Boquete Real Estate Makes NEW YORK TIMES

January 21, 2015 the NEW YORK TIMES Real Estate Section featured an article on Boquete real estate … You can find a nice “gringo-style” home in Boquete in a great spread of prices. The featured property in this article is $1.2M, but there are houses as high as $2.5M and as low as $50K, depending on what you want. Condos run from about $160K.

A FOUR-BEDROOM HOUSE IN BOQUETE $1,195,000

 

This Tuscan-style, two-story home is reached by way of a small bridge over a brook in Valle Escondido, a gated residential and resort development. The 5,500-square-foot house, on nearly an acre of hillside, has a clay tile roof, two balconies and 180-degree views of the verdant valley. Built in 2010, with four bedrooms and four and a half baths, it includes an office or staff quarters and a lower-level studio apartment with a separate entrance.

The house features 10-foot ceilings, Italian ceramic floor tiles, tongue-and-groove wood ceiling accents, crown moldings, Italian amber and bronze chandeliers and sconces and arched picture windows. Many of the furnishings, but not the art or the paintings, are included in the sale price, said Eugenio Horna, the general manager of Casa Solution, the listing broker.

A stone terrace outlined with balustrades leads to a portico with a series of arches and an arched door with glass sidelights. Inside, a powder room and a curved staircase are to the left of the foyer; to the right is the living room, with a marble tiled fireplace. A broad archway opens onto the dining room, outfitted with a rosewood table that seats 10. Arched glass doors open to a partly covered balcony. A free-standing rosewood and glass cabinet with a dark marble counter separates the dining room from the matching kitchen, which is equipped with a side-by-side refrigerator, a dishwasher, a pantry and an island with a raised breakfast bar.

At the back of the first floor is a TV room with bookshelves, as well as the office and a laundry room with access to a two-car garage. The den opens to a covered balcony with a balustrade surround that wraps around the house, broadening to a circular deck at one corner.

Upstairs the master suite has a fireplace, a private terrace with a wood ceiling, a travertine marble bath with two vanities and an oversize tub. Each of the three guest rooms has its own bath.

Built on the site of a coffee farm, Valle Escondido, or Hidden Valley, has more than 160 homes on around 120 acres. Resort amenities include a par-four, nine-hole golf course, a fitness center, swimming pools and a spa. One of the country’s top tourist destinations, the Boquete area of western Panama, with a population of 20,000, is also a retirement haven, with as many as 12,000 expatriates by some estimates. Near the Barú volcano and tucked into the highlands at about 3,900 feet, Boquete offers hiking, zip lines, coffee tours, white-water rafting, community theater, jazz and flower festivals and a plethora of restaurants. It has a springlike climate year round. The closest international airport, in the city of David, is around 25 minutes’ drive.

The Panamanian market is “doing very well,” said Jason Cohen, an owner with his wife, Stephanie, of Casa Solution Real Estate in Boquete. “We have had a steady influx of foreigners,” including buyers looking for full- or part-time retirement homes and “others who are looking to live well on less money,” Mr. Cohen said. The bulk of homes sell for between $200,000 and $700,000. There is a shortage of rentals.

David Hatton, the owner of Panama Connection Real Estate and a developer in Boquete, said prices “went through the roof” during the bubble, plunged during the 2008 downturn and have since gone “back to reasonable.” The 4,000- to 8,000-square-foot “micro-mansions” that were popular during the boom, listed from $400,000 to $1 million, “are not going as quickly as homes under $200,000.” The homes Mr. Hatton is “building to suit” are smaller than in previous years, he said, with more outdoor living spaces.

Still, demand for high-quality houses is up, Mr. Cohen said. “If the market has changed at all, it’s because there are more high-end sales” from $800,000 to $2 million, he said. “Some of the homes are fantastic.”

WHO BUYS IN PANAMA

Boquete has “become quite a melting pot,” Mr. Hatton said. In addition to Americans, who make up 60 percent of buyers, the town is seeing Canadians, Venezuelans, Russians, Italians and French. While some Canadians are snowbirds, the majority of American buyers live in Boquete full time, moving from California, Texas, Kansas, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Wealthy Panamanians often buy second homes in Boquete, Mr. Cohen said.

