THAI LIFE

Thailand 2019 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Andres Pira, CEO of Blue Horizon Developments & Property Phuket, on “futureproofing,” a booming real estate sector, and a new autobiography.

How did you start in Thailand, and what developments and ideas have you pursued in the real estate sector here?

I'm originally from Sweden and first came to Thailand by chance when I was just 20 years old because the travel agent suggested that I should visit this beautiful tropical paradise. I just turned 37 years old in May 2019, so I've now been here for 17 years. These days, I am one of the largest real estate developers in Southern Thailand. At the moment, we're involved in a major development, building 1,700 apartments across Phuket. Almost 80% have already sold, so we're performing very well. I'm not the only one doing the hard work though, I have a fantastic team of architects, engineers, salespeople, and a marketing department, who all play major roles in my success. We currently have about 250 employees, who have been working on consecutive projects over the past 12 years. We've started new projects every other year, which have grown increasingly larger and we're delighted to have received several awards for being the best developer in Thailand with the best architecture design.

Who are your main clients when it comes to foreign customers?

Five to 10 years ago, most of our customers were Australians, Europeans, or Americans. However, over the past five years, we've been seeing more Chinese and Russian clients who are buying properties from us online without even coming to Thailand to view them. I have Chinese and Russian investors who have purchased five, 10, or even 15 units online. We've bolstered our reputation and developed trust by working with some of the biggest hotel groups in the world. Sometimes, when we finish our projects, leading hotel groups, such as Ramada or Best Western, take them over. When clients see these kinds of hoteliers working with us, it creates an atmosphere of trust. We're the only developer that works with such prominent brands in Southern Thailand because it is difficult to gain their trust; we've excelled in this and now people know us.

How green are your projects? Is Blue Horizon focusing on being “futureproof?”

As a developer, I care about the environment surrounding our projects. I am a nature-oriented person at heart and love spending time out in the wild. Thailand has a lot of restrictions, rules, and regulations that must be followed, so we have to adapt to these regulations to preserve the environment, otherwise, this country will lose its charm. That's why 70% of each of our projects is composed of the units themselves and the other 30% is devoted to greenery and nature. People come to Thailand for the beautiful natural environment; the palm trees, the white sand beaches, the clear blue sea, the lush greenery, waterfalls, and the mountains. Therefore, we need to put in the effort to keep it that way. We're successful because we incorporate Thailand's natural assets into our projects as much as we can. Sometimes we lose a lot of space that we could have made more money on, but in the end, the integration of green space improves each project.

What is your analysis of the real estate market in Thailand now?

It's booming because we're in the right place at the right time. For the past 12 years, everyone's been saying each year that it will undergo a downturn, but we continue to prove them wrong. It comes down to supply and demand; every year we see tourism increase by 10 to 15% and the more people that visit Thailand, the more people will be interested in investing. Prices in Thailand are also much more affordable than in places such as Dubai, Sweden, or the US. Part of our success is also due to the fact that we mostly sell investment properties. There's not that much interest in residential property, but investment properties come with a 7% return guarantee, even if we don't rent them out. Nowadays, that's preferable to any bank, plus, investors get a holiday home to come to if they want to. That's why we continue to sell units. You could put your money in a bank and get a 1% return rate or you can put the money with us and get 7% plus a holiday home. It's a win-win situation.

How are increasing digitalization and the use of artificial intelligence pertinent to your business?

We've invested a lot of money in these areas over the past two years. One thing that has contributed to successful online sales is the implementation of VR systems that allow people to actually see and walk around the unit, even before the project is finished, so they can really get a feel for everything, which gives a little more credibility to buying online. Clients tend to buy in bulk to invest more and get a better return, especially Chinese and Russian investors. In China, people can't own anything in their own name, so when we offer them apartments they can buy and own entirely in Thailand, it's an extremely attractive option for them. They can own it forever and get a lucrative investment out of it. In fact, 60% of all the units we sold in 2018 and so far in 2019 have been to Chinese buyers.

Could you tell us a bit about your recent book, Homeless to Billionaire?

Homeless to Billionaire is an autobiography about my life. Previously, I didn't like discussing my life, but one of my mentors who I invited to Thailand to hold an onstage seminar with me was inspired after hearing my life story. He advised me to write a book because he felt that my story would benefit others. Without his input, I probably wouldn't have written the book. When I appeared onstage with him, he'd had a backdrop made of my face, advertising the seminar as a preview of my book, which we had not really spoken about at that point! Now, I'm really pleased that I wrote the book, even though it was a promise more than a goal I had. Later, I'd like to travel around the world inspiring others through seminars.

Are you looking to expand outside of Thailand?

I am always open to opportunities, but regarding expansion, you need to be discerning. I'm always getting offers from people all over the world reaching out to other investors and developers, but there has to be the right gut feeling for it to work. If the right offer for me arises, obviously, I'll go for it.

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

The main goal is to sell the remaining 20% of our inventory and we'll finish the Heavana project, which is set to become one of the biggest resorts ever built on Phuket Island and a milestone for us. My other goal is to travel around different countries with my mentors. Together, we want to motivate and empower others to improve their lives. I also have a big book tour coming up in the US and I'll be traveling to many states to promote Homeless to Billionaire.