home coolshots info articles feedback
coolthaihouse.com -> articles -> corner cutters
August 10, 2004.  Interview between Digger and the editor.  Pattaya, Thailand home construction, building a house.  Rip-offs and how not to get cheated by corner cutters.  Why sometimes there is substandard building here.  How to spot poor quality construction.  Things to do before buying a house.  Do you know what materials were used in the construction?  Checking references of others that have purchased a house.  Why corner cutting doesn't make sense.

Q: Doesn't everyone build pretty much to standard?

A: There are no inspections in Thailand, it is basically a buyer beware country.  I was lucky enough, from an education perspective, to see a lot of corner cutters at work while building the cool thai house prototype.  I'd be going to all this trouble to show something that I was thinking 'everyone will do this correctly anyway', when just then I would see a builder doing it wrong to save a little money.  It made me think, the only way I would buy a pre-finished house is to have something like a photo journal, along with a list of materials and methods used and a list of others that had bought houses from the building for references.

Q: Why are there corner cutters?

A: The essence of corner cutting is to have a builder do something that saves him a little bit now, but will cause big problems in the future.  From talking to construction workers and making observations myself, I would say that most builders in the lower price range around here are corner cutters.  I see it has a sad thing because they only save a little bit of money, but the finished house is really low quality.  I would make an educated guess that in most cases of corner cutting, the savings created by doing things in a substandard way are about 8 - 10%.  For example, let's say that a building project had a budget of around 700000 Baht, the corner cutter would save about 56000 to 70000 Baht and build a totally low quality house, where if they spent the 700000 Baht the house would be really good.  Anyway, there is always a good profit - in this example maybe 300000 Baht, so it is surprising that at the low end nobody really does an honest house.

Q: Can you give some example of corner cutting?

A: Ok, using low quality cement, suitable for wall building, on the house proper.  Inadequate depth of the foundation columns holes and not enough concrete in the base of the foundation column.  Using a very thin layer of cement in the floor.  Using roll metal instead of the heavier hand tied strands in the floor.  Using inadequate metals in the foundation columns and foundation base.  Inadequate metals in the roof.  Using coconut wood to support the grc roofing sheets outside the house (the eves).  Ungrounded electrical.  Having a circuit breaker but running all the wires to one station.  Inadequate diameter electric wire.  No conduit shielding electric wires in the attic.  Inadequate metal supports for the sheetrock roofing.  Use of low quality paints that wash off with water.  Use of plastic bathtubs (as opposed to acrylic).

Q: Can't the prospective house buyer just do an inspection before buyer to see if the builder is a corner cutter?

A: Well some things can be spotted and some cannot.  The idea of the corner cutter is not to lose out on sales, but make an inspection proof house that will hold up for a couple of years.  That being said, I would look for anything meant to deceive for example, an house with grounded sockets but no ground wire or a electrical breaker box with all of the wires feeding into just one station.  In addition to this I would check to see if the electrical in the attic is run through conduit as this can be a good indicator of a cost cutter.  It there is anyway to see under the grc sheeting boards on the outside of the house I would check the wood, a common practice for corner cutters is to use coconut wood.  Most of the really important things cannot be determined after the house is already complete, for example the depth of the cement pour for the floor, size of the foundation column hole, etc.  The one saving grace is that the corner cutter will want to squeeze every last cent out of the savings which will cause him to go a little too far, so there should be a few telltale signs which can be spotted.

.... continued from previous column.....

Q: Any other protection?

A: Well, one of the most obvious things is to get references and talk to people who have bought houses from the builder.  Even though the corner cutter wants things to be 'OK' for a number of years (and then fall apart), it is not an exact science, so some things will start going downhill soon.  Therefore even new buyers will have some complaints and therefore by talking to previous buyers you can save yourself a headache.

Q: Aren't you being too hard on the corner cutters?

A: Maybe.  There is really a great need for lower cost housing.  The corner cutters are filling a niche.  It is just too bad they can't live with 30% profit, they need to squeeze out the last little bit.  I mean they bring together everything needed to do a really good house and then for a little bit of greed they build a low quality house.  I had this conversation with a Thai person about the tragedy of the situation with the example of the small house that the builder could build for 550,000 Baht.  But instead of this he cuts corners to get the cost down to 500,000 Baht, therefore ensuring very low quality.  Say the land cost is 100,000 baht and the cost cutter sells the house for 950,000 making 350,000.  Wouldn't it make more sense to build a quality house for 550,000 house and take a profit of 300,000?  Or sell a good house for 1,000,000 and still make the 350,000?  Anyway, the Thai person said he agreed, but his retort was this: 'What if the person didn't have the 550,000 Baht necessary to build the house?  What if they only had 500,000 Baht?".  I guess there is a point here, maybe in some cases they just are not properly capitalized and need to cut corners just to get the project done.

Q: Are there other kind of corner cutters?

A: The main type of corner cutter is the builder who just coordinates things.  He will be taking the biggest chunk and is the most motivated to save.  If you subcontract with an actual hands-on builder they are normally pretty good.  But, that being said, if the bid is all inclusive even this type of builder (hands on) will be motivated to squeeze the quality a bit.

Q: How would you avoid corner cutters?

A: The way to avoid it for sure is to be the one choosing and buying materials and deal with a experienced hands-on builder.  Go to the work site at least once a day and check things out.  If you must do it the easy way and have someone else manage the whole thing, I would suggest putting together a full list of materials and qualities before you start the project.  Also, check references and previous buildings of the builder.  And remember, even if you are buying materials and do avoid the corner cutter, you still need to check references and make sure that the builder has a skilled team of workmen.

Q: Just because a builder or contractor doesn't cut corners, does it mean they will do a good job?

A: Good question.  There are a lot of skilled construction workers, builders and contractors in Thailand, more than most places.  You will always have some that aren't very good or just aren't interested in customer satisfaction.  You can reduce the risk of ending up with a bad team by being sure to get references first.  The main thing, in my view, to be concerned with is the desire to cut costs by using sub standard materials.

Be sure to see the many examples along with photos in corner cutter examples.

Feedback plea This site is free, but needs your comments and corrections to make it a valuable resource. If you've got comments, corrections or other information please leave feedback here.

home | coolshots | info | articles | feedback

This page was last updated October 2nd, 2009