Having been involved in a few real estate transactions in my time here in Panama, I have seen a bucket full of owners attempting to assist the showing intermediary with the presentation and sale of their property.  This is a mistake 90% of the time.  I'll explain further.


In Canada, we are blessed to have a well organized MLS and a licensing system that, for the most part, ensures that someone qualified to sell your home will be showing the home.  For that reason, I think Canadians are "trained" to step aside and allow the agent to show the home.  There is usually a lock box left on the door handle or railing, and the realtor simply lets himself in and does his thing.  That very thing that has made him or her successful and allowed him or her to stand the test of time in the business. You liked this system, so why do you fight it in Panama?


In this blog, I am going to list a few of the top issues that realtors face here in Panama when trying to effectively sell your home.  Things that seriously hinder the sale of your property and cost you serious time and money.


Make your home easy to show!!


The worst thing you can do is make your home difficult to show.  Top real estate agents will show many properties per day in Panama, and spend most evenings scheduling the next day of viewings.  If your unit is rented, or the agent has to stumble around making 5 phone calls and cocrdinating 3 people just to get a key, or someone to let them into the property, that agent is likely to show something else.  A top producing agent simply does not have the time to deal with a hard to show property.  


Another reason your hard to show property isn't selling is that often, agents are thinking on the go.  In other words, a client sometimes shares a piece of information that changes the direction in which the agent is headed.  The agent often has to change his or her gameplan mid-show.  So, that means that if your property wasn't on the list of showings at 9:00 am, it could suddenly be at 2:00 pm, and if the agent can't get in, you lose.  There is plenty of real estate for sale here in Panama, with owners that list exclusively and hand a key to the agent so that he or she can show the property quickly and easlily, and on the fly if necessary.  If you haven't sold your home, the first thing you should ask yourself is how easy do you make it for your agent(s) to show.


Panama is the land of immigration, foreign executives, vacation home buyers, etc.  It just so happens that many people fly here, grab a hotel, and head out for anywhere from 3 days to a week to find and decide on a home.  You must make your home available to show.  Every missed showing is a missed oportunity, and to sell, you have to show.  Please do not assume that if the porperty is unavailable to show one day, that the client will reschedule.  They almost never do, and again, there is another condo up two floors or house in the next neighborhood that shows easily and will sell.


My friends, please stay out of the way.


If there is just one thing that a seller should take away from this blog, it is that your realtor is a professional.  He or she should know what they are doing by now.  They are making a career of marketing and selling real estate and they are successful at it.  Showing your home is where we shine.  


Taking pride in your home is very important, but just as important is to get out of the way and allow your agent to do what you are paying him or her to do.  Hovering over your agent and his clients pointing out each upgrade, and sharing each memory does NOT sell your home.  People want to envision themselves in each property they look at.  They want to take mental ownership and imagine how their life fits the home.  Having the owners there painting a picture of someone else's life in the home will unsell your home.  In fact, it's even a good idea to remove personal family photos.  Statistics support this.  Homes sell better when the owners are not present.


Overpricing won't fool the buyers.

There are few possessions more personal than your home.  And for that matter, few investments made as large.  You've spent countless hours entertaining, renovating, perfecting and just loving your home.  But now it comes time to price it acurately.  Maybe your entire retirement budget relies on the money you can get for the property.


It doesn't matter how much you paid for your property, or how much you love it.  Your agent is in the trenches each and every day helping people buy and sell property.  He or she will tell you how to competitively price your home so that it sells quickly and for the most money possible.  Overpricing is VERY common in Panama and the number one reason a home does not sell.  Your overpriced home will sit on the market for months, and years, and gain a reputation as unsellable, or undesirable with buyers and agents.  It may end up selling for far less than your agent's original suggestion.


The internet makes this even more of a problem than it once was, as 99% of buyers will scour the internet before and during their purchase to ensure that they are paying the right price.  Information is so readily available to your buyers, so you must be competitive to sell.


Don't be so sensitive!

Just as in life, in negotiations you must be sure not to take things too personally.  Don't outright decline a low ball offer.  Again, buyers want to ensure they are getting the best possible price, so if they start a little low, all you need do is correct them with a counter.  This is a business transaction, negotiation will often net you a positive result if you just keep emotion out of it. 


So these are a few of the bigger issues that hinder the sale of a property in Panama.  Some others small things include clutter, needed repairs not being made, listing with multiple agents or FSBO, and of course bad photos on the MLS.


