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Tropical Panama Real Estate Boom Not as Hot as It Seems Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 October 2007
 

San Francisco, CA, August 22, 2007 -- The Republic of Panama is rapidly becoming the buzzword among savvy investors, inspired travelers, and retirees looking for a place to hang their boots. But as is so often the case in a trendy developing destination, the rush for luxury condos and stunning beach front real estate does not come without a catch.
 
A lot of Panama investors from the United States (specifically cities like Miami, Houston, Atlanta, and LA) are motivated to invest abroad due to rising housing costs, natural disasters, taxes and expensive, unreliable health care. For the most part, the Panama hype has traveled by word-of-mouth and a national marketing campaign to attract such investors. When looking for real facts and figures about Panama's work force, bargain prices and great health care, investors have been forced to listen to the stories of those who have come before them.

When New Yorker Adam Strauss came to see for himself, he and his wife Leslie bought into that "hype" and purchased a home at a beach project called Malibu, just 45 minutes outside of cosmopolitan Panama City by car.

"I don't know where in the USA we could find a three-bedroom home within walking distance of a beautiful beach for $145,000," Strauss said, laughing.

"Our new home will have access to a sports club, rivers for fishing, cabanas on the beach, high-end restaurants, and a giant supermarket only five minutes away. Those kinds of deals simply don't exist anymore where we come from."

San Francisco resident Matthew Semmelhack seems to agree. "When I first invested in Panama back 12 months ago, it was almost the kind of thing that seemed too good to be true," he said.

"Four acres in the mountains of Pedasi, water, electricity, roads, full title, 15-minute walk to the beach. And all that for only $27,000? But sitting here today, having sold that ocean view property for nearly triple, it definitely made me a believer."

Semmelhack echoes the feelings of many expats in Panama today. "Panamanians thought I was paying too much for my property. I thought I was paying far too little. Looks like we both came out ahead," he said.

But with such a modern day gold rush, times are a changing and such deals are becoming more and more difficult to find. Properties like the one Semmelhack bought are now upwards of $100,000. Of the hoards of agents and developers, the need for honest and objective information is quite hard to come by and as noted by prominent organizations such as England's Investment Property Forum (IPF), there is a desperate need for today's international investors to improve their "awareness, understanding and efficiency of property as an investment." They warn that too many investors try to hit the ground running, before they learn how to walk.

Potential buyers are learning how to tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly in Panama through resources like the recently released Panama Real Estate Report (http://www.thepanamareport.com/real-estate-report/panama-real-estate-report-439.html), an uncensored guide detailing the dos and don'ts of buying real estate. Similar to the IPF, The Panama Real Estate Report is meant to educate investors and promote responsible investment practices in a country where so much of the press is handled by developers and real estate agents themselves. In addition, as the environment in Panama becomes more and more familiar to Americans, with Subway sandwich shops and the like, it can be easy for them to get too comfortable and let down their guard.

Report author Matt Landau admitted: "I was amazed by the void of well-researched, in-depth reports about the country." After trying his hand at real estate, Landau decided he better stick to the sidelines and took on the role of consultant to numerous clients that find him through his tell-all website The Panama Report (http://www.thepanamareport.com), which has developed a small following in its few years of existence.

"Which bank is the only one in Panama that doesn't work with American affiliates and is thus the ultimate place to hide your money? How do you invest big while still maintaining a low profile on the tax radar? In finding a broker or a lawyer, which ones do you trust and which ones do you kick to the curb? These are the types of questions people come to me with on a daily basis," Landau said, "none of which is mainstream information these days in Panama."

What you can find on the internet is a wealth of helpful information regarding investment incentives, available properties, residency and visa applications, as well as other investment-enabling tidbits, as provided by law firms and real estate agencies. In researching sound investment opportunities in the country, these resources are being updated daily with new information but rarely do they point out truly dangerous traps.

"The main key in this gold rush is researching the reputation of any agency you intend to entrust your money with to avoid becoming a negative example of careless investment," purports Landau. And whether it's the $99 Panama Real Estate Report or a million dollar home, today's Panama investors are hungrily searching for options.

 
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