KASAMA Vol. 23 No. 3 / July-August-September-October 2009 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

On Overseas Filipinos Building Houses in the Philippines

By Carlo Butalid

8 May 2009

Some weeks ago, I read a news item about a Filipino from Canada who was killed because he wanted to sell the house he built in the Philippines. A relative was staying in the house, but did not take good care of it. When he tried to dispose of it, he got killed.

This may be an extreme case that illustrates a problem facing many Overseas Filipinos (OFs). They build a house in the Philippines, and then have relatives live in it. I believe that this is a bad idea, unless of course the house is given to the relative – e.g. their parents. If the idea behind the building of the house is to have a place to stay in when they eventually return for good, then it is a bad idea. Let me go through some reasons why:

Cost of Maintenance

If a house is built years before an OF plans to live in it; then there are inevitably maintenance costs. House maintenance is doubly difficult and expensive because it will be done at a distance. If a relative is allowed to live there with the understanding that he/she would maintain the house; there would inevitably be a gap between how you believe the house should be maintained and how he/she thinks. Most probably, the relative will not spend that much of their own money maintaining the house. This means that the house will deteriorate, and when the OF owner eventually transfers to the Philippines, he/she will have to spend a whole lot of money for repairs.

There is also the matter of real estate taxes etc. which need to be paid. Very often, the occupant does not take care of these kinds of payments.

Inertia of Staying

When a relative is allowed to live in the house “for the meantime”, that relative gets attached to the house, sometimes even to the point of believing that he/she has some right to it, and will not leave. This is what happened in the fatal incident mentioned above: the Canada-based owner wanted to sell the house, but the one living in the house resisted.

Complicating matters is that often the OF built or repaired the house originally for his/her parents. When the parents die, one or another of the siblings takes over the house. And the sibling may consider the house to be inherited from the dead parents, and not as the property of the OF.

There are also problems that arise when the house occupant has other ideas re the use of the house. He may decide to rent out the rooms – this may lead to the converting of open spaces to rooms to maximize rental income. Or, he may decide to set up a sari-sari store, bakeshop, or office. Not only will this hinder the OF’s “enjoyment” of the house when in the Philippines, but also makes the occupant’s claim to the property stronger; after all the expenditure for the “improvements”.

Natural Disasters

Then there is the matter of natural disasters e.g. earthquakes, floods, etc. which damage the house. There were indeed many OF-built houses damaged or destroyed by lahar around Pinatubo some years ago. Floods and landslides happen regularly enough. There are all kinds of disasters that can befall houses. Thus, we go back to the question: why build a house in the first place?

I believe that the only good reason for an OF to build a house in the Philippines is if it is for his/her parents. But even if this is so, it would still be best that the title for the house be in the OF’s name, with the provision that the parents can live in it. And that when the parents die, the house is immediately sold.

The money that otherwise would go into building a house could better be put in a term deposit or something similar in the OF’s country of residence. Or it could be put into buying a house in the host country; which upon the OF’s transfer to the Philippines could be sold or rented out.

Reprinted from Carlo Butalid’s Blog at with the kind permission of the author.

Carlo Butalid About the Author:

lives in Tilburg, the Netherlands. For more than 20 years, he worked with the Philippine European Solidarity Centre (PESC-KSP), a solidarity and information center on the Philippines, based in Utrecht. In the 1990s, Carlo was also the editor of Tinig ng Pilipino, a Filipino community newsletter; an officer of the Pasali Cooperative (whose members were mostly Filipino sea-based workers); and he was instrumental in mobilizing Overseas Filipinos in Europe in the campaign to gain voting rights. Carlo has written articles for Newsbreak magazine, for ABS-CBN’s “Kapamilya-Overseas”, and the Human Rights Forum. He also has a blog at