On a side note, don't forget what you are paying your agent for.  Showing the home is only 10% of it!  A successful agent must build and maintain one or more websites, keep an office with staff, maintain a presence in the community, build and grow a network of clients and other agents, pay to advertise no only your property, but their brand.  The brand brings clients.  You want a realtor with a large network, and attracting clients through marketing and networking costs a lot of money. It's a business with expenses, so don't ever feel like you're not getting your money's worth.





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So here is what you need:


1)  Criminal report from all the applicants (from FBI for Americans, and RCMP for Canadians),

2)  Marriage Certificate if you are married,

3)  Eight passport sized photos,

4)  A complete copy of your passport, from cover to cover.  Every page,

5)  A copy of another photo ID, for example, driver's license,

6)  A utility bill for your property here in Panama.  Not important if you are renting, or if you own.  A rental agreement or Hotel reservation will even work for this.


Now, the first two documents need to be legalized in your home country.  A public notary can do this for you.  In Canada, an attorney can do it as well, but I'm unsure about the USA.   Once notarized, they need to go to the Panamanian Embassy, or Consulate for their OK.  In Canada, you may need to send these documents to the Department of Foreign Affairs before the consulate as well.  It would be wise to confirm that with the Panamanian Embassy.  Don't do all of this too early, because many of these documents expire after 3 or 6 months.


In order to qualify for this visa, you will also have to have a Panamanian bank account.  Normally, your immigration lawyer can assist you with this.  I have attempted to assist a few clients but it can be time consuming, and the lawyers are better suited to it.  This account will have to have a minimum of $5000 USD plus $2000 for every dependant that will be applying.


You must prove employment, or the promise of employment.  In order to do this, you will have to set up your own corporation, and hire yourself to run it.  There, you have a job.  (If you really do have a job, then no company required).  The lawyer will take care of this step for you as well.  The cost is normally in the $1000 dollar range.  You will have a further expense of $300 dollars per year to renew your Tasa Unica (keeps your company on the books) and $250 per year for your resident agent, which is usually your lawyer as well.  This is the government's contact if they need to speak to the confidential owner of a corporation.  That $250 dollar fee may vary with what attorney you choose, but I'm not 100% on that.


The fees involved with the visa itself look like this.  There is an $800 dollar "repatriation fee" for each applicant, and $250 for the National Treasurer (just a fee I guess) for each applicant.  Legal fees will be additional and could run around from $1200 to $2500 per person.


That leaves you at about $3500 for the lawyer, and another $1000 or so in fees.  Probably a pretty average figure of $5000 dollars if you get shopping from firm to firm, but I would definitely advise doing your own price shopping.  You need to be sure to get an all in price, because charges and fees, translations of documents, stamps, temporal cards, permanent cards, and multiple entry visas will just keep coming, it is a long process, and there are many steps involved.


Here's a little bit about the process.  To start, once you have all your documents, bank accounts, corporation etc., you will have to physically visit the immigration office here in Panama to register.  Quite the experience, with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people there at every moment of the business day.  You will bring with you, your passport, and 2 passport sized photos.  The lawyers will accompany you normally.  They translate for you, and assist you to find the right windows etc.  An English speaker would be 150% lost in there without a lawyer I think.  In fact, when you think about their fee, and the time they spend in that immigration office, at $450 dollars an hour in Canada, the same process would probably cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it does in many countries.  Another fact is that the lawyer or an assistant is usually there 3 or 4 hours early just to wait in line to get a low number.  Quite the process!


Once you are there and registered, and the Immigration Department has all of your documentation, you will receive a temporary residence card.  This will allow you to stay in the country until your permanent residence application is prosessed.  You must not leave once this visa is granted until you have asked your attorney for a multiple entry visa, or you will be fined $2000 dollars upon your return.  A multiple entry visa can be applied for and granted within 3 days.


The entire process, depending on many factors, can take from 6 months, up to a year.  And what a bargain!!


I hope that helps, if anyone has anything to add, feel free in the comments section below.  Panama has many laws, but quite often they are more suggestions or guidelines, so some people may have slightly varying experiences.


Cheers!!!  See you in Panama!

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A potential expat will, understandably, spend vast amounts of time scouring the internet for useful facts and tidbits of information that will assist them with this faithful leap into the unknown.  


Included in what these potential expats will find when doing their research, are blogs of course, and social pages like Facebook and Yahoo.  Great places to interface with people who are already with feet on the ground here in panama and learning the ropes.  


