Long-term Bali resident Simen talks us through his experiences renovating and building in Bali. He gives us his #1 tip for a successful stress-free build.
What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do?
My name is Simen. I’m from Norway and what I do is a little complicated because I do a lot of things! I’ve been in Bali for 12 years and I’ve done a lot of things over those years. My specialty is in marketing, but now I’m building properties in Bali.
What brought you to Bali 12 years ago?
I was doing an internship in Vietnam that wasn’t very fulfilling or enjoyable, and I had a 5 day holiday in Bali. And then I never returned to Vietnam!
I kept extending and extending the holiday. 6 months later I had my friends ship my stuff over to Bali. I’ve been here since then.
I know you have your family here. How did you meet your wife?
I met her here through a friend. She’s half American and half Indonesian. We met 8 or 9 years ago and have been together ever since. In the beginning we travelled a lot. And we had our first kid during Covid.
How was your Covid experience?
Even though I had some property investments in Bali, my main business was online. So for me personally, Covid wasn’t so bad. We enjoyed the quiet life and empty beaches in Bali at that time.
Why did you choose to live in Bali?
Actually, I didn’t even know that people live here! I didn’t know anything about Bali. This was way back before Instagram. I didn’t have a guidebook, I just came. I didn’t even google it! I thought it was a really tiny island.
First day I got here, I met some cool people and started hanging out with them. We went to one of the first parties at Potato Head ever, and it just blew my mind that this even existed!
I just knew immediately that I wanted to give it more time and see what it was like. 6 months later I went back to Norway, because I was supposed to finish my Masters in Finance.
But one week before I was supposed to restart it, I decided to return to Bali. And that’s it!
Why did you decide to build in Bali?
First of all, we had our own villa that we renovated for ourselves. That renovation was a painful process but the result was good! That’s where we live now.
It was in bad shape originally. They had used all the cheapest materials so we had to do a lot of work on it.
Later on, we renovated another place. I got it in February 2020, and then Covid hit. I saw the place and knew it was a good deal for a 17 year lease. It was a villa but it was also in bad shape! It was a 2 out of 10, but I could tell the layout had potential.
We knocked almost everything down. The villa was on a 1 are block and had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. We decided to turn it into very spacious 1 bed/1 bath Bali villa with a big living room. We also moved the front wall out to create more space. Even though it’s only 1 ara, it really feels spacious.
Of course, I thought we could rent it out, but then Covid hit, so that plan didn’t work. The renovation was supposed to take 1.5 months, but in the end it took 3.5-4 months.
However, because of the whole Covid situation, I knew there were no tourists to rent it to, so I wasn’t stressing about trying to finish it quickly. We could do a high quality job.
In fact, there were 3 villas all next to each other and I could have taken all 3, but in the end I only took one. During Covid I was glad I only took one, but nowadays I wish I had taken all 3.
So when the renovation was done, we wanted to rent it out, and we found someone for a long term rent. But at the same time, the rainy season started. And it turned out that the roof was terrible and it was leaking everywhere! We didn’t know this when we got it. Maybe that’s why the owner sold it in February!
Anyway, we refunded the contract because that was the right thing to do. We had to do the roof 5 times before it was done properly! It was a structural problem, but no one knew it at the time. Each time they tried something different to fix it, but it never worked.
In fact, last year we blocked rentals for a whole month so we could redo the roof and this time we did it properly and completely. So far so good, but let’s wait and see what happens when the rainy season really starts.
Since then, have you done any other builds or renovations?
I’m actually building 4 villas now in Pererenan. Originally we thought we’d rent them out but now looking around I can see a lot of villas being built in Bali so I want to reduce my risk. I think we’ll sell 2 when they are done and keep 2 for cash flow.
They are supposed to be finished in the beginning of March. Apparently, they are on schedule.
Have you seen them?
I’ve only been there twice! This time I used a construction management company and they take care of it. They do the architecture and design and the IMB and everything. I never need to go to the site!
I could stop by, but I realised that I don’t have the knowledge to know if they are doing a good job or not. I think a lot of people underestimate that when they build here. If you’re going to oversee it yourself, then you actually need to know all the details.
Some builders will take advantage if you don’t know what you’re doing. I saw so many issues in the villas that I had taken over previously, so I needed experts to take care of it!
I’m also saving a year’s worth of work, by not having to be there every day!
Knowing what you now know, what would you advise people who want to build in Bali?
The biggest thing is to use a third party company to check on the builder. You could try to do it yourself, but there’s so many specific things that have to be checked that unless you’re already an expert, you can’t do it well yourself. Most people take things for granted that the build will be done well, but unfortunately that’s not how it works in Bali!
I mean, here’s a really small example. Do you know to check that the electrical sockets are actually connected? Some builders just put the cover on without installing the wiring in the wall. It’s unbelievable!
There are thousands of these tiny little details so it’s impossible to know all of them if you don’t work in the industry. And of course, there are so many big things that have to be checked too. I feel like you have to hire someone!
Did you hire them as a percentage of the build costs?
No, I don’t like that model because it would be their interest to increase the build costs. I prefer to pay a flat fee. They are doing the architecture and design, and the IMB and then the oversight of the build. They tender out to different construction companies and show me the quotes. I’m still paying the builder. But they check everything. They make sure I’m getting exactly what I paid for.
And do you have any plans to build elsewhere?
Yes, we do, we’ve been in the same house for 8 or 9 years so now we’re now in the process of looking for land and building our new family home. Actually, we put in an offer yesterday!
That’s so exciting! Good Luck!
They accepted our bid already, and now we have to do our due diligence to check everything. I don’t want to get too excited yet, but things are looking good.
Follow Simen on IG HERE
Words by Bali Interiors
Photos by Simen