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Bangkok Condominiums vs Serviced Apartments

What is the difference between a condominium, an apartment, and a "serviced apartment" in Bangkok?

Apartments, both ordinary and "serviced", are much like hotels, in that one company owns the entire building and all the units within, which are all rented out, none owned.

Condominiums are different. The units are each owned by a different person. None of the individual units are owned by "the building". Some of the owners may rent out their units, and in fact Bangkok condominium buildings tend to have about 30% of their units rented out vs. 70% owner occupied, though the percentages can vary quite a bit. The city center tends to have a much higher percentage of investment properties purchased solely for resale at a later date (expecting to sell at a higher price later) and renting out for income during the years between purchase and sale. However, many owners live in their unit for many years without initially intending to rent it, but then move somewhere else and rent out their unit rather than sell it.

Apartments are usually a little more expensive per square meter for a given location and quality, and offer less diversity in design, sticking to mass market preferences in furnishings. Nonetheless, there are some fantastically designed apartments by professional interior designers. Most apartments come fully furnished, including kitchen or kitchette.

"Serviced apartments" are designed for shorter stays, offering shorter rental or leasing options, compared to ordinary apartments. Serviced apartments are in-between a hotel and an apartment. You can generally stay in some serviced apartments for as little as a few days like in a hotel, though most residents may be there for a month or more, and a small percentage stay for a year or more. Ordinary apartments may have a minimum lease period of six months or a year.

Apartments normally have some sort of maid service available, and serviced apartments have especially good maid services, normally. Both have a restaurant inside the building, a laundry service or shared coin operated machines if not a washing machine inside the units, and perhaps some other conveniences tailored for short stay residents.

The main differences between an apartment and a serviced apartment are the lease term, the kinds of customers they cater to, and the cost per square meter (for a given location and quality). However, there can be a grey area in-between.

Condominiums are individually owned. Some were previously occupied by the owner or someone in their family, but most condominiums are investment properties. There is a fantastic variation in styles of furnishings of condominiums, as well as a wide variety of prices per square meter, from significantly lower than an apartment to much higher for super luxury units. Many investment properties offer good rental values. Most condos are fully furnished, but you can also find lightly to entirely unfurnished.

Condominium buildings have more established, less transient occupants. The occupants tend to be families and working people, not tourists. The ambiance is more quiet.

However, if you are bringing a substantial amount of furniture with you so that you want some furniture removed, or else have special needs or wishes as regards particular ordinary furnishings for practical reasons, then an apartment building offers the advantage of being able to swap furniture to/from their storage stock or between rooms. With condo owners, small changes can be negotiable, but major changes usually not.

Facilities vary. Both condominiums and apartments of all types normally have a swimming pool and fitness center, but vary about things like a garden, playground, nice lounge, and sports facilities.

Condominium buildings and the land they are upon are initially owned by the developer while under construction. Then the units are sold to individual owners and ownership of the land and common elements is usually turned over to a juristic company, which is controlled by a board of the owners, and takes care of maintenance and other matters. The owners pay a monthly condominium fee. (Normally, renters do not pay this condominium fee.)

Rental units in condominiums are usually investment properties. The owners buy the unit and typically plan to resell it after 5 years or more after property values go up, as they usually do (but of course sometimes go down or don't change significantly), collecting rent as a profit in the interim time.

(Most condominium owners tend to be either institutionalized property investors for a living or else exporters who prefer to put their money into property than other investments. Banks in Thailand offer low interest rates. Thailand's official GNP is 68% exports, 7% tourism, and only 25% domestic consumption, whereby there are many extremely wealthy Thai exporters. These exporters are normally very high class and wealthy Thais, usually descended from Chinese immigrants. However, there are increasing numbers of foreign investors in condominiums, since foreigners can own condominiums but not a land & house, so many condominium landlords are foreigners, unlike houses and apartments.)

Apartment buildings have their own standard lease. Condominium owners usually accept our real estate company's standard lease. When negotiating terms of a lease, condominium owners are much easier and quicker to work with than apartment owners, generally, because of less bureaucracy and any lease terms you wish to negotiate don't need approval from higher up. Trying to change the terms of a lease with an apartment building can be exceedingly difficult with many of them, and take a lot of time going up the chain of authority. However, most apartment buildings have a reasonable lease, are very experienced and professional, and also have a reputation to maintain to keep their business in good standing. The worst leases I have seen have been by a minority of individual landlords of houses and condos who insist on using their lease instead of our standard real estate agency lease. Individual landlords' leases can have serious shortcomings, terrible English, and/or be one-sidedly all about the landlord's rights and the tenant's obligations. We have flicked some landlords and moved on to the Plan B property when a landlord of a condo or house has insisted on using their bad lease, or otherwise turned us off.

