When Purchasing, Should It Be a House or Condo?

The beach communities in Panama offer many options for home ownership. Prices range from below $100,000 to well into the millions and while most people know their price range, many times they aren’t sure about whether it should be a condominium or a detached house. It’s an important question, one with lots of variables—so let’s consider some of the data points.

  1. Lifestyle—If you don’t enjoy being in close proximity with your neighbors, then you might want to consider a single-family home. With communal living, people are simply around. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. Consider how social you want to be and what types of people you are most comfortable being around. Panama is a tropical climate so you tend to spend a lot of time outdoors or with the windows open. How sound proof is your building? Consider whether your balcony is visible to your neighbors. One of the best things about condo buildings such as Coronado Golf and Punta Vela, is that the architects were careful to position each balcony to ensure privacy. I always like to know my conversations cannot be overheard when watching the sunset with a lovely libation in hand while chatting with a friend.
  1. Sense of Community—With condo living you are immediately part of a community. Generally you share many of the same interests (i.e. keeping your building well maintained) and since you are living in close proximity to one another, you regularly run into the same people. When you consider that Panama is a country drawing a mega expat population, you should have a lot in common with individuals who have chosen the same building. When you opt for an individual home, it takes a bit more effort to build a network of friends. It certainly can be done with the numerous “Happy Hours” catering to the expat community, but it is easier if you have regular social events right in the building. For example, in Coronado Golf, there are both family and adult socials held every week on the top floor overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Some people bring appetizers to share and others simply bring their own beverages. Regardless, the conversation is always multinational and stimulating.
  1. Safety—Panama is a very safe country. The United States Department of State claims Panama is more safe than many US cities, but one should always be cautious. Condominium living offers another couple of layers of safety. If you choose to live in Coronado, the entire city is gate controlled and then most towers in Coronado have a second layer of around-the-clock gate controlled guarding at the residences. Additionally there are maintenance employees who are always aware of individuals who may not belong. One of the most important things for me personally is having neighbors around in case something goes wrong. If considering condominium living, check and see if each home has a phone connected directly to the security office. One never knows when a health crisis might arise so it is very important to have a plan in case something does go wrong. Panama instituted the 911 system in 2009 but it is exclusively for medical emergencies so someone breaking into your home would not be covered.
  1. Social Moments—A community swimming pool, the private beach club or the common social areas of many of the residential towers in Coronado provide lots of opportunities for social moments which turn into lasting friendships. Part of the reason people elect to move to Panama is to have a less hectic lifestyle. With an individual home, one doesn’t normally have the opportunity to interact as easily. Of course, if you already have lots of acquaintances you might elect to float in your own pool and interact only when you want to issue an invitation. With the common areas, anyone in the building can appear at any time.
  1. Resort Like Amenities—Unless you are in a position to invest a minimum of a million dollars in your single family residence, you probably will not have all the resort like amenities which are afforded people who live in the high-rise residential buildings along the beach communities of Panama. Concierge services, private beach access, a multitude of pools, a spa and gated entrance come with condominium
  1. A Yard to Mow—One of the things people who live in condos tell me is how they miss Lots of my clients say they find great peace in tending to a garden or yard and that flower boxes on the balcony, while beautiful, just don’t satisfy. I also have others who comment that the last thing they want to do is mow the lawn. In Panama mowing is a strange thing. It is rare that you see a lawn mower; rather you will see local men, cutting grass with a weed trimmer. Unlike North America the yards and open fields in Panama are not level and there are plenty of rocks lodged in the hardy grass that thrives this close to the equator. A mower will send rocks flying and the blades of a mower are quickly so nicked they do not function appropriately. You can easily hire gardeners for only a few dollars, but be aware the grass needs to be mowed year-round and if you are not living in your individual house year-round, everyone knows that and safety becomes an issue. With condominium living, all yard care is taken care of and the common areas are beautifully maintained year-round.
