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Looking at places to live in Panama is kind of an adventure. There are a lot of nuances you need to be aware of or you could end up very unhappy.
For instance, if you don’t know to ask, you could get a place that has what they lovingly refer to as “suicide showers” here. And by that, they mean that it doesn’t have hot water!
A lot of the local Panamanians here are used to that and that’s just how they live. But imagine not knowing, moving in, and then jumping into the shower for the first time. SURPRISE!!! YIKES!
But if you know what to look for, you can find some real gems. Although costs aren’t as cheap as they were before the expat community started really growing here, a lot of the prices are still very good as compared to the U.S.
In my last post, I wrote a little bit about how we were on the hunt for a long-term rental and prices were all over the map. Well, I’m happy to say that we signed a lease for the year and move in next week.
Today, I want to expand on how we went about looking for places to live, the questions we made sure to ask, and a few of the rentals we considered.
It’s worth noting that this is specific to Boquete, Panama. Some places, like Panama City, would be nothing like this. Other areas in the country might have some similarities though.
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Where to find a rental?
There’s no central listing here and the sites you visit might all have different listings for places to live. On top of that, a lot of them don’t have great filters (if any) to find the specifics you’re looking for. And, when you toss into the mix that some are in Spanish, you’re really off to a great start.
Your best bet is to throw a bunch of @#$% at the wall and see what sticks. We looked at rentals and posted what we were looking for at various sites including:
- Boquete Ning – That’s right, the Ning platform from 2005 is still alive in its glory here in Boquete. It’s not the prettiest website, but it’s still a well-known site here to look for places to live.
- Casa Solution – They claim to be the leading real estate agency in Boquete, Panama. Not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s a great resource to find a place to rent.
- Encuentra24 – Encuentra24 is like one big classified section. Cars, electronics, jobs, and more for sale – you’ll find it here. And of course, you can search for available rentals as well.
- Facebook – Ah, yes, good ‘ol Facebook. I might have been guilty of calling Facebook the devil and I’m not necessarily convinced otherwise. Nevertheless, it’s still an asset in certain areas. In this case, Facebook groups can be a great place to start looking. Not all of these are specific to Boquete and not all offer classifieds, but they can all be helpful in your search and asking questions:
- Craiglist – Yes, they have Craiglist in Panama and it works just like it does in the U.S. It can also be a great resource to look for places to live!
Those are all great, but it can also be helpful to find a broker to work with. It seems everyone and their brother here dabbles in real estate so you should be able to find someone pretty easily.
We were also told to check out classifieds hanging on bulletin boards in grocery stores. Sometimes folks will post their rentals up there (though we didn’t see too much that was worthwhile).
The biggest key though to looking at some good places to live is to get the word out. So many places aren’t posted and our just available by word-of-mouth. You should let everyone you meet know that you’re looking for a place to rent. This is almost a sure-fire way to find what you’re looking for.
In our case, we did almost all of the above. We looked for places on websites and we posted what we were looking for online as well. We also talked to several agents and acquaintances to let them know what we wanted as well.
The questions we were asking…
Although your needs might be different, when we were looking at places to live here, we wanted to make sure that they met most or all of our needs.
We were mostly focusing on houses, but we were open to looking at apartments and condos as well. We wanted a minimum of two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but a third bedroom would be a real bonus for guests that come to visit.
We also liked the ability to walk to town so proximity was important (but not a deal-breaker). I initially had hoped we’d be getting bikes to make this less of a burden, but between the broken sidewalks, torn-up roads, and the craziness of the drivers here, that’s going to be a no-go.
A bonus would be if it was in a gated community due to the security and amenities they tend to provide.
The maximum price we were looking for was $1,500/month. Although we could go higher, the more we spent on housing, the less “play” money we’d have available.
Other than that, here were the questions we asked with each of the places to live we looked at:
- Is it fully furnished? Most are and that’s important to us. We sold off all our stuff and we’re just testing the waters here in Panama for the first year. We don’t want to have to buy everything all over again and potentially need to sell everything again if we decide not to stay.
- What’s the available Internet speed at this property? This might not sound like that big of a deal, but it definitely can be. A lot of places will claim they have high-speed Internet, but 3-5 Mbps ain’t gonna cut it. Some places have fiber and some don’t. And if they don’t have the infrastructure in place, you ain’t getting those good speeds. We were looking for at least 50 Mbps.
