For coronavirus (COVID-19) travel information, see our FAQ.

Do Not Build A House In Panama Unless…

Do Not Build a House in Panama Unless You Love Stress, Frustration and Have a Lot of Extra Money to Spend.

I usually write about the positive things I love about living in Panama but here’s information about the dark side.   You need to know the good and the not so good things about living in Panama so you can make an intelligent decision about relocating.

I would not advise building a house in Panama unless you have a lot of patience and a lot of extra time and money.  And absolutely do not attempt to build a house in Panama unless you can be present every single day during construction.  Here’s why:

In October 2017, I signed a contract to have new custom cabinets built for my house. They were to be delivered in January but, like many things in Panama, there were delays so they were installed in March.

Kitchen remodelA month before they were installed, I had my old kitchen demolished – literally with a sledge hammer.  With no kitchen, I was eating out more or using my Instant Pot to make meals then doing dishes in the bathroom sink for a month.

Before the cabinets could be installed, I had to install tile on the walls and on the area where my old kitchen was located because there was no tile under the cabinets. After looking for days at 6 different stores in David and Panama City, I knew it would be impossible to match the existing tile which was put down in 2007. So, I went looking for new tile and a transition tile that had both colors in it. I needed 10 boxes of tile.

I found the perfect tile at one store but they only had 5 boxes and said it would take a month to get more (if at all).

So, I shopped at some other stores to find a different tile. I found the great tile but they only had 8 boxes.

Finally, I picked out a tile because it was the ONLY tile in Panama where I could get at least 10 boxes of the same thing.

The tile was finally installed on the floors and walls.

new kitchen PanamaIn my new kitchen design, the sink and stove were moved to a new, more functional, location. But the plumber could not move the plumbing to where the sink needed to go so the cabinets had to be moved slightly to accommodate the plumbing.

Next came the search for the cabinet knobs. You’d think it would be easy to buy cabinet knobs. But not in Panama. There is no Home Depot or Lowe’s in Panama.  I searched high and low in David and even in Panama City. The knobs I bought were the only knobs in all of Panama that I could get 38 of the same thing in stock.

I could order cabinet knobs from Amazon and pay $4 a pound to get them delivered but it’s hard to see what the knobs really look like from a photo on Amazon.

The next nightmare…

granite sizeThe granite countertop company had to see the cabinets installed before he would come out to measure. But he measured wrong. The absolutely beautiful granite I picked out was ruined when he measured wrong. To make matters worse, he wanted an extra $1800 to order new granite and correct HIS mistake.

Instead, I hired a different company to make my granite countertops. After searching for two months, the granite I wanted was no where to be found in Panama.

So, I picked out a different granite. But when it was being loaded on the truck, they dropped the granite and broke in to a million pieces.

So, I had to pick out a different granite that I don’t like as much but at least it fits.  The new granite company did a really professional job with the granite and installation.

Next, my plumber came out to install the kitchen faucets. There’s a main faucet and a filtered water faucet. By the way it took three full days to find these faucets. Every time I found one I liked, they were out of that faucet so I had to keep looking.  The plumber discovered that the water filter faucet had a missing bolt even though the package was sealed when he opened it. I went back to Elmec, (35 minute drive one way) where I bought the faucet to get the bolt. Even though they had the same faucet in stock they would not give me a bolt out of that package or exchange my faucet. So I had to order the bolt on Amazon to get it delivered to Panama in about 7 days.

More punishment…

Thinking that my kitchen remodel was almost over, I hired a company to add a room on to my house. My little 960SF house really needed a little more room so I could get my office out of the bedroom.

The contractors bid was labor only like most bids in Panama. So, I was making daily, sometimes 2-3 times a day, trips to various hardware stores for supplies. If the local store did not have what was needed, I had to drive more than 30 minutes one way to David and go to 4-5 stores to get everything on the list.  Sometimes when materials were delivered to the house, it was the wrong thing so I had to go back to get it straightened out.  This was very very frustrating and very time consuming.

The room addition project turned out great and was finished on time… EXCEPT they built the new patio right on top of my septic tank.

I had no idea where my septic tank was. My husband took care of getting the septic cleaned out so I never paid attention to the location.  The blueprints for my house show that the septic tank is in a completely different location than where it is actually located.

TIP = This is Panama

When the contractors were digging for the foundation of the patio they should have mentioned that they saw pipes. They should have investigated what the pipes went to. But nope… they just wanted to finish the project so they could get paid.

Now, I need to get a new septic system installed which will take more time, more frustration and cost more money.

I have been buying and remodeling houses for 25 years.. in Texas.  But all of that did not prepare me for the frustrations of remodeling a house in Panama or the lack of the availability of materials in Panama.