BUYING BASICS

Residency visa applications from United States citizens or residents require clean F.B.I. criminal background checks instead of state or local police records. Within certain guidelines, “buyers can use their real estate investment to acquire residency,” said Rainelda Mata-Kelly, a lawyer based in Panama City.

Foreigners are not allowed to own any land within 10 kilometers of international borders with Costa Rica or Colombia.

Buyers would be “well advised to use a lawyer, so that proper due diligence can be carried out on the property” and on its tax status, Ms. Mata-Kelly said. Notaries, appointed by the government, do not dispense advice or verify title. “They are only required to verify the signatures of the parties on the title deed,” Ms. Mata-Kelly said. “Normally the buyer’s lawyer will liaise with them.”

So, what’s the REAL story about buying real estate in Panama, and in Boquete? You need to read the chapter “Not In Kansas Anymore” in my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE. Although I know and like the real estate agents in Boquete, since I was a REALTOR® in California, I am keenly aware of the differences. When we first moved to Panamna 10 years ago I thought I might do real estate in Panama until I watched how things were done. I quickly realized that had I operated the same way in California I would have lost my real estate license in a week! It is VERY different in Panama! There is no multi-list MLS. Some creative people may use the “MLS” term, but there is nothing comparable to the US. Without a multi-listing service there is no way to obtain accurate “comps.” The seller always claims to have gotten more that he actually did, and the buyer always claims to have paid less. Comps are based on hearsay and what people are asking, both highly unreliable. There is little regulation by the government. There is no self-regulation through local real estate boards which in the US do a good job of self-regulation. There is no independent escrow agency to handle the money. Etc., etc., etc. You’re “Not In Kansas Anymore,” hence the chapter title.

New Copa Flight PTY to DAV

Copa Airlines has announced a new daily flight between Tocumen International Airport [PTY] and David [DAV] which is tremendous news for those of us living in Chriqui [Volcan, Boquete, David]. Previously if flying internationally you had to fly from David to Albrook [the national airport] then take a $30-40 cab ride to Tocumen International to continue onward. And you could not book the international flight with DAV as your point or origin or destination. Now, using the Star Alliance connection of Copa, one of the fastest growing and most profitable airlines in the world, you can book PTY/DAV using Copa or United.

The flights booked AND OPERATED by Copa are FAR, FAR superior to the “friendly skies” of United. Copa seats are bigger, there is more legroom, the planes are generally newer, alcohol drinks are free, old-style meals are served [not the horribly dried out hunk of bread with a slice of cheese and “ham” served by United], onboard entertainment is included, and the skies actually ARE friendly. But sometimes, you’ve gotta do a flight operated by United/Continental/Whatever.

Unfortunately the scheduling to the States is generally still going to require an overnight, but the Riande Airport Hotel which has been vastly, VASTLY improved over the years [I’m told since the family patriarch died and the kids have taken over] is a very nice hotel, with a nice pool area, acceptable food, and actually a very well-trained and accommodating staff. After all these years they’ve finally carpeted the hallways so you can get a decent nights sleep! AnaVilma at Boquete’s travel agency, next to the coffee shop across from the health department and municipal building, has a great $90 rate that includes a great breakfast buffet.

Now, if we can just get Copa to do a David to USA flight!

That may help me understand why the carrier I hate to fly between Panama and the US is Delta!  Copa flies direct to Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal.

Panama Canal Expansion 85% Complete

The Panama Canal expansion project is now 85% complete, following the installation Monday of the first lock gate at the waterway’s Pacific entrance, the Panama Canal Authority said.

The gate, located in what is known as lock head one, is the first of eight gates that will be installed on the Pacific side of the waterway.

The expansion project will see eight gates installed on both the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the canal. The installation of the gates for the new locks began in December 2014 at the Atlantic side, where two gates have already been installed, the authority said.

