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.
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.