These were just two little projects with contractors who came highly recommended. I can’t imagine the stress and frustration in trying to build a whole house in Panama.

Everyone I know who has had a house built in Panama says they they would never EVER do it again. It always takes twice as long and costs about twice as much. Sometimes the builder and their crew disappear for weeks at a time or forever.

Last weekend I met a lady who had a house built two years ago. She’s still finding problems and the house has become a money-pit in correcting all the problems.

I have talked to several people who paid a contractor a 20-30% deposit to build a house in Panama but the contractor disappeared with their money.

Don’t build a house in Panama. It will be way too frustrating and stressful.

Panama ParadiseIt is much better to buy an existing house then make modification to it if you absolutely need to.  At least with an existing house, you can hire an inspector to make sure everything is ok before you buy.  And an existing house will already have plenty of landscaping (though you’ll probably want to add more).

As always, I highly recommend that you just RENT for several months before you decide to buy.

Jackie Lange

Jackie Lange is the founder of Panama Relocation Tours and lives in the highlands of Boquete Panama. She has helped thousands of people relocate to Panama.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Koky says

    Thank you. Your information was really helpful.

  2. Sal says

    I liked your advices paired with experience that they are coming from.

  3. Richard Detrich says

    I COULD NOT AGREE MORE!! And Jackie, you were just remodeling a casita! When we were building every morning I said a prayer, asking God that no worker would die that day [Forget OSHA! You should see the rickity ladders they cobble together!] and secondly that I would not lose it and kill the builder! If you DO decide to build, double the length of time they say it will take, increase the cost by 25% since they will run out of money and ask for more to finish the job, and factor in the time and cost for the psychiatric care you will require when the house is “finished” …if it is ever finished.

    • Jackie Lange says

      You’re right Richard. I’ve heard so many horror stories from people who built in Panama. A few people had no problems but that is not the norm.

    • Jackie Lange says

      And factor in the costs of several cases of vino tinto!!

  4. Silverstone says

    Good day. I just read this. Lucky me, I live with friends in Panama City. The 1st time I was here 2 years ago and after our 1st night I realized that my hosts house had a sewer pipe broken in the wall. The whole yard got wet close around the area. Building my house in Germany and finishing my basement in Canada, I did know what to do. Opening the brick wall, cutting out the broken part of the old metal pipe — no problem. After that go to a plumbing store… nothing. 8 hours driving around for a 5 foot plastic pipe plus connectors to fix it. Started at 8 AM — finished around 22 PM! For a maybe 5 hour project. Still. I’m looking to buy a older house and fix it myself. Not starting a project until I do have everything to finish it. Now with the world economy on the floor, I am sure I will find a nicely priced house in Panama. I could save me the trouble but my host family doesn’t allow me any visitors not even for a coffee. And I am 56 living like a teenager again. My friends mom is controlling everything. Renting? Not my kind of living. I like to be busy and fixing things. ;—)

    • Jackie Lange says

      Hello. Yes, I can imagine how hard it is to live with people you hardly know – especially during the pandemic. SOME sellers are getting realistic in their prices. MORE sellers need to start lowering their prices substantially if they have any hope of selling. Even before the pandemic there was a glut of houses for sale on the market but prices were still too high. I’ve seen many more houses come on the market during the pandemic but most are prices way too high. There is a HIGH inventory which means sellers should .. keyword should… be more negotiable. Just because they spend $300,000 to buy does not mean the property is worth $300,000 now. Sellers are becoming more open to creative offers like seller financing too. Take your time to find the right place at the right price. You’ll get a MUCH better price/terms if you are dealing with the seller directly and there is no real estate agent involved.

  5. S W says

    My dad had a house recently built in Panama. Well, it’s not really even finished and it’s been over a year! He invested at least 150,000+ in a house that doesn’t look like it cost 150,000 at all ! It should have cost way less than that. Unfortunately, my dad was navigating the project from Texas while the builders were in Panama. Yes, the builders would continuously run out of money and ask for more. Um, receipts? And now, they are saying that they need 3D renditions of the home because the regular blueprints won’t do. The builders built too close to the road and my dad was threatened that the city would eventually have to cut the home in half or in thirds just to accommodate the new roads. My husband and I are in Texas, but we are both from Panama. We were considering having a home built in Sona, Panama, near Boro..but after seeing this horrible disaster with my dad’s house, and how ripped off he was, I really doubt I want to have a custom home built here! I love Panama, but I Just know that my dad’s home doesn’t look like a 150,000 home. What a shame! Something more beautiful could have been done with that money.

    • Jackie Lange says

      It is really better to buy an existing house then make modifications.. but ONLY while you are in Panama and can supervise the project every single day!

Leave a Reply