- What’s included in the rent price and what’s not? Utilities, Internet, gardener, maid? It’s actually very common for some or all utilities to be included in the cost (sweet, right?!). Additionally, many places include a weekly gardener or a weekly or bi-weekly maid.
- What’s the microclimate there like? The Boquete District has 13 microclimates. That means it could be rainy in one area and be sunny ten minutes down the road. Some areas are cooler or hotter, some are windy, and some get the Bajareque, a mist that comes over the mountains. Those microclimates are interesting and we wanted to make sure we’d be happy where we settled. Here’s an interesting article on Boquete weather and here’s an old but really useful post on the general weather in each area.
- Is there a backup reserve water tank or generator? Things are different here than most of us are used to. The power goes out almost daily (usually just a few minutes in the late evening or overnight) and there are times when you might not have water for a few hours or more. Some places have a reserve water tank that can carry them until the water comes back on. And some have generators in places for the power problems. The power isn’t that big of a deal though – when you don’t need A/C or heat, your biggest concern is the fridge and that not a biggie for the short bursts of no power.
- Does the property have a washer and a dryer? A good number of places to live here in Boquete don’t offer a dryer. Clotheslines are your dryer. I’m fine with either, but it’s good to know what to expect.
- How far is the walk to downtown Boquete from the property? We decided that we might not get a car for the time being. We don’t have jobs to get to and the costs for it don’t necessarily make sense for us. Taxis and buses are prevalent and cheap. And being able to walk to town regularly is something we want… it really is wonderful to be outside here!
- Is there hot water at all faucets? Yeah… we talked about the “suicide showers” here and that’s a big deal. I’m all for getting acclimated to the culture here, but I gotta have hot water!
- What’s the roof made of? Metal? Clay? Avoid a metal roof if you can when looking at places to live. It rains a lot here. Rain hitting a metal roof is loud… really loud. Not something I want to have to try to get used to if I can help it.
- Is there a garbage disposal? Ok, this was one I was asking at the beginning, but I quickly learned that it’s very rare to find places with garbage disposals here. I think it’s because their infrastructure isn’t so great and putting crap down the drain isn’t gonna help it!
I wasn’t expecting to find a place that met all our needs, but I figured that the more we could satisfy, the happier we’d be.
We checked out several places, but what limited our options the most was that we wanted walking distance from town. Regardless, here were the three contenders in the end…
Looking at places to live… take 1!
This was definitely a fan favorite of ours. It was a beautiful first floor of a house in the gated community of Valle Escondido where we’ve been staying. Know that it’s not uncommon for houses here to be divided up for rent.
The 2-bedroom 2-bathroom rental was gorgeous and being on top of a hill gave it an even better view. Slate floors, giant sliding doors in the living room, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, a deep jacuzzi tub, and a fountain (what?!) made this place very attractive.
It was going for $1,600/month and he was not flexible on the price. But that number included most utilities and fees – electric, water, garbage, security, homeowner’s fees, high-speed Internet, and 1,000+ channel IPTV and cable TV. And, just to top it off, it also included a weekly gardener.
The only things we’d be responsible for outside of that would be gas (propane) for cooking and pest control as needed.
Don’t forget, too, that this is in the Valle Escondido community so we’d have access to the two pools (indoor and outdoor), hot tub, gym, and racquetball court among other things.
We liked this one a lot… a real lot. But we had a couple of big issues we were struggling with on it. The first was the price. The $1,600/month was a little over our budget. Not that we couldn’t afford it, but there are plenty of less expensive places around that would save us some bucks that we could use elsewhere… cruises, anyone?!!
The second problem is that it was on a huge hill. Though it made the view fantastic (like really fantastic!), it would make the walk to town a pain in the butt. It’s only 1.2 miles to town from there, but coming back would be very steep for almost the entire walk. Try doing that with bags of groceries in your arms!
It’s already pushing it to have our 9-year-old walk for a total of around 3 miles or so if you include walking around downtown. But then throw in a steep hill as part of that walk when coming back and she’s gonna be miserable. I don’t want that and I also don’t like the thought of the hill hindering us from wanting to go for a walk in the first place.
Looking at places to live… take 2!
