Contributed by: Don WinnerBy Kent Davis - The owner of Panama Equity, a Panama real estate agency that specializes in Panama City rentals. Check out my candid warning about the market before you get in too deep!
If you are moving to Panama (or perhaps already live here), than you realize that there are certain cultural nuances that you have had to or will have to get used to. In short, moving to Panama requires some adaptation because, in the end, it is a Central American country and if you have never lived in Central America (or Latin America), then you may have some new things to get used to! The same is true when you are picking out an apartment to rent in Panama: The process will be different than what you are used to, the properties/amenities will be different, and there are certain things that you need to be aware of (and in some cases downright AVOID) when choosing what type of property you want to rent.
First and foremost, it is important to have some idea about what you are looking for before you start your search. Obviously, you’ll want to do some homework on what different types of rental properties cost based on size and location. A simple Google search of “Panama apartments for rent” will bring up a long list of real estate agencies and classified websites offering apartment rentals in Panama.
I like to recommend newcomers spend some time adjusting the size and neighborhood within the search functionality of the website to get a feel for what rental prices really go for, keeping in mind that neighborhood, floor height (high floor vs low floor), furnished vs unfurnished, and the type of amenities offered all play a significant factor in the monthly rental price point.
Once you are ready to hit the road and start looking at available rental apartments, there are a few things you need to keep an eye out for and in some cases AVOID entirely: Street noise, blaring horns, blasting home and car stereos at all hours of the day and night, and the constant humming of construction noise are all a part of Panama city life. You can, however, choose to control the noise level you are exposed to by choosing to live on a higher floor if downtown (or in the suburbs). It is advisable to visit the apartment during rush hour (5:15-6:30) if you think that traffic noise is going to be an issue. If you live next to a public space such as a park, public square, or public beach access, consider the increased flow of traffic and noise levels when an event is going on.
Major thoroughfares in Panama City (aka potential noise generators) are Via Argentina, Transistmica, Avenida Balboa, Via Porras, and Calle 50. All of these streets offer very nice apartments for rent, however you’ll want to be high above the traffic or choose an apartment that is facing the other direction of the street. Another obvious solution would be to pick one street parallel to these main arteries to live on.
Another noise related issue is neighbors. Since common courtesy is sometimes less in Panama, neighbors can be a real issue. Don’t be afraid to have your real estate agent do some digging on the neighbors both next to you and above you. Without asking, you won’t know if your future neighbors are rock stars or retirees, and this can make all the difference when trying to get a good night’s sleep in your apartment.
Another important factor when determining the right Panama apartment for rent is the specific building you choose to look in. Some buildings are built better than others, which is where it is important to use a Panama real estate agent who is an expert about water issues, parking issues (like a 7th floor parking stall), building restrictions (like not being able to use the pool after 7pm), future or ongoing construction projects, and any other issues that come to mind when visiting.
If the lobby of a building that is supposedly only 2-3 years old is already deteriorating faster than the norm (which in Panama is pretty fast), then pay extra attention to things like windows, under sinks, and plumbing connections when deciding if a particular apartment is the one you’ll be living in for the next 12 months. Again, the use of an expert can be beneficial here since newcomers can get caught up in the honeymoon phase and overlook these kinds of disasters-waiting-to-happen.
Something else to make sure your real estate agent tracks down for you is the details on the owner, or more importantly the property administrator. Oftentimes, owners of apartments do not live in Panama and they hire third party property managers to handle tenant issues including routine and emergency maintenance.
NEVER try to rent a property from an owner who does not have a local Panama-based property manager or you’ll find yourself having to do many things yourself. Be sure to ask specifically “who will be the person I need to call when there is a problem with the apartment.” If your agent gives you an owners email or a long distance number, think twice.
Some other issues to avoid, or at least considerations to think about:
Generally real estate agents in Panama tend to focus on properties above the $1,000/month mark since they are paid based on the monthly rental amount. In most cases, an agent will make the first month’s rent as commission and most owners under the $1,000/month price point tend to use platforms such as La Prensa and Craigslist (so know what you are getting into when you browse for rentals there).
My firm, Panama Equity Real Estate works with owners, property administrators and fellow real estate agents to help our clients source the right fit for their rental needs and we have literally hundreds of rental options to choose from.
All the Best, Kent Davis
Copyright 2012 by Kent Davis for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.