Investing Ahead of the Growth Curve
Monday, April 23 2007 @ 08:33 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
Being a business person, I can’t help but evaluate the situation in Panama City real estate to that of a young company: one that appears to be growing too fast for its own good:
1. Taking on projects that are too big: In the process of approving new high-rises around every corner, MIVI will inevitably lose meticulousness and standards for construction. With the Canal expansion too, in addition to the bay clean up and sanitary/road work, safety and environmental issues in Panama City real estate will take back seats, quality will be sacrificed, and mistakes will be made. One serious construction disaster could be all she wrote.
2. Running out of capital: The kind of growth we’re seeing in Panama City right now is devouring money the way giant island mice devour seabird chicks. As we have seen with some projects, cash has already run out. Developers are, as a result, looking to cut corners and for the most part it comes at the investors’ expense.
3. Construction supplies have become hot commodities: If you’ve noticed, there’s a crane on just about every block in Panama City. Each of these projects is eating up cement, steel, and workers to the point that it’s becoming hard to obtain them. As no surprise, you’re starting to see price gauging for materials and rental equipment.
4. Customer complaints: You can read about a handful of investors who have been screwed by developers, but those are just the ones who’ve written about it. As in a company, negative feedback needs to be addressed, however in the midst of this Panama City boom, there is such crazy demand that unhappy clients are indifferently kicked to the curb because there’s someone who’ll happily pay one spot behind them in line.
5. Losing touch with the world outside of Panama: It has already started: developers, sellers, buyers, and agents already getting so caught up in the hype, they forget that indeed, Panama is one of several other countries in this continent. It’s not a private bubble-like Wonderland independent of the functioning world outside. They’re not noticing that the real estate prices have risen here faster than any other country in the region and based on what? Renderings of new condos and intangible speculation?
6. No One Lives Here Anymore. It’s Too Crowded: There’s a serious problem when the majority of the investors in a culture-oriented market are there solely for the money. In order for Panama City real estate to thrive, there cannot be empty units all year long. You’ve got to have people living in those apartments: people who can help build a community! Relying too heavily on such tunnel-vision investors who are, in essence, pricing locals out of their neighborhoods, can backfire and instead of a core community of happy expats and locals, you’re left with blocks of dead-empty apartment buildings.
The founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz says that to be successful, a company must “invest ahead of the growth curve.” Meaning, that in order to build a sustainable enterprise, one which can handle growth, you must first build a solid foundation: a foundation of the right mentality, the right infrastructure, the right vision…etc. When you apply this to Panama, the parallels are haunting and familiar. Can you build a skyline of 100-story towers without the right metaphorical foundation in place or will everything topple like an oversized set of dominoes?
There are plenty of theories that buying pre-construction in Panama City can still be extremely lucrative, which it probably can. And I do agree too that there will be a lot of baby-boomers who’ll bring a lot of money to this isthmus. But when people get greedy and baby-boomers turn into funeral-boomers what’ll be left behind?
A friend recently referred me to a quote he heard made by a large homebuilder from the USA. “Panama City may become known as the biggest real estate scam in modern history”. And he’s right. Panama City, if it continues at this extraordinary reckless and uncontrolled rate, could at some point implode, bringing down with it all the money, glitz and fame. But by that point, all the smart people will be long gone.
Matt Landau is a travel writer and Panama real estate skeptic living in Panama City, Panama. His website, www.thepanamareport.com, details what he considers to be the harsh reality that is investing in Panama. Check it out, then decide for yourself.