We were excited to check out this house because it was less expensive than option 1 and it looked interesting. It was outside of the gated communities, but for that, we hoped we might be able to start a garden here and have a little more freedom.
This 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom house was only $1,000/month and that included Internet, water, grass-cutting, and fumigation every 3 months. We’d be responsible for electric and gas (propane). It had new appliances and a fireplace.
We didn’t know the area very well, so the fact they were bragging that it was very secure (fenced, bars on all windows, and an alarm system) could be either a good or bad sign.
This house is 2 miles from town. It does have (broken) sidewalks for the majority of that walk, but it’s downhill all the way there and uphill on the way back. That’s a 4-mile hike roundtrip not counting the distance spent walking around… ouch. Again, I think Lisa and I would be able to manage that, but that’s a lot to ask of our daughter on a regular basis.
The backyard was kind of weird and wouldn’t be very garden-friendly either so that was a letdown.
The house also had a metal roof, too. The current tenant was the one who showed us the place and she said that when it rains, it’s loud. She said when she watches Netflix, she has to put earbuds in or she can’t hear her shows. No thanks!
The other thing that bothered us was that the washer and dryer were in a shed-like closet outside. So, if you wanted to throw a load of laundry in later at night, you’d have to go outside. Not a deal-breaker, but not very enticing either.
Looking at places to live… take 3! Winner, winner!
The last of the contenders we looked at on our places-to-live search led us to an apartment. We were envisioning a house to live in, but we decided to check this one out anyway.
The reason we were curious is that the apartment is in Valle Escondido so we’d get those advantages we liked. We’d get the gated community with the security they provide. We’d also still have access to those amenities I mentioned earlier – the two pools (indoor and outdoor), hot tub, gym, and racquetball court.
Besides that, it was also closer to the entrance of the community. Valle Escondido is a big place so where you’re at there can make a big difference. This apartment is 0.5 miles closer to downtown than we currently are. In fact, it would only be a total of 0.5 miles to get to town – that’s an easy walk and we wouldn’t have too much as far as hills go either.
Another bonus is that this is a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom place. Having an extra bedroom would be a bonus for guests. In the meantime, it’s set up as an office, which Faith quickly proclaimed as her homeschooling and art room. Not sure if she should be allowed to claim a room without paying rent, but we just let that part of the conversation slide.
The cost of the apartment is $1,200/month. That includes water, basic Internet, and trash. As tenants, we’d be responsible for electric and any cable services (which we wouldn’t need).
So here’s the deal – we really liked it. Faith and I were ready to jump on this one right then and there. We talked about it on our walk back and all three of us seemed to agree that of all the places to live that we looked at, this one seemed to be the best one to suit our needs.
That night, Lisa texted the agent and let her know we wanted it. While falling asleep though, all I kept thinking about is that we should have tried to negotiate. Everything’s negotiable, right?
Well, good news. Lisa must have been thinking the same thing. The next morning, she told me she had texted the agent later that night and asked if they would take $1,100/month… and she said “Yes.” Now we’re talking!
Depending on the area you live in, $1,100/month might seem dirt cheap or maybe a decent chunk of change. But when you keep in mind that the $1,100 is for a fully-furnished place and includes some utilities plus the amenities of this gated community, it’s one helluva deal. We signed a one-year lease and paid in cash because that’s weirdly what you do here (we got a receipt though!).
Even though we loved a lot about that first house, saving $500 each month is going to go a long way toward adding to our quality of living. We’ll be able to spend a little more freely and enjoy more vacations throughout the year. Additionally, the location is going to be such an asset to our health and well-being. Being able to walk back and forth to town is a huge benefit.
I’m kind of surprised that of all the places to live we chose an apartment, but I think it’ll be good for the time being. This will give us a year to dig deeper into each area and, if we decide to stay, we’ll be able to decide if we’d rather get a house elsewhere. A house would be good at some point so we can get a garden going!
The apartment’s on the third floor (the top floor) so we don’t have to worry about anyone being above us throwing dance parties at midnight. We also found out that there’s no one currently living below the apartment either. I don’t think it would matter much anyway though since I believe it’s concrete between the floors in most places here.
We move in next week and we’ve already met the owner and the neighbor. Great people and we’re excited to get moved in and settled in our new place here in beautiful Boquete, Panama!
What would be some of your requirements if you were looking at places to live here?
Thanks for reading!!