Those looking to buy a house or villa in Chiang Mai will find some exceptional value comparative to their home countries. In fact it is one of the cheapest desirable places in Thailand to buy a house. Chiang Mai has a pleasant atmosphere, making it popular among retirees and Thai-foreigner families. The abundance of land and suburban character of the city further popularises houses over condos.
Since houses require land, the ownership by foreigners is a tricky situation. If you do not have a Thai spouse to own the land title deeds, you can perhaps se tup a 30 year lease of land from a Thai owner, which some have chosen to do. The option to form a Thai-foreigner owned company which will own the land is now less popular since the authorities pledged to check the legitimacy of the minimum 51 per cent Thai ownership arrangement. In order to buy houses in Chiang Mai you will have to meet the requirements for land ownership.
If you have a lawful avenue for del facto ownership, you will find there are plenty of options, with a general buyers market resulting from an oversupply. The trend among the middle class Thai to move into housing projects has left many of the older (10 to 20 year age) houses on the market. Unfortunately many of the owners set unrealistically high price tags on them, seemingly oblivious to the fact the market demand is far below the speculated value they have placed on the house. Many lost significant value after the 97 crash and still hope to eventually recover the original value.
There are plenty of agents to help you buy a house in Chiang Mai, although they are known for wasting time driving you around to many obviously unsuitable properties. Since there is less structure to good and bad suburbs its difficult to pinpoint an area. Those suburbs immediately north and south of the airport suffer noise pollution, while a house in a village might be subjected to noisy early morning announcement, feral dogs and the local karaoke bar.
Before you buy a house in Chiang Mai, its advisable to fully familiarise yourself with the various areas, do some due diligence on the neighbourhood at various times of the day and check for latent defects, as sellers are notorious for keeping quiet on chronic problems.
Furthermore, when you buy a Chiang Mai house you will, after a few agent trips, discover that many of the older houses where designed with for Thai preferences which include smaller, darker rooms, no outdoor living areas, outdoor kitchens, too many bathrooms and lack of privacy. The newer houses are more suited to Western tastes.
Perhaps the safest option is to consider the gate communities that are so popular among the Thai. There is an over-supply of these, and only established companies where a critical mass of occupants has been achieved should be considered. Some fail and the maintenance upkeep is lacking, others have an air of abandonment due to inexperience with marketing and management. Those at the top end however can have a lovely suburban feel to them and those buying houses in Chiang Mai among these provides a comfortable and prozac lifestyle with plenty of supporting facilities. These do tend to be markedly more expensive for you pay for the prestige.