When Sanclemente sold her one-bedroom condo at Destiny, a tower on Balboa Avenue, for $210,000 in January, she made a profit. But she said similar units are currently selling for $170,000.
“Now Panama is similar to where Miami was two years ago — the market is very active but the prices are continuing to go down,’’ said Sanclemente. But she believes prices are at or near bottom.
In the meantime, Latin American buyers are helping the Panamanian market just as they soaked up excess condo inventory in Miami.
“Venezuelans saved the Panamanian market,’’ said Sanclemente. Argentines, Russians, Canadians and Asians are buying as well as foreigners who work for multinationals, but she expects it will take about two years to absorb the current inventory.
While American interest in Panama is still strong, Sanclemente said, Americans’ shaky personal finances are still keeping significant numbers out of the market.
Kent Davis, of Panama Equity Real Estate, said the same factors that initially attracted American buyers are still a draw: “Obviously the political and economic stability, the closeness to the United States and the dollar economy.”
Other attractions are low living costs, very low condo maintenance fees, no property taxes for 20 years on residential real estate purchases, and a pensionado program open to foreigners and Panamanians alike that provides deep discounts on goods and services for those who receive pensions.
Kurt Fernandez, 62, a retired American journalist, and his wife Linda, 59, recently bought a 3,000 square foot, 3-bedroom, 4 ½ bathroom unit at Allure for around $176 per square foot and made it their permanent home. “It was an excellent price,” Fernandez said. New construction in downtown Miami, in contrast, averaged $366 per square foot in the third quarter.
Fernandez, who lived in the old Panama Canal Zone as a high school student, said he likes the stability of Panama, its location, the dollar economy and the fact that for him “Panama is familiar territory.’’ He’s in the process of getting a pensionado visa.
“We’re very happy here. Things are at our fingertips,’’ he said. “Traffic here is horrendous,’’ he conceded. But the couple no longer has a car and walks everywhere.
Panama has changed tremendously since he last lived there in the 1960s. He remembers when he came home from college in the 1970s, his mother insisted he go see the new 20-story Holiday Inn. “It was a must-see — the tallest building in Panama. Now you can hardly find that building because it is surrounded by monster skyscrapers.”
Davis, an Atlanta transplant who has been working in the Panamanian real estate market for five years, said he sees things beginning to turn around. “Everybody is busy now,’’ he said. “The Venezuelan and Colombian buyers never stopped coming and now the Brazilians are going like gangbusters.’’
Saba said the Americans who are still in the market are mostly interested in beach properties.
“This is Playa Blanca Resort,’’ he said as he called up a site map on the computer in his Panama City office. “The concept is to create a self-contained community.’’ He pointed to a town center, mini-mall, space for restaurants and a 17-acre swimming pool that is half completed. Prices average about $200 per square foot at the Pacific Coast development, which is about 70 miles from Panama City, Saba said.