Altos del Maria - A Happy Customer's Viewpoint
Thursday, September 01 2005 @ 01:58 PM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
In an attempt to answer all the questions that we are asked all the time by prospective buyers in Altos, I wrote the following treatise to save my energy. Don requested a definitive report on Altos--so here it is from our point of view. I added a bit more for this list as far as contacts and how to visit. Let us know if we left anything out. HLD
WHY ALTOS DEL MARIA? by Honey and Larry Dodge, duenos
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (says the real estate maxim) In the end, location was our deciding factor. We had already decided on Panama. We made the rounds of all the likely retirement spots in western Panama. And we’d found a wonderful little place in the Chiriqui Province. But nine hours of more than “exciting” driving (one way) from the high country of far western Panama into Panama City convinced us that we needed to live less far away. Considering the fact that we usually need to drive into the city at least once a week and sometimes more often during this start-up period, we are very happy to be only an hour and a half away. Yet we are far enough away from Panama City to feel that we are in the countryside.
MORE LOCATION Altos del Maria is simply a beautiful place to live. Those who do are in the mountains and yet only thirty minutes from the Pacific Coast. From many lots, roads and common areas, Altos residents enjoy beautiful views of the Pacific. From the newest mirador (viewing stand), it is possible to see the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans at once--pretty exciting.
EVEN MORE LOCATION Forty minutes away is a great grocery store, El Rey, which is located in Coronado, a popular beach town for Panamanians. The beach homes there have styles ranging from Spanish Colonial to Art Deco to Southwestern to avant-garde and seem to be taken from the pages of Architectural Digest. The Coronado Hotel and Country Club is first rate with a golf course, beach front, equestrian center, restaurants, spa, swimming pools, etc. It offers a special membership at a huge discount for members willing to use the club only Monday through Thursday. There are several excellent and reasonable restaurants in Coronado as well.
TEMPERATURE Temperature varies within Altos del Maria because of the large size of the project as well as the different altitudes of the lots and their proximity to flowing waters. In the lower valleys, the heat tops out at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with cooler maximums (as low as 75 degrees) at the highest altitudes. Subtract about 15 degrees to estimate the respective minimums.
DEVELOPERS AND MANAGEMENT Grupo Melo is an outstanding, multi-faceted business organization here in Panama. They are in business to make money but they are doing it the old-fashioned way, with hard work. They have been around for a long time and intend to continue offering quality products and services. Altos del Maria is their third and, in our opinion, their best community development project. The lots which are currently identified, accessible, and for sale are only small portion of the land which will eventually be developed here. They apparently share the confidence of their first five hundred buyers, most of whom were Panamanians.
Melo ultimately began advertising to the international community in early 2003, although property sales date to 1995. This is a Panamanian development that offers clear title to your land. You may choose to use a lawyer for one or more reasons (including coping with various tax laws) but it is not a necessity to have a lawyer when you buy here. Many of us have not even purchased title insurance.
Finally, we must say from considerable experience that Altos del Maria has a great staff. They are very visible on the property and are always ready to help or answer questions or just visit. Several are multi-lingual, and even those who are not seem to understand other languages, English in particular.
GREENBELTS AND LOTS Altos del Maria has allocated about one third of its land to greenbelts. Most lots abut a greenbelt such as a creek or river or mountain. Grupo Melo has already planted over one million pine trees as part of its commitment to a beautiful, verdant setting.
The developers chose not to go with a grid system when laying out the lots. There is every shape of lot imaginable here--and some not even imaginable. We like to think that there is a dream lot for almost every taste. Some feature ocean views, all offer mountain views, many include creek frontage water views, and some lots offer all of the above. Although the natural beauty is breathtaking by itself, many owners have taken matters a step further, landscaping their own settings with blankets of flowers, lush lawns, fruit trees, pools, fountains, pathways, and more.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND SERVICES Part of the appeal here to many weekenders and ex-pats is that this is a gated community. It is gated not so much to protect us from personal harm but so that we can leave and know that our property will be here intact when we return after a day, a week, or whatever.
Altos residents enjoy well-maintained and lighted roads within the project. Grupo Melo also chooses to maintain the mountain road up to the project from Bejuco--keeping all nineteen kilometers at least passably patched.
Every lot comes equipped with a safe water supply, with the first 1000 gallons per month free. And, from a central dumping bin, Melo provides garbage removal. Maintenance fees, at least for those who own land within the original development area, remain a lowly $10 per month per lot, and just $15 per month for a lot with a residence. Fees for water and maintenance may be paid here at the office.
Altos also supplies electrical hookups for each lot, and there is easy access to propane. Cable and Wireless has finally provided quality cellular telephone service to the whole community. Direct TV is available as well as a local wireless, broadband internet service. Post office boxes are available in Chame on the InterAmerican Highway, and it looks as if Bejuco now has a post office. There are a police station , two convenience stores and a large hardware store in Sora at the entrance to Altos del Maria.
It seems that Grupo Melo is always doing something to enhance the development. Since we bought here, we have seen the addition of a new entrance at Bejuco, kilometer markers along the road, a new recreation area on our street, more and more flowers along the roads, car tags for all owners, medals for climbing El Picacho Mountain, a private 4x4 road to the popular resort town of El Valle, the list goes on.
There are several quality architects and builders available in Altos. Lots of homes are currently under construction. GrupoMelo recently built 10 homes, 7 of which are already sold.
NEIGHBORS We are extremely pleased to report that Altos del Maria is not a planned, ex-pat community. In fact, the great majority of owners here are Panamanians who have chosen it as their weekend and holiday destination and future retirement site and the location for their dream homes. There are almost no building restrictions, which makes for a very diverse look here, which in turn is compatible with the wide variety of lots. Just guessing, but it may be that the freedom to do what you wish with your land is part of the reason that Altos seems to attract independent-spirited folks, who appreciate each other’s presence and are quick to make friends with each other. Within a short time we have established wonderful friendships with our neighbors--both locals and ex-pats.