The last and longest thing to discuss regarding condominiums vs. apartments is the cost of electricity and water. The difference in the cost of utilities between condos and apartments is often one of the first things to be mentioned in a comparison, but it's also typically one of the least understood. But before getting into numbers, let's first cover some other differences to better understand why.

In apartment buildings, you just pay your electricity and water bills at the apartment office. In condominium buildings, you normally pay for electricity and water just like house tenants do -- by going to a local convenience store to pay your bills (like 7-11, Family Mart, etc., which are all equipped to collect payments for all utilities, mobile phone companies, etc.). Sometimes a landlord will pay them and then bill you. However, usually, you pay the bills, not the landlord.

For condos, the electricity and water utilities are normally in the landlord's name -- the owner of the property. Internet and TV service are usually in the tenant's name, but some landlords provide these in their own name. If a tenant leaves without paying their internet or TV bill, and does not disconnect the service, then the next tenant may have a problem getting connected. It can be sorted out, but this has occasionally been an issue we've needed to deal with in houses and condominiums.

Normally, the cost per unit of electricity and water ar higher in an apartment building than for a condominium or house. In a condominium or house, you normally pay the electricity company's "government" rate, which is the cheapest possible. Some apartment buildings make a significant profit from resale of electricity. However, that's not the whole story, as some apartment buildings make little profit despite charging you more. This is because apartment buildings also pay a higher rate to the electricity company, so it's not as if an apartment building billing you 6 baht per unit makes an extra 2 baht per unit over a 4 baht per unit condominium. This is because the price a consumer pays per unit for electricity goes up with consumption.

For example, per billing month:
The first 15 kWh cost ___ per kWh (lowest rate)
The next 10 kWh (16-25) costs ___ per kWh (higher rate)
The next 10 kWh (26-35) costs ___ per kWh (still higher rate)
... and so on. I don't know the current rates and they may change over time, but you can find out from the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA) for Bangkok.

For an apartment building, the MEA treats the entire building as one entity because it's one owner, bringing in one big power line, so the building owner pays as one giant consumer at a higher rate per kWh, and it's up to the building owner to split up the electricity among the apartments and bill their renters. The MEA bills owners, not renters. Renters pay owners. That's why you pay at the apartment office. If you don't pay your bill, the MEA cannot cut you off, but the building owner can. Because the building pays as one user with very high consumption per month, they are paying a high rate themselves.

For a condominium or house, the MEA brings separate lines to separate condominiums or houses. If you don't pay your bill, then the MEA cuts you off, and you or the owner you are renting from must go to the MEA office somewhere else in the city to fix any problem.

Super luxury highrise apartment buildings with lots of apartment units which consume large quantities of electricity (especially from air conditioning) can have some of the highest rates per unit of electricity.

Typical rates in luxury highrise apartments is 6 or 7 baht per unit of electricity consumed, whereas for condos and houses it's more like 4 baht per unit of electricity consumed. Water is relatively very cheap in Bangkok and expats have rarely worried about that, but electricity has been a concern for some families.

Keep in mind that apartments and condos are "insulated" by other tenants above and below you, and maybe on some side walls, whereby heat transfer is mainly thru the windows and walls facing the outdoors, but in detached houses you get significant heat transfer thru the upstairs ceiling, too, and all walls around the house face the outdoors. Therefore, houses require more electricity to cool down.

Air conditioning in nearly all apartments, condos, and houses is room-by-room, not central and vented, so you can save electricity by air conditioning only the rooms you use.

In our website search form, we separate these three kinds of properties: condominiums, apartments, and serviced apartments. This gives the option for discriminating visitors to save time by choosing the kind of rental unit and environment they prefer. On the search form, you have all the options you want -- you can choose one type, or all types, or any combination for your search.

We have tried to keep our search form as simple yet flexible as feasible, trying to find a happy medium.

Here is our rental property search form: RENT. Note the "Type of Property" row of checkboxes.

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