When we came to Panama, it was always with the intention of renting, rather than buying, a home. As homeowners for many years, we were looking forward to the freedom and flexibility of renting. Many times over the past months we’ve said to friends, “We want to travel and we don’t want to be tied down. And there’s maintenance. And what if we decide after a year or two that we want to live somewhere else?”
Here’s the catch: almost all of the other newcomers we know feel the same way — and there are a LOT of newcomers here, with more and more coming every day. And according to several realtors we’ve spoken to, apparently the rumors about a large religious group (up to 200 families) coming to Boquete are true. One agent told us that she had met a gentleman, a housing locator, who is going around securing rentals for these families. Just WHERE exactly are they going to live?
It’s a landlord’s dream market, and it’s reflected in the rents. In our opinion, after two months of hard searching, most long-term rentals in or near Boquete for under $800 are just not worth the price. We’re not fussy people and we’re not asking for much – a dog-friendly home with a fenced yard, a decent Internet connection (since I’m still working), and no water issues. The rentals that offer these things for less than $1,000 are few and far between, and they tend to be small Panamanian-style houses. Now, we have nothing against that; in fact, we prefer local charm and a Panamanian neighborhood to some of the gringo-style tract homes that are becoming popular here. But we would prefer a larger kitchen and a more open floor plan than we’ve seen in the typical Panamanian house.
A thousand a month – $12,000 a year – is a lot of money to throw away on rent. Therefore . . . drum roll . . . we’re now taking a serious look at buying a home. In the coming weeks you’ll be hearing a lot more about that in this blog. In the meantime, we want to offer up some advice, based on our current experience with the rental market.
First, get your boots on the ground. We can almost guarantee you won’t find a place, or at least something you’d be happy with long-term, if you try to do it from a distance. Consider a short-term vacation rental first that will give you a chance to get familiar with the different areas and micro-climates (they vary widely) in and around Boquete. Make some friends that will go to bat for you and keep their eyes and ears open for rental properties. After almost five months here, we’ve built a fantastic network of friends, property managers, and others who have kept us posted when they hear of available properties, and we’re STILL looking.
Second, consider David or one of the warmer communities down the hill from Boquete. We really like David. It’s becoming a very cosmopolitan city, with Panama’s rising middle class driving a boom in housing, shopping malls, and restaurants. But it’s out of the question for us, and here’s my TMI reason: I am well into that lovely hot-flash stage of life, and the flashes I get down in David are truly epic. Every time I go there, I melt into a sad, sweaty little ball of crankiness. Think Wicked Witch of the West, only meaner – and John doesn’t fare much better in 90 degrees and 80 percent humidity. HOWEVER, we have good friends there that rent a sweet little home for under $400, and they do get a nice breeze on occasion. If you can tolerate the climate and don’t mind living in air conditioning, David is do-able and much more affordable.
The further up you go towards Boquete, the cooler and less humid the climate, and the higher the rents. Caldera, Los Molinos, Las Trancas, and Brisas are all lovely areas but they’re still a bit warmer than we prefer. And even in those areas, there’s a dearth of quality rentals.
Third, ride the cycles. When we arrived here in May, high tourist season was winding down and the rainy season was just beginning. At that time of year, many part-time residents from Canada or the U.S. head home and need short-term (up to six-month) renters to occupy and serve as caretakers for their homes. We lucked into just such a rental, a wonderful home with an acre of fenced land for our dogs. The owners are returning at the end of November, but it bought us six months to get acclimated and decide if Boquete and Panama are for us (emphatically, they ARE!).
At this writing, we are deep into the rain and high season is just around the corner (from November through April). If you plan on moving down here during that period, you can count on higher rents and an even greater shortage of rentals – even for the short term. If you can postpone your move until May or so, you’ll stand a much better chance of finding something affordable.
Fourth, don’t despair. As I mentioned, good Internet and dog-ability are two musts for us. If you don’t have pets and don’t need high-speed Internet, and if you’re willing to look outside of Boquete proper, you’ll have more options (it was surprising to us how few landlords will consider pets here). Also, if you’re willing to consider a Panamanian-style home in a Panamanian neighborhood, you’ll find more – but you just might need to adjust your expectations a bit. If you build your network, and if you’re willing to make the search a full-time project for many weeks (as John has done), you WILL find something.
We’re not trying to be downers, but one goal of this blog is to paint a realistic picture of life here in this wonderful country that we are so, so lucky to call home. We know there are many people reading this blog who are planning a move down (and some of our readers who are now here). We hope our experience is at least half as helpful as the fantastic advice and assistance we got, when we were planning our move. And we wish you – sincerely – buen suerte.