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Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Retirees looking to Thailand for their place in the sun

NEW HOMES Growing numbers of elderly foreigners are buying property in Thailand, attracted by cheap prices and a new `retirement visa'

AFP , HUA HIN, THAILAND

Veteran Swedish hotelier Sven Wermelin has traveled across Europe and Asia for his career, but also in search of a place to spend his retirement.

What he found was a 276m2 house in Thailand's southern resort town of Hua Hin.

"I sold my house in Spain, which is very expensive, to buy a house here where I get everything at a reasonable price. I can play golf and my wife can enjoy the beach, while my 15-year-old son can get a very good education," said the 65-year-old, referring to the international schools in town.

"Hua Hin is my first home now. It is a perfect destination for those who want to enjoy life after retirement," he said.

Wermelin is among the increasing number of foreigners buying property in Thai resort towns for their retirement.

Many are taking advantage of a new "retirement visa," which Thailand began issuing in February to foreigners older than 50.

The move has spurred strong demand for property, said George Mastronikolis, managing director of Hua Hin property developer Regal Thailand.

"For the past few years, expats living in Asia were the main buyers. Now this is changing with more and more individuals, mostly retiring people with the majority of them northern Europeans, discovering the benefits of living in Thailand," he said.

In the upmarket tourist town of Hua Hin, residential units run from 2 million to 30 million baht (US$52,500 to US$790,000), but most of the demand is for mid-range houses costing 5 million to 10 million baht.

Patti Tomaitrichitr, property analyst at KGI Securities, said the demand among European expats and retirees is greatest in the resort areas of Phuket, Pattaya and Hua Hin.

"Compared to other Asian markets like Hong Kong, Thailand's property prices and costs of living are relatively competitive," she said.

Pattaya, still best known for its raucous red-light district, has seen sales double since the middle of last year, with prices jumping by 50 percent since the third quarter of last year, she said.

Phuket tends to attract higher-income foreigners, with sales rebounding since late last year, after a slump following the December 2004 tsunami.

"Retirees can afford to live a lifestyle in Thailand that would not be affordable in the West, with many employing staff for driving, cleaning and nursing," said Charlotte Filleul, the Phuket-based sales manager of CB Richard Ellis (Thailand).

Recreation activities such as yachting and golfing are among the most affordable in the region, making the island an attractive destination for retirees, she said.

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