Because of the Covid virus Panama’s real estate market took a nose dive. Real estate offices have been closed.. some may never open again. Most notary offices have been closed so you can’t go to a closing. Many contacts were cancelled too. Rentals sat vacant because Panama’s borders were closed and the quarantine prevented anyone from being away from their house for more than 2 hours to buy groceries. So, what’s the future of Panama’s real estate once Panama opens their borders again?
The basic principal of supply and demand indicate that Panama will have much more supply than demand for the next 3-5 years. To make matters worse, in 2020 there has been a big increase in properties and businesses for sale which will add to the already overloaded supply.
For this report about the future of real estate in Panama, I consulted with trusted real estate agents, the biggest developers in Panama and researched what the Panama’s association of real estate agents have to say. I’m also drawing on my 30 years of experience as a real estate investor who monitors real estate trends in Panama and in the United States.
Let me state up front that we at Panama Relocation Tours encourages you to rent for at least 6-12 months before you consider buying any property in Panama. Twelve months will give you time to make sure you like living in Panama. Twelve months will give you time to experience both the rainy and the dry season which can be dramatically different in some areas. Twelve months will give you more time to understand the “right” price for houses versus overpaying. In twelve months, you’ll know if you’ve picked the right area or if you need to keep looking at other locations or elevations in Panama.
It is easy to buy in Panama but it could take many years to sell. So, you should not rush to buy something regardless of how good you’ve been told the price might be.
WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG TO SELL A HOUSE IN PANAMA?
There are a lot of reasons that it takes many years, sometimes 5+ years, to sell a property in Panama. Most people selling real estate, including real estate agents, in Panama have no previous experience in real estate so they don’t know how to do marketing. We do not have a widely used MLS (multiple listing service) in Panama so it is very hard to determine the right price to list a house at and most sellers/agents start at a price that is WAY too high. Beware that some foreigners selling or renting real estate do not have a work permit so they are working illegally in Panama. Always ask to see their work permit.
Another obstacle is financing. Financing is available at banks but they will require 20-30% down and it could take months for the financing to be approved. Banks will require that you get a life insurance policy naming them as beneficiary just in case you die before paying off the loan. And banks loans must be paid off when you turn 70 which prevents many retirees from getting financing. You will probably not be able to get fixed rate financing.
Some developers offer short term, less than 5 year, financing for new construction.
The other reason it takes a long time to sell is because there is a mismatch between the price point that most buyers are looking for and the price of the inventory that is available for sale. Ninety-seven percent of the people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour are looking for homes under $200,000. But much of the inventory of homes for sale are prices at $250,000 or more. There are not enough buyers in the higher price points so it takes much longer for those properties to sell. Properties in good condition priced under $200,000 tend to sell quickly if they are in a good location.
GROWING INVENTORY = LOWER PRICES
During the 2008/2009 real estate crash, Panama saw far less drop in prices than other countries. But the Covid-19 impact is different. The borders of Panama have been closed so no foreigner buyers could come in. Even people already living in Panama cannot buy houses yet because real estate offices have been closed since mid-March and the notary offices, where you would go for a closing, have mostly been closed too. According to the Panama’s Association of Real Estate, sales are down 90% in Panama at least.
Construction projects were stopped during the quarantine too.
The president of the Association of Real Estate (Acobir), Frank Morrice Arias, stressed that, “in addition to this (covid-19), previously, they had already been facing a market hit due to the decrease in prices in the last four to five years.”
Prices in many areas in Panama were going down before the Covid-19 virus. And now, with even more inventory, we anticipate that prices will need to go down more if a seller really wants to sell.
Morris announced that, “in the residential sector, it will take about three to four years to absorb all the inventory they have and it will be necessary to carry out strategies to mitigate the situation; In the case of an office commercial, where for several years they had excess inventory, it will take five to seven years to recover.”
Elisa Suarez, executive director of the National Council of Housing Developers (Convivienda), explained that “… We are going to face a market where the demand will be quite contracted and where the supply will definitely have to be restructured. This leaves me to think that there is definitely a tendency for prices to fall in order to leave the inventory that we have so far.”