But like pain, there are things that cannot be properly expressed in an article, or potential expat's "guide".  There is no way you can put into words, how much it hurts when you hit your head on the cupboard door you left open, on the way back up from kneeling down to pick up that dropped knife in the kitchen!   Often a good analogy for the trials you will face here in Panama!


You will read the posts from some of the grumpy expats living here, that just cannot stop complaining about the small things that are unchangable, at least in the short term.  I'm not sure if these people had "poopy pants" back home, but some are finding it difficult to adjust.


Your experience living in Panama will vary greatly on a couple of things.  First, the area you choose to call home will obviously be a very important factor in the "quality" of life you are going to live.  I could write forever on that topic, but not in this blurb.  What I'm talking about here is attitude!


Panama.  Beaches, mountains, blue waters, islands, lower cost of living, very north americanized, familiar US currency, advantageous tax laws, ease of immigration, lots of fellow countrymen, drinkable water, beautiful latin people, parties, warm weather, predictable climate, one could go on and on....  and on!  Then why is it that so many people move to Panama from another country and can do nothing but gripe?  That is the question, and to answer it, you have to understand the differences in our cultures.


I recently gave the best real estate tour to a couple from North America.  We had spent a wonderful, sun-shiney morning up in El Valle, looking at a few area and houses for sale, and taking in the local market.  We decided to stop in for lunch at one of the quaint restaurants that line the main road through the town.  Now me, having lived here for a couple of years now, settled in.  I ordered a cerveza, and two more for my guests, leaned back and shifted to relax mode.  To make what could be a long story short, the food came out in a typical Panamanian time frame (45 minutes or so), but at the 20 minute mark, my clients were bouncing off the walls!  You are going to wait a lot in Panama, for everything.  


There are long lines at the supermarket, at the red lights, at the green lights, at the place where you get your license, at immigration, at the till in the mall, and just about everywhere else.  And nobody moves fast.  I sometimes count the seconds between the beeps at the check-out in the grocery store.  I swear the cashier is actually moving in slow motion.  I'm not joking!!  Her arms swipe each item across the scanner at half speed.  If you're in a hurry, people, it's agonizing!


I could go on and on here with "things that make you go hmmmmmmm" experiences, but I digress to the point.  If you are the type of person who cannot relax and needs to live life at a full 100 Km/hr speed limit, Panama is going to either defeat you, or change you fundamentally.


I'm telling you now.  You are not going to change ANYTHING here.  No more than a Panamanian is going to get off the bus in Toronto and ask if everyone could just slow the heck down!  This is a cultural machine that demands it's cogs to move in key with all of the rest, and if you cannot slow down, and take things as they come, you may live out your time here in the proverbial poopy pants, and no one likes a poopy pants.


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Explore the exciting rebirth of Panama City

Photos by TITO HERRERA / The New York Times
People walk along the bay in Panama City.  Over the past 13 years, the Panama capital has been racing to become a  world-class metropolis.

In a great article by  Tim Neville of the NY Times, he explores the main streets of Panama City to the back alleys of the old city.


Traffic into Panama City was flowing for once, so Miguel  Fabrega had only a moment to point out the crumbling ruins in the  distance. They were the remains of a 16th-century New Spanish settlement  that the British privateer Sir Henry Morgan eventually sacked in 1671.  Ahead of us rose Old Panama’s modern replacement: a forest of green,  blue and yellow glass skyscrapers that sifted the metallic Central  American sky into great vertical columns.

“You’re going to hear a lot about identity, who we are and where we  are going,” said Fabrega, a 37-year-old artist, writer and partner in a  creative think tank called DiabloRosso, which promotes emerging artists  in Panama.

Despite being founded in 1519, Panama is really only 13 years old,  Fabrega argued, its birthday being Dec. 31, 1999, the day the United  States gave the Panama Canal and its surrounding land back to the  Panamanians. For the first time in a century the country was whole and  independent.


“My generation inherited this blank canvas,” said Fabrega. “Now we have the chance to make it our own.”

Today, that canvas is far from blank, however. Over the past 13  years, Panama City has been racing to become a world-class metropolis,  and for travelers, the changes have been enormous. In 1997 there were  perhaps 1,400 hotel rooms in Panama City. Now there are more than 15,000  rooms with 4,582 more in the pipeline, according to STR Global, a  London-based agency that tracks hotel markets. In the last two years  alone, Trump, Starwood, Waldorf-Astoria, Westin and Hard Rock have  opened hotels here. A new biodiversity museum designed by Frank Gehry is  nearly complete. The country’s first modern dance festival unfolded  last year, the same year Panama held its first international film  festival. The Panama Jazz Festival is going strong after 10 years. The  country even has its own year-old microbrewery.