“[Monday’s] installation marks an important step towards the completion of the expansion program,” said Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge Quijano. “This project will have an important impact on world maritime trade and will further position Panama as the logistic hub of the Americas.”

Panama Canal Expansion Update

I’m back from 2.5 months onboard doing the Panama Canal. Internet access onboard is notoriously slow and expensive … which is why you haven’t heard much from me for the past several months. But I’m back home in Boquete, Panama.

Here’s a great new update video from the Panama Canal on the new construction!

As Good As It Gets

I have to say Christmas on board this time around was as good as it gets. The ship, which remains nameless, was beautifully decorated, 160 kids were kept involved by the youth staff, the guests were friendly and reasonable … well, with a few exceptions which I’ll tell you about … and the Christmas activities abounded, as well as activities for our Jewish friends celebrating Chanukah.

Shipboard Christmas 1

Christmas Day they had a brief, generalized, non-specific, inter-whatever devotional service. I can’t report on it because they scheduled my Aruba talk at the same time: scheduling is not always the strong point. But those who went enjoyed and appreciated the nod to the religious significance. Santa made an appearance with gifts for all the kids and they had a cookie decorating shop set up by the food and beverage department. Christmas Eve we had a great sing-a-long in the atrium with the crew and passengers hanging off all the balconies in the atrium along with artificial snow falling. Neat! The day for guests was topped off with a Christmas show written and arranged by one of the piano entertainers on board. The show was easily as good as the shows the cruise line pays millions for to be written by a company named by an aging entertainer in Hollywood whose name you would all know. The highlight, for me at least, was a fantastic rendition of “O Holy Night” by one of our lead singers!

Shipboard Christmas 2

In the spirit of the season, and to keep my spirits high, I went to the crew bar for two nights in a row, which I seldom do. It was fun goofing, drinking, and celebrating with some old friends from other ships and some new ones as well. I understand why the low point of a cruise is when these guys get their bar bills! Fortunately I pay as I go with my crew cash card.

The unreasonable … and actually very funny … highlights of the cruise thus far …

The 80-year-old woman who complained that the waitress in the buffet court was hitting on her 85-year-old husband … “What? I’m not good enough for him?”

The other was the doctor who wanted a refund on his excursion to the rain forest, not just because it rained in the rain forest, but because it was not printed on his ticket that he should bring along an umbrella! When the shore excursion manager reminded him of all the places that we remind folks that it is called the rain forest because it rains … dah! … and that “Richard”, that’s me … “Rich” is the CD [everything is alphabet-speak on a ship], whom I refer to as “Young Richard” [although I suspect he’s hot on my heels age-wise] … Anyhow the shore ex manager noted that “Richard virtually guaranteed it would rain in the rain forest.” Whereupon the good doctor who couldn’t make the connections between “rain” and the “rain forest” or “will rain” and the need to take along rain gear or an umbrella said, and I quote, “I’m a doctor!! I’m on vacation! You don’t expect me to read or listen do you?”

The shore ex manager, well-trained in customer service, kept her cool, didn’t bitch-slap him or laugh out loud. We call these “special guests”! Thankfully there are very few of them! Holiday cruises are extra hard on the crew: you’re away from home, suddenly the ship is inundated with kids, there is LOTS and LOTS of extra work for the holidays, and the folks who book holiday cruises are often first-time cruisers who don’t really know the ropes or always appreciate that when you have 2/3 of the guests disembarking by tender in the Panama Canal on 24 different tours there needs to be some organization.. But the guests on this cruise have been amazing and everyone seems to be having a great time.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that we have more and more guests for whom English is not their primary language, and some guests who speak no English. These folks have flown from around the world just to take this cruise.

