By Aliwassa Pathnadabutr,
Managing Director of CBRE Thailand
Special to The Nation
With new zoning laws and a lax on sizing regulations, some developers are now building apartments that fall below the 300-400 square foot (approximately 27-37 square meter) minimum unit sizes that were once the regulatory minimum. The reason for this new product category is due to price. In the downtown locations, prices for a traditionally small-sized unit of 400 square feet (37 square metres) could cost well over US$3,000 (around Bt100,000) per month. The prices of units in these high demand, densely populated metropolises were making finding housing untenable so developers began to formally adopt some of the living concepts that people were already doing.
One innovative solution to make private space affordable was by borrowing from the “co-housing” concept where groups of people were renting multi-bedroom units and sharing rents as well as the common areas such as the living area and kitchen.
This made housing somewhat more affordable. But the issue was that residents still had no truly “private space” as even a bedroom in a house is still not as private as having your own “house”. In a recent article on Blueprint, CBRE’s online magazine, writer Adam Bonislawski highlighted that one developer in New York’s solution was to take the “co-housing” concept and turn it into a rental model by design.
They built an apartment building that featured only suite-style rooms, some of which were only 10 feet (3 meters) in width. The units contain the bare minimum such as a bathroom and one space for working, sleeping, and relaxing. The rest of the amenities were provided in a common facility area, such as a full-sized kitchen, laundry, and entertainment area. This made the rental rates more affordable by offering micro-apartments while still giving renters their own private space.
The developer of the project in New York says that careful design is crucial to making these small spaces livable. Multifunctional furniture is one essential, and in fact, many of the units from the developer in New York come already furnished with this type of furniture concept. High ceilings and large windows also help make a small space feel bigger than it is.
The “micro-apartment” sizing scheme is nothing new to Bangkok with many units having long been in the 20-30 square-meter size ranges. The issue is that, especially in the downtown Bangkok area, units sized at even 20-30 square metres are becoming untenable for the average Thai buyer.
The real question is where does this leave buyers and developers of future projects for Bangkok’s prime downtown areas. One option is to go up to luxury, which many developers have done in the past two years; however, the luxury buyer demographic is relatively niche and as a result, the market can only absorb a limited supply. Another option is to go down in size like American developers have recently begun to do. However, the size of units in Bangkok are already in the “micro-apartment” size category by American standards, and anything smaller than 22 square meters is not a sustainable living solution as a long-term residence. Much thought should be given to the concept of what “micro” is for Thailand and the impact that it will have on the real-estate market in the long term if anything smaller were to be built. Maximum utility coupled with innovative space design must be built into the planning from conceptual stages. Livability is crucially important. Developers may need to take a more communal approach to residential buildings by creating more communal facilities like kitchens, gardens, and resting spaces where people can spend more restful time outside of their room, so that the impact of smaller units is lessened by the increase of common spaces that can be utilised.
Long term sustainability of the product built should be of top consideration for developers as it will impact the quality of life of the residents and the atmosphere of the built environment for Bangkok.