During the boom, Sanclemente was responsible for the sales of 700 units between Panama City and Playa Blanca on the Panamanian Pacific coast.
The brisk sales encouraged more building and piqued the interest of big international developers, including Miami’s The Related Group, which bought two sites and got zoning approval for a project.
Meanwhile, Panamanian industrialists and other real estate neophytes who thought putting up a building in Panama and charging top-dollar was a can’t-miss proposition became developers.
“Very few of them were developers frankly,’’ said Sanclemente, who is now a broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Miami and travels frequently to Panama.
“At the beginning we saw Panama as the next Miami,’’ said Saba, who has been working in Panama real estate for the past seven years, “but Panama wasn’t ready for the boom.”
Developers kept raising prices. In 2007-2008, prices ticked upwards to around $400 per square foot for new condos in Panama City and even as high as $700 at the most high-end buildings, Sanclemente said. Now new condo sales prices are averaging around $280 per square foot, she said.
Not only weren’t the boom prices real, said Saclemente, but suddenly the Americans who were supposed to fill up the new properties also were no longer in the market.
“When the U.S. market crashed, a lot of Americans couldn’t close on their units in Panama,’’ said Sanclemente.
While U.S. financial problems rippled to Panama on the sales side, the local banking sector remained strong.
“The good thing is the banks are still giving mortgages in Panama,’’ said Sandy Schwartz, president of Zoom Development. “In the U.S., the banks closed off the tap.’’
Unlike Miami, the banks in Panama didn’t approve loans when prices reached the stratosphere during the boom.
In projects where developers were charging $400 to $500 per square foot, banks wanted down payments of 50 to 60 percent, Sanclemente said. Such hefty down payments are now the norm for new condo construction in Miami, but they weren’t before the South Florida real estate market crashed in the summer of 2007.
With the U.S. second-home market stone-cold in Panama, Jorge Pérez, chairman and chief executive of Related, decided the timing wasn’t right and put his Panamanian project on hold.
“Developers knew they had to lower their prices and they’re doing it,’’ Sanclemente said. “There are bargains now.’’
A recent study commissioned by Panama Equity showed prices were down this year along coastal Balboa Avenue where many of the residential towers have been built, but they weren’t down significantly.
For a 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom condo less than five years old, the recent listing price was $317,900 and the average selling price was $286,860, the Panama real estate firm said. Around this time last year the list price for such a unit was $324,800 and the selling price, $293,580.
“Demand is being supported by a strong local economy, banks flush with cash, government-sponsored infrastructure improvements, and foreigners and multinational corporations continuing to relocate and invest,’’ Panama Equity said.