Shipboard Christmas 3

Living for ten years in Panama has been good for me. I’ve grown more accustomed to change, to rapidly shifting from “plan A” to “plan B” or “C” … or “Y”. So when they decide, the night before the Panama Canal, that I won’t be giving my “Bridge Commentary”[which, due to the gross stupidity of a captain who ran his ship into an Italian island, is no longer allowed] from the buffet restaurant [with windows that are fogged over] as planned starting at 5 am when the pilot comes on board, but at 6 am, I don’t totally freak out but try to explain that by 6 am we’ll be half way through our trip through the locks. We “compromise” on 5:30 am. But there is little understanding that the reason WHY people book a Panama Canal Cruise is … dah! … the Panama Canal. [Maybe the doctor who can’t connect “rain” and “rain forest” is someone’s relative?] I am usually scheduled to give two talks about Panama and the Canal. On this run someone forgot to schedule the second talk: “The guests won’t know the difference.”

So … there are contractual reasons why the ship and cruise line will remain nameless. Only John Heald, whose blog ramblings for Carnival, is allowed to publicly write this kind of cruise line drivel. John is highly paid for this stuff and the SENIOR Cruise Director for Carnival Cruise Line. When he’s not writing about his soiled underwear … I kid you not! … he can be quite funny and informative. Truth is, it was reading John’s blog years ago that inspired me! [johnhealdsblog.com]

Today we’re in Aruba, an official holiday in Aruba: Boxing Day.  But with three big ships in port, town is bustling.

Telling It Like It Is vs. Hype

There is a lot of hype about moving to Panama.

The other day I had a guy on the ship come up to me with a tattered, glossy magazine that he’d obviously devoured all about moving to Panama.  He asked me if it was all accurate or just hype.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of hype about moving to Panama.

Yes, Panama is a great country for expats and retirees, depending on where you are coming from and what you are seeking.  But it’s not for everyone.  How do you know if it is right for you?  Well you have to invest the time, effort, and money in studying, reading everything you can get your hands on but taking it all with a grain of salt, and talking to as many people as possible seeking out folks who will tell it like it is and give you the straight scoop.

That’s what I try to do on this blog and in my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA.  First, it’s our experience.  Talk to a dozen different retirees and/or expats living in Panama and you will likely get a dozen different stories.  Some of those who “package” Panama and make a living off selling the expat lifestyle have a tendency to gloss over some of the realities in order to paint a rosy picture.  Panama hasn’t been perfect for us, but it has been fantastic.  Nikki and I are both mature enough to realize that there is no “perfect” place, but for us Panama, with all of its frustrations, has been wonderful.

When I get comments on Amazon, like this from Keith Dick, I’m delighted!

“No rose-colored glasses here – Panama is not for everyone. If you’ve never lived outside the US before, particularly in a developing country like Panama – don’t even think about making a move without thorough research. Richard’s book is one of the best. Extremely valuable advice – take it to heart!”

Or this from Daniel Bridges …

“An outstanding, insightful book about the author’s experiences in Panama. It is a very sobering look at his and his family’s experiences, both the good and the not so good. The reader can tell they’ve landed in their paradise. My wife and I are considering relocating to Panama and we’re using Richards book as one of our primary sources of information for an anticipated visit to the country next year. Because Richard does not sugar coat life in Panama, rather he tells it like it is, we feel like we have a more realistic expectation of what life is like in Panama. He most definitely has us studying up on the many aspects to be considered.”

Or this from Dorothy …

“No bunnies and rainbows here, both sides of the coin are exposed. Like any country, Panama has it’s issues and beauty and Richard gives insight to the reader/expat on both so we don’t arrive and end up shocked to find bugs in our paradise. Good job.”

I’m even happy when I get a comment like this one from Ida Freer, a writer who actually helped edit the book …

“You provide a lot of useful information. Overall it led me to decide against Panama, except maybe as a tourist for a month or two. Too bad! I had high hopes.”

Just think, I saved Ida several hundred thousand dollars plus a whole lot of hassle! What if she had moved to Panama and THEN discovered it wasn’t for her?