  1. It’s Just The Trash—It takes expats a little bit of time to acclimate to the unique aspects of Panama living and trash is certainly one of those things. I had a client stare at me in disbelief when I explained we did not have a “trash chute” in a 34-story residential building. She was amazed that we had two trash locations on each floor and that individuals came around, twice a day, and picked up the trash. She simply assumed the easiest way was to send it down the chute and into a big container. I hated to go into the ramifications of bugs, the smell with the tropical climate and the fact the humans who pick up the trash make sure everything is always clean. Then we launched to why garbage disposals weren’t in most luxury units. It’s simply different in the tropics and for people who don’t want to worry about trash, they may be better off in a condominium as opposed to an individual home. There are trash pick-ups for detached living, but animals, bugs and smell can be a concern.
  1. Association Dues—You generally don’t have Home Owner Association (HOA) dues when you live in an individual home, but you do when you live in a condominium. In Coronado those dues should run less than $200 a month and that will cover your security, trash pick-up, maintenance for the common areas, amenities such as the swimming pool and social areas and parking. Sometimes it also covers some utilities such as water, but you’ll be expected to pay the electricity and cable.
  1. Ocean Views—There is nothing like looking out over the ocean waves and smelling the fresh air from a beautiful balcony. Of course there are also several restaurants in the area which can afford you that view, but there is something special about walking out on your own balcony, with your own drink, and watching the fishing boats go out in the evening, or the children paddle among the waves. There are also plenty of private homes that boast such a view—it’s just that they just come with a multi-million dollar price tag and the fiscal outlay for upkeep. Condominium living allows for more people to embrace the beauty of the view because they live together. Even individual homes which are “close to the ocean” are cost prohibitive for the average person.
  1. Rules and Restrictions—There is no question, lots of people who look to retire in Panama don’t want all the rules and regulations that accompany condominium You can’t take glass containers around the common pool and you need to return the grocery trolleys to the garage entrances. Park in your assigned covered space and don’t get into the elevators wet. Even if I lived in a private home, I’d still not want to take glass around the pool, but I am keenly aware that some individuals find a few of the rules irritants.
  1. Gringo Pricing—If you elect to live in an individual home, make sure you have someone who can negotiate with local workers on your behalf. Everything from cleaning the air conditioners (that should be done in Panama about four times a year) to mowing the yard. Remember there are two prices for everything. Don’t get caught with “Gringo Pricing”! Inquire around about what things should cost and then negotiate from there. A smile and any kind of attempt at speaking Spanish will go a long way! When living in a condominium, you can rely on many of the maintenance workers to do odd jobs on their time off. The office staff can usually fix you up with recommended workers who have previously established pricing for things like cleaning the air conditioners.
  1. Utilities—Utilities are generally reasonable in Panama but they tend to cost less for a condominium than an individual home because so much is shared in a residential tower. There are great breezes in Coronado because the city is located just off the ocean and next to the mountains. Keeping the air conditioner turned off not only capitalizes on the breezes but it provides a delightful living style. In my opinion, those breezes are best enjoyed on a high floor of a condominium or in an individual home situated right on the water. An individual home, not right on the water, tends to use more electricity and air conditioning.
  1. Tax advantages—The Panamanian government warmly welcomes expats so they currently have several programs which encourages individuals and families to select Panama for their next home. One of the best programs is that they offer property tax exemptions that come when buying new constriction. It can be a single family home or a condominium, but it must be new construction. So remember when you are considering a home that does not carry a tax exemption, you might be forgoing several thousand dollars that would continue for many years. Many of the current condominiums on the market carry up to 18 years of property tax exemptions.

There Might Be An Easier Way

These are just a few of the things you should consider when doing your due diligence concerning purchasing property in Panama and especially in the beach communities along the PanAmerican Highway. It is first, a personal decision, but one that should be made after considering the facts.

Some people come to me and I know they only want an individual home while many others are ready for the much freer lifestyle associated with a condominium.

What I have noticed over my years of helping people find their “right place” is that many North Americans, especially those from the United States, have been mowing the grass and fixing the faucet drip for so long that they haven’t stopped to think there might be an easier way. It’s my job to help you consider all the ways possible!

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