FULL DISCLOSURE: We’re about to put our house on the market in preparation for our move to Medellin, Colombia – but we started this post long before we thought about moving.
It’s a great time to move to Panama, and Boquete in particular! Just like any place, the housing market here is subject to ups and downs, and we’ve seen a couple just in the three-plus years we’ve lived here. When we first arrived in Boquete the rental market was very tight, which led us to purchase our home instead. (We wrote about our effort to find housing in 2015 here).
Things are different now. At the moment there are many nice properties for sale, especially in the $300K-and-up range. Also, many homes that have been for sale for a long time (sometimes, up to three or four years) are beginning to move because their owners are finally dropping their prices. For renters, there are plenty of choices available at a lower average monthly rent, and the rental terms are possibly more negotiable than before.
Here’s our perspective on the current housing market:
1) There’s a building boom going on in Boquete and the nearby city of David, resulting in an oversupply. We don’t expect that to last long, especially with the new incentives now offered by the Panamanian government to help lower-income citizens purchase homes. The middle class in Panama is on the rise. That means more and more Panamanians are able to afford their own homes, and developers are responding in kind. This is resulting in a greater abundance of rentals on the market as well as new homes for sale.
2) The expat community is currently in a bit of flux. Many folks, ourselves included, are looking to the next adventure and moving on to new places of interest such as Colombia, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and Southeast Asia. We also know a fair amount of folks that have moved back to the U.S. or Canada due to health issues or the need to be closer to family. There are many older retirees in the expat community here, and many were in the first wave that came 10 or more years ago. Some are now facing bigger health challenges and wanting to take advantage of Medicare or their Canadian healthcare plans. (The topic of Panamanian healthcare is a whole other can of worms; here’s our last post on the subject). That said, there is a new wave of expats moving in and bringing fresh energy to our little burg.
3) Last year, Panama began strictly enforcing its immigration laws, which have always required non-residents wanting to leave and then come back (e.g. tourists) to remain outside the country for at least 30 days. It suddenly got a lot more complicated to stay in Panama past the 90-day “tourist” allowance, and so-called “border hops” became untenable. (Confused yet? We wrote at length on this topic, and the general topic of obtaining residency, here.) When the crackdown happened, a lot of folks left for good rather than go through the process to become permanent residents. That’s made a difference in the rental market.
4) Boquete and David themselves are in transition. A huge new freshwater and wastewater project has had the streets of Boquete torn up for many, many months, much to the chagrin of residents and business owners. A showpiece new shopping center in downtown Boquete, Los Senderos Mall, is nearing completion. There’s a plethora of construction projects underway along the corridor from here to David. Also, Boquete is becoming something of a foodie town, with more than 75 restaurants now and new ones opening all the time.
David, Panama’s second-largest city and the capitol of Chiriqui province, is also on the move. Work is progressing on the new Federal Mall, slated to be Panama’s second largest shopping mall with more than 400 stores and a vast new regional bus terminal. A modern new baseball/futbol stadium just opened a few months ago, and everywhere you turn there are new stores, shopping centers, and restaurants (many of which are giving the Boquete restaurants a run for their money!). There are now more than 15 car dealerships including almost every luxury brand. The David airport is primed and ready for international flights, and construction is FINALLY complete on the long section of the Pan-American highway linking David and Santiago to the east.
5) The Chinese are coming! Rumors are rife that Chinese investors are beginning to buy up large swaths of property in Panama. The Chinese and Panamanian governments have signed trade agreements and have opened embassies in each others’ countries. Plus, the Chinese government is currently in talks with the Panamanian government about building a bullet train that will connect Panama City with the western part of the country, including all of Chiriqui. If this happens (and of course that’s a BIG if), our area is headed for boom times.
Our point? NOW is a great time to buy or rent property here. No doubt, Boquete is looking a little scruffy at the moment, and the activity du jour is to complain about the messed-up streets. But mark my words – when the work is all done, this town will be as pretty as a prayerbook (to quote Paul Simon). Boquete is one of the crown jewels in the Panamanian tourist infrastructure and the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping it polished up. Prices WILL go up, and inventory WILL go down. It’s already beginning to happen.