So in that vein, I want to respond to this comment from Ophelia Robinson …

I am so confused??? I just happened across this blog and I was really shocked to hear that the pensionada program is NOT what I thought it to be. I have been dreaming about relocating to Panama and primarily because of all the positive things I have read via Kathleen Pedicore’s (excuse misspelled last name) newsletters. This is the first time I have read that the Pesionada program may not be all that Kathleen taut it to be. I’m sure you know about the expensive seminars she regularly holds around the country, and even in some of the Latin American countries. I have planned on going to at least one of them, but now I am not sure whether I would be wasting my money. Do you think it is best that I just visit Panama and see for myself what it is like, then schedule one of the these seminars with Kathleen afterwards if I am still interested? After all, she brings in all the experts—in banking, attorneys, relocation, currency, language, those that actually live or who have lived there, etc., etc., etc…. Supposedly, she introduces you to all of the experts who can answer all the questions you have about relocating…what do you think???

First, about Panama’s much-touted Pensionado program.

“Pensionado” refers to a retired person living on a pension. There are many retired folks in Panama, Panamanians, who live as Panamanians on pensions of $150-300 a month. With the inflation in Panama it is a struggle, but they do it. However they have a lifestyle that’s considerably different than most expats would appreciate. The Pensionado discount program was supposedly created to benefit these folks, although I doubt that those at the lower end stay in fancy hotels or take international flights. Panama has generously extended this concept to foreigners who have pensions and want to move to Panama.

The Pensionado visa is a very attractive option for expats who don’t want to work or expect to work in Panama.

I think it is important to realize that the Pensionado discount program was created for Panamanian retirees, not for gringos, but Panama has generously extended these benefits to expats. I sometimes encounter expats who think that the whole world revolves around them, or at least it should, and the Pensionado program was created for them and it is their right. The Pensionado discounts are a wonderful thing, particularly when it comes to drugs, and sometimes restaurants. Hotels like to play games with the discounts, often setting up an artificial “rack” rate (which nobody pays) and then taking the discount off the rack rate. Of course hotels have always done this all over the world. Whether the airline discount helps you or not depends on your age. If you are 65 the airline senior discount, when offered, is the same as the Pensionado discount. If you are under 65 and are a Panamanian resident you can get the airline senior rate so its a good deal for you. In restaurants I used the Pensionado discount judiciously. If it’s a local, small, typical Panamanian restaurant, often family run, with fair prices, I’d never ask for the discount. If it’s a large, expensive restaurant, then I’ll ask for the discount. If I see they’ve jacked up the prices anticipating folks using the discount, I’ll ask for it. Interestingly many of the gringo-owned and operated restaurants flout the law by listing prices “with the discount already included” or “offering the discount to everyone.”

Yes, the banks often have two lines and a special line for Pensionados. If there is a line of ordinary, working Panamanians, I’m not going to go stand in the Pensionado line where there may not be anyone. Why? Just good manners and realizing I’m a guest. But if there are two lines, each with a good number of folks, and the Pensionado line has Panamanian retirees in it already, I’ll go stand in the Pensionado line. OK, it’s me. I know some gringos who take the attitude, “I’m here. I’m entitled. I deserve it.” Different folks, different strokes.

OK, now Kathleen Peddicord, Live And Invest Overseas …

I don’t know Kathleen, have never met her but I’d like to meet her, since I am familiar with her news releases and admire her advertising and promotional efforts. As I understand it, she was much of the original force behind International Living before leaving and launching her own brand, Live and Invest Overseas. I’ve never been to her seminars or those of International Living. I suspect that Kathleen would be the first to tell you that she does not “answer all the questions you have about relocating” nor does International Living or Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours. In my opinion there is nothing better than getting out and into the real Panama and experiencing and seeing for yourself what life here is all about. You can’t experience that in a fancy hotel room in Panama City. These companies are in the business of selling Panama. And that’s OK, as long as you realize what it is. We know many folks who’ve ended up in Panama because of International Living and are delighted to be here. 37% of the folks who’ve taken Jackie Lange’s Panama Relocation Tours over the past four years are already living in Panama.