EMPLOYEES Altos del Maria is blessed with its proximity to a large pool of willing and eager workers. They want jobs as gardeners, housekeepers, cooks, builders, etc. And, they are only minutes away in the surrounding small towns. Most of them do not want to live in. They want to go home to their families at night. But, they will be back the next morning, ready to do what needs to be done.
HEALTH SERVICES Sora has a football field that is used for helicopter service. There is an emergency room in San Carlos and a modern hospital in La Chorrera. Many doctors and pharmacies are located between Bejuco and Coronado.
RENTALS There are a few houses and guest houses for rent now. The closest hotels are in Chame and Coronado.
SALES There are almost always Spanish speaking sales people available on site. English speakers should make appointments with the international sales personel at the main office prior to coming out. They will either bring you out from the city or meet you here. Those who just show up at the local sales office and only speak Engllish will be treated graciously and given literature and shown around. But it will be more difficult to get a good look at the property and answers to your particular questions. In desperation, the office often calls us or drops by for help. The head of international sales is Pedro Sarasqueta at 671-2628. Altos has a website at www.altosdelmaria.com. ps Wear long pants and hiking shoes.
In a message dated 12/15/2004 2:15:55 PM SA Pacific Standard Time, gekko@f...(snip) writes: Randy,
We looked at Altos and decided it was not for us. Everything HLD says about it appears to be accurate and I don't mean to bad-mouth the development, here, but I did want to add our take on what it has and doesn't have in terms or our needs, just for balance.
Pedro Saraquesta is one of the nicest guys I've ever met and he didn't seem to be "selling" us anything, just showing us the development he represents and loves. Patient and warm, we throughly enjoyed our afternoon with him.
As mentioned, Altos is big. I mean BIG. All together they plan to have something like 2500 lots (around 1/2 acre each) sold. For us, that was too much. They've been selling for years and so far have only about 10 or fewer full-time residents. We were looking for something with more of a "community" feel where we could get to know our neighbors, count on them for "projects" assistance and offer the same in return. That would be harder with the largest number of them being weekend residents, only. The electric service to the lots is run as overhead wires to the lot line, then required underground to the home/structure. We were hoping to have utilties buried (and finally found that at our chosen locale, near Boquete). We've lived for years where the poles and lines are constantly in sight and preferred it hidden, when we did have that.
The eclectic mix of construction in the development is very interesting, including the gentleman from Columbia who has a 3 meter chain link fence with rolls of razor wire surrounding his entire lot compound. I realize that his is a cultural thing as much as anything else, but we felt that really detracted from the beauty of the development. Pedro said that Melo has been trying to cajole him into removing it, for the good of the community, but has been unsuccessful, to date.
Some lots even have views to the ocean and I'm told that when more areas are opened near the ridge, there will be some with bi-costal views.
All in all, we were struck with the beauty of the development, it's streams and creeks, it's forrestation, etc. and were very nearly ready to buy there, until we found something even more to our liking further west.
We were not thrilled with the sparseness of habitation (neighborhood or community feeling), overhead utilitites, lack of community guideline adhearance (fence) and the ultimate number of lots upon which folks could build, rather "hemming" you in.
In other words, it's a beautiful place with a lot to offer, it just wasn't for us. Many folks need to be close to the city for whatever reasons they have, we do not. Many folks prefer Altos and I fully understand why. It just didn't turn out to be entirely, our cup of tea.
Just another view and admittedly, based upon our values and desires.
In a message dated 12/15/2004 2:27:52 PM SA Pacific Standard Time, hslanham@a...(snip) writes:
Randy, Bejuco is at the foot of the mountains and on the InterAmerican Highway. It is 20 km from the gate of Altos. There is a PioPio there. Coronado is about 7 km west, and it has a few excellent restaurants as well as another PioPio and a few in between. There are also a lot of highway dining places which we have not yet tried. Some of them are quite attractive from the road.
But our favorite place is Chef del Rincon not far from the El Rey. It is in the Artesano & Mercado (sp?) complex of Panamanian country styled buildings. The complex is very attractive. The chef used to work at the country club. The food is excellent. The prices are extremely reasonable. Within 2 or 3 visits, they remembered our drink choices and the fact that we are pensionados. And we have been in with different people every time.
The only problem I have is remembering their odd schedule for being open. And it is not posted. When they are closed, we try other places. HLD
In a message dated 12/15/2004 2:50:41 PM SA Pacific Standard Time, hslanham@a...(snip) writes:
DaDoc, You are correct with all your comments. I have to agree that the power pole service is less than attractive. I have reconciled myself to the fact that the development is so huge and has so much greenbelt that the front-end expenses were just too much for them. Then, there is the rainy season. Who knows their rationale?
There are now 10+ full-time households with more within a few months. There are quite a few in apartments in the city awaiting the building of their homes. It is a small community on the weekdays (when we get a lot of stuff done). And most of us know each other fairly well. The weekends bring in our Panamanian friends and nothing gets done except the fun stuff.
And the style of building here is very diverse. Many of the Panamanians begin working on their lots on the weekends while living in tents. Then, they add a rancho and BBQ. Then a bath. After awhile, up goes a house. From what I understand, Panama has not traditionally offered mortgage banking to residents. So what we see is fully paid for, as they are able to pay for it.
There is no homeowners association. There is no clubhouse, gym, or community pool. But, we were not looking for these things. Altos is one of many developments here in Panama. None is best. Each appeals to different sorts. Thankfully, we found our sort and many of the rest on this list have found their sorts. HLD