I see it all the time in the expat forums – “we are exploring Panama and need recommendations on where to look for a house/property to buy”. Answers are usually – rent first for 6-12 months, I am selling a great house. PM me for details, and what area do you want? (we’re not sure, maybe somewhere near the beach but we don’t like heat and humidity.)
Seriously, if you plan to live in Panama, you’ve got to live somewhere. I can write my ideas, but I’d also be really interested in hearing from others who live here. Did you rent? Buy? Build? How did it work out? Did the process go smoothly, or what hiccups did you find along the way? If you did it over, would you do anything differently?
I am no expert in real estate anywhere, and especially not in Panama so do your own research and homework. Don’t take my word for anything. If this topic interests you, also come back later to see if there are any good comments.
We rent. We came planning to rent but were open to buying or building at some point, but now we have decided that we are permanent renters. Our money is in the bank, not in the house. If we have a problem, we can call the landlord to fix it. If we decide to leave, we give proper notice and hand back the keys. It helps that we love our house and location, and our landlords have been super good to us. At our age and situation this is the best option for us.
It is possible to buy a house (or land) here even if you aren’t a resident. It is also possible to get a mortgage here but I know nothing about it, except that they require that it to be paid off before you are 70. There is no MLS here, or central database of available houses so what one agent is able to show you may not be the same inventory as another agent shows. There are also few resources to research fair prices. It can be hard to know what a property is really worth, and it’s not uncommon to have very overpriced homes on the market by sellers who aren’t in a hurry and just put them out there to see if someone will bite.
We have been taught that buying a home is a good investment. But, the reality might not be so attractive. We know of properties that have been on the market for literally years. The real estate market has been slow, buyers have the advantage, and the more expensive the home is, the smaller the pool of potential buyers.
You will be selling at some point. Maybe the reality of daily life isn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe you suffer a health setback and can’t manage in the house, or have to seek medical care back home. Maybe something goes on in the family that requires you to go back. Maybe you lose your spouse, or your own life and your heirs have to deal with selling the property here. This can happen wherever you live. It’s just more complicated in a foreign country. We know quite a few expats who have left the area and haven’t been able to sell their houses. I also know Panamanians with houses on the market for a lot longer than they would like.
Also, if you do buy it is extremely helpful to have at least months of experience living in your intended area. We would make very different decisions now than we would have when we arrived. What kind of construction makes sense for the climate and conditions? What features do you really need for your new lifestyle? What is a fair price? What do you need to know about customs, rules, infrastructure, convenience, neighbors, and other factors that will affect your daily life.
Then, there is building…. I would be really interested to hear from anyone who has built a house here! I don’t know anyone who has had the process go smoothly or on time. My Panamanian lawyer neighbor was so disgusted that his house was a year past due that he threw the papers on the desk and walked away. Another Panamanian neighbor has been working with the bank for months, many many months and finally only now has financing been approved. She and her husband are employed professionals, good candidates. All the gringos I know have stories of serious delays, and the builder not paying the penalties in the contract. It is customary for a Panamanian to be on site daily to oversee the progress. If you aren’t physically here, then what?
There are also people who buy a home pre-construction. There are glossy, beautiful brochures and promises, but will the condo or house meet expectations and promises? There is no guarantee and if it doesn’t, you have little recourse. There is no guarantee that it will even be built months or years after you expected to be living there.
So, bottom line, in my opinion, if you are renting it is easy to change your mind. If you buy, proceed with local experience, local contacts, and lots of caution. If you build, expect major delays and problems. If everything goes well I think you will be a happy exception.
Ok you all, share your experiences! Fill out the picture and help the people planning their lives here.