose from however not all are created equal. Properties in the key locations still demand a premium and generally speaking new properties on the market that are priced accurately will sell quickly so the properties that remain on the market for long durations are either in need of renovation and/or are overpriced for the quality.
TLA: Koh Samui has always been in the shadow of Phuket in several ways. For those trying to decide between the two, how would you win buyers into investing in real estate in Koh Samui instead? What are the island’s main draws and what kind of luxury lifestyles does the island have to offer?
MP: Really I think Bangkok Airways spells out the main difference. It calls itself the boutique airline and it owns the airport in Samui which it considers its jewel in the crown and this route makes it the most profits. Samui sees a different type of client who is more discerning than Phuket. There are very few condo developments in Samui unlike Phuket so the coastline is not blighted by high-rise condos. It is of course smaller and I feel more personal than Phuket. It is small but large enough to keep your interest and has all the international facilities like hospitals that you would need to retire full time but it is still only a few hours flight from Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong.
It really is a commutable second home. During high and peak season Phuket suffers from traffic jams between the airport and the key residential locations which is an issue that is not encountered in Samui. Luxury owners generally do not want to waste lots of time traveling to and from their residence and here Samui offers a very distinct advantage. In addition, it is home to one of the most beautiful airports in the world which is very quick and easy to navigate.
TLA: What are the most sought-after locations on the island? Are there any hidden gems with future potential that buyers should look into?
MP: Generally speaking it depends on the client. There is no one size fits all solution in the luxury end of the market. The south has some amazing properties with stunning sea and island views and the price is approximately 25-30% cheaper than the comparable property in the north. The roads are wider and life is quieter and the cost of living is less. So if the client is not highly socially active and needs new western-style restaurants and social activities every day, the south is a much better and cost-effective option as well as providing a higher degree of privacy and anonymity.
However, if high active social life and entertainment are more key then the North would be recommended. Bang Por is already an up-and-coming location and only 15 minutes from Fisherman’s village, however, prices have already risen considerably over the last years so there is little room for speculation. The south still offers some very good possibilities and more economic prices but the beaches in the south are in no way comparable to the north and cannot be swam all your round due to the distance the tides recede over the year.
TLA: From your experience, what is the ratio between investors who are looking to make rental income out of their investment compared to buyers who choose to permanently reside in the Koh Samui?
MP: I would say based over the last 4 years (bear in mind 2 had no real buyers to consider due to closed borders) 90% of our clients are investors who want a holiday home and income when not in use. However, with the advent of COVID and more widely accepted remote working, we expect this to change over the coming years and to see more clients moving for lifestyle reasons. This may also depend on the price and conditions attached to the proposed skilled worker’s visas potentially due to be offered in 2022 and thereafter.
TLA: When people approach you for advice about investing in Koh Samui. What are your go-to questions for your clients?
MP: Again there is no one size fits all. It depends on what portion of the Samui investment makes up from their entire portfolio and also how is their adversity to risk. It would be for example riskier to invest in the south as it is more difficult to sell property in the south as 95% of clients wish to be in the north. In addition for rental income, the south is more difficult as it is generally people who reside full time in Samui who would consider living full time in the south. Holidaymakers want to be in the north where the action and nice beaches are. Only a small proportion would consider the south for vacation rentals and this would be people who like tranquility and privacy or dig walkers for example who like deserted beaches.
TLA: I’m sure many of our readers would be interested in knowing how foreign nationals can acquire properties in Thailand. What is the process like and what are the biggest hurdles?
MP: It would depend on the current property ownership and also if the client is Thai. For Thai, they can of course own the land and the house in their own personal name. In Thailand, the land and the house are treated as two distinct assets. Currently, foreigners are not able to own land directly and hence must set up a Thai company that would then hold the land. This company must be majority Thai owned and so these days a 65%/35% split is recommended and so one foreign shareholder and two that. These can be very simply provided by any good lawyer. This can feel alien to many clients not used to owning or managing a company in an offshore location. It is in fact very simple and purely a paper exercise and once a purchase is complete a client will not need to think about the company other than an annual accounts filing every year at a small cost. For anyone familiar with offshore companies and nominee director structures it is essentially the same practice. Whilst the government continually attempts to make this process more difficult in reality it has hardly changed for decades. Any good lawyer can advise.
The Thai shareholders do not have voting rights shares or access to the legal documentation or bank account so there is no risk in this structure as long as a reputable lawyer is used. It is very quick and easy to set up. The property itself can be put in the client’s personal name or also can be owned by the company that owns the land. There are pros and cons for each which a lawyer would explain. Many foreign buyers prefer to have the property in their personal name as it affords some protection should something go awry with the company the house ownership would not be in question, So a lawyer or shareholder selling the property without the owner is not possible in this case as it may be if both land and house are owned by the company. Good legal advice can allay any fears. 99% of foreign-owned property is owned this way in Thailand it is an established market.
TLA: How do you see the Koh Samui luxury real estate market in the coming years?
MP: I believe as soon as the pandemic comes to some kind of normal living opportunity without quarantine and limitations on travel I believe the property market will be very buoyant and I believe we will see migration from undesirable locations such as Europe and China for taxes or lack of freedoms and people now able to work remotely can now explore other countries and continents as they may have never considered before COVID.
Co-working opportunities alone on Samui have exploded since COVID allowing people to move freely for short durations, This will also present new opportunities for developers with a vision to think outside the box and consider building for co-working habitation rather than just people looking for a holiday home. Additionally, the Chinese for example will now travel in smaller groups due to fear of infection and may therefore prefer more isolated locations making the south suddenly a more sensible consideration away from the crowds. It is exciting times ahead once we finally escape quarantine controls.
Overseas Property Portfolio (OPP) is part of The Luxury Address‘ roster of highly-qualified luxury real estate agencies.