Panama has been blessed with more than its share of natural beauty, but it has not kept pace with North America when it comes to online marketing. The real estate industry is further hampered because it does not have a Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
No MLSs means that you can't go to one website and access a comprehensive database of properties that are for sale or lease. For twenty-somethings who are more familiar with Google than with the Yellow Pages, this may present a problem but if you didn't grow up with a lightning-fast computer to satisfy your every whim, you'll appreciate the old-fashioned work that it takes to find the perfect property in Panama.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to find real estate property in Panama.
Step 1: Determine your budget and method of payment. This may seem like a no-brainer, but things are a bit different in Panama, and deals can be structured based on many factors. Will you pay for your property in cash? If so, this is an easy item to check off your list because all you have to figure out is the overall amount you want to spend. If you need financing, it's a bit more complicated. You will need to figure out how much down payment you can offer, and then where you want your monthly payment to be. Traditional mortgages are harder to get in Panama, especially if you're not yet a resident. That leaves seller financing. Some developers, like Empresas Bern, offer a 5-year financing program on their condos. Although the interest rates are higher than a traditional mortgage, there isn't a lengthy approval process so getting the loan is simple--just submit a deposit check and a copy of your passport and then sign the appropriate paperwork. Individuals can also offer financing, but many individuals don't want to do this. If you need financing, this may limit what you can buy. Financing will be discussed in detail in a later blog, so be sure to subscribe to my blog and keep reading.
Step 2: Figure out where you want to live. Panama is a very diverse country. You can live in the hustle-bustle of Panama City, in the relaxed atmosphere of the Coronado Beach area, in the cooler mountain region of Boquete, or in the sparsely populated area of the Caribbean coast. The prices of each area are quite different, so you can't compare price per meter in Boquete with a penthouse in the city and get an accurate picture of what real estate costs. If you don't know where you want to live, take a tour of Panama. If you've never been to Panama, I suggest a tour as the driving here takes a bit of getting used to.
Step 3: Do an online property search on at least 5 different Panama Real Estate websites. No MLS means that different websites will have different listings. Going to different websites will ensure that you have a good overview of what is available before you move forward. Don't be surprised to see your favorite property listed on more than one website, though. Unlike the U.S., most sellers don't use one agent exclusively. A seller may list their property with 10 different real estate firms, or they may just use one. Visiting multiple sites will allow you to narrow your parameters.
Step 4: Talk to Western real estate professionals. Latin real estate professionals not only have a different language, but they have a different view of the buying process. Avoid cultural frustration by retaining the services of a Westerner who speaks your language, intuitively understands your needs, and has been in Panama long enough to be a good guide. You can find real estate professionals in online chat groups, in blogs about Panama, and on real estate websites. Just as you would at home, feel free to ask for recommendations and references.
Step 5: Once you find a real estate professional you like, stick with that person. Panama is a very small market. It only takes a casual conversation for one real estate agent to realize you're working with several others... most of whom are very friendly competitors. Because real estate is a commission-only industry, the professional you've chosen will work much harder for you if you aren't working with a dozen different people at the same time.
Step 6: Be open to recommendations. Buying property in Panama is different than buying property at home. Pay attention to your real estate professional's recommendations because they are probably spot-on. You may have thought you would never live in a condo, but perhaps condo life is just what you need. Some condo developers have great reputations and others do not.
Step 7: Be sure to bring your sense of humor to Panama. Panama is an amazing country, and there are dozens of things I love about it. But when things to wrong, you have to be able to laugh about it and let it go. You got caught in a traffic jam in the city because of some unknown holiday? Pour a glass of wine and watch the sunset. You were told to come back to the bank on 3 different occasions with 3 different sets of documents? Take a walk on the beach. You missed out on the property you wanted because you were having 2 sets of attorneys analyze it in Spanish? You'll be more prepared next time.
Finding real estate in Panama is a fun journey. When you've finally found the right property, it will speak to you. After all, this is Panama. Life is a bit slower here, real estate is less expensive, and the produce will tantalize your tastebuds. Enjoy the journey and you'll love your life here.
Melissa Darnay is a marketer, a serial entrepreneur, and a relocation concierge in Panama. Learn more...