So here’s my advice …

1. Get my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING AND RETIRING IN PANAMA. Read it. I’ll show you how to decide what it is you’re looking for and how to evaluate and compare different countries. I don’t sugar coat it. Panama is not for everyone, but it may be the perfect place for you.

2. Scour the Internet and get all the information you can, but take what you read with a grain of salt. Sort through and try to separate hype from fact. Start following the various Internet boards that gringos in Panama post on. You’ll find almost as many opinions about everything as there are expats in Panama. No one, including me, has a lock on everything!

3. Carefully study the offerings and promises of the companies offering tours and seminars. Study the recommendations. Search out the company names on line and see what folks have to say. Weigh the cost and benefits. Anyone who promises to tell you “everything you need to know” is clearly blowing smoke.  You want to meet as many expats along the way as possible and have opportunity to learn from them and listen to their unfiltered comments.  Tour organizers tend to feature expats whose stories are in tune with the story the tour company is trying to tell.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Some tours are built around selling one thing or another, which is not always made clear up front.  There are real estate tours, carefully designed to allow time for you to see only the developments and properties where they’re getting a commission.  For those of my readers who’ve taken any of these tours, I’d welcome your comments and recommendations for others.

Avoid ones where you are just going to sit and listen.  You need to have your boots on the ground.  If you’re unfamiliar with a place, these may be the way to get started and feel comfortable exploring on your own. Whatever seminar or tour you choose, come early to experience and explore Panama City doing some of the tourist things like seeing the Canal or taking the Hop On Hop Off bus. And set up your return flight so you have time, a week if possible, to visit and explore in depth areas that you think might be possibilities for you. In Panama we pretty much have everything in a tiny country. Big city life, small town living, or life in the country. Mountains or beaches Lowland hot or mountain cool.

4. Once you go back home and sort through your experiences and impressions plan to come back to Panama for an extended stay of several weeks to explore further both as a tourist but also as someone considering living here.  Again talk to as many expats as possible.  You are the visitor so take the initiative: “Pardon me, we’re just visiting here and thinking of maybe moving to Panama.  It sounds like you’ve been here a while.  Can I buy you another cup of coffee (or drink!) and ask you a few questions?”   Most expats are going to be happy to share.

5. If you then still are excited about an expat lifestyle in Panama, arrange to come down for 3 to 6 months, rent a place, and actually experience day-to-day life in the area you like best.

Then, when you are convinced this is the right move, pack up and move here, either renting or buying the home of your dreams.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Turns out that my fears of blow up Santas were unfounded. While the guests were mostly ashore in Aruba, teams of Santa’s elves arrived from a professional decorating company and transformed the ship into a Christmas wonderland. There are beautifully decorated trees everywhere and the atrium is festooned with garlands, lights and poinsettias. It looks a little like a shopping mall, but it is tasteful and well done!

Atrium Christmas

The culinary department and bakery are busy preparing the gingerbread houses that will likely not appear until the next cruise, the Christmas cruise, which leaves Ft Lauderdale December 19th. On most of the longer cruises one of the activities offered to passengers is the cruise choir, and our choir on this cruise is busily rehearsing Christmas songs for the final sea day when they do a little concert in the atrium. Now, if I only could find some Christmas music!

Yep, I’m going to miss being at home for Christmas. My daughter Rebecca is going to be in Panama for the holidays, but I’m sure her and Nikki will find some fun adventures. I’ll miss decorating the house, playing Santa, and sitting by the fire Christmas Eve with my daughter, Nikki and our three dogs and having our traditional Christmas Eve “dinner” of snacks, munchies, and drinks.

When I was a pastor I always ended up spending Christmas Eve at church working, sometimes doing as many as five Christmas Eve services. Once I retired from the ministry, one of the real joys was just sitting by the fire relaxing on Christmas Eve.

Actually cruising over the holidays, although quite a challenge for the ship staff, is really a fantastic way to spend the holidays with someone else doing all the work! And, since a week out, this cruise is still being offered on line for $80 per person a night for a minimum inside cabin guarantee, it’s not a bad deal.