“Panama was this compressed spring just ready to go,” said Keyes  Christopher Hardin, a New York lawyer-turned-developer working to  restore the city’s old colonial area. “When the Noriega dictator years  ended and the U.S. returned all that canal land, things just took off.  Everything that could go right did go right.”

Indeed, since 2008, when much of the world was in a recession, the  Panamanian economy has expanded by nearly 50 percent. The canal itself,  which frames the western edge of Panama City, is undergoing a $5.25  billion expansion that is expected to double its capacity and fuel even  more economic growth.

Yes, Panama still struggles with crime and poverty, but foreigners  are clearly intrigued with the way things are unfolding. In 1999 just  457,000 international tourists visited Panama, World Bank figures show.  In 2011, more than 1.4 million came. Plenty are staying, too:  sun-seeking Americans, Venezuelans and wealthy Colombian expatriates who  are buying second homes and retirement properties all over Panama.


From slums to cocktail bars

In short, this city of about 880,000 people has gone from a ho-hum  business center on the navy blue Pacific to a major leisure destination  in record time. In doing so it has become a place full of the kind of  paradoxes that occur whenever a very old place grinds against the very  new. While the capital now has luxury apartments and five-star cuisine,  the thing it needs most is a solid sense of identity.


In my spring visit, I hoped to get a sense of a city as it enters its  teenage years. I would hike through slums where street merchants sold  black magic spices, then change my shirt to sip $15 cocktails in the  neon glamour of a Hard Rock bar. I would eat terrible chicken and  wonderful octopus. I’d spend time with locals, expats, artists,  entrepreneurs and a former gangster.


For now, Fabrega wanted to show me his interpretation of some of the  changes afoot. We drove to Costa del Este, a section of the city with a  skyline that looked like a concrete comb. Our destination was a pop-up  gallery that had opened the night before inside an unfinished retail  space at the bottom of a new white skyscraper. Sixteen of Fabrega’s  abstract paintings with bright yellows, blues and reds hung on the  concrete walls in an exhibition he called “Banana Republic.” It didn’t  take long to spot some common motifs: finger-shapes that formed no  hands, faucets that had no pipes and machines that could do no work.


“This is Panama,” Fabrega said with a shrug. “It’s beautiful, but it makes no sense.”

Panama has pretty much always been a bridge for cultures, conquerors  and, well, birds, but once that mishmash gets distilled into the 50-some  blocks of the colonial neighborhood of Casco Viejo, an eclectic, almost  Noah’s Ark-like vibrancy prevails. The Chinese run so many small  groceries here that Panamanians simply call the shops “Chinos.” The  French left their mark on the corner of Avenida A and Calle 4, where a  Parisian-style apartment building displays elegant rounded balconies.  You hear German, Portuguese and English on the streets.


Parts of the area are still pretty seedy, though, and an elite  division of stern-looking police officers patrol the area with machine  guns and motorcycles. “I was definitely nervous about coming here at  first, with the shootings and the gangs,” recalled Matt Landau, a New  Jerseyan who moved to Panama City in 2006 and now owns Los Cuatro  Tulipanes, a boutique hotel and apartment enterprise in Casco Viejo. A  stray bullet smashed into the Canal House, the hotel where I stayed, in  2009, and Landau still warns guests not to wander beyond certain blocks.  But Casco Viejo does feel quite safe, even at night, when the  neighborhood comes alive with busy restaurants and rooftop bars. “I  can’t begin to tell you how much it has all changed,” Landau said.


Old ‘Canal Zone’ transforms

Eager to explore more of the city, I met up with Jessica Ramesch, the  Panama editor of International Living magazine. We piled into her  Hyundai and fought our way out to a former U.S. military base called  Clayton that sits along the canal in the northwest part of the city.


“All of this area was pretty much closed to Panamanians when the  Americans were here,” she said as we crept through the Canal Zone, a  Phoenix-size former U.S. territory where Americans working and defending  the canal lived a strange, cross-world existence. “Zonians,” as they  were called, could get Guess jeans and Jif peanut butter just as on most  military bases abroad, but then monkeys might walk with the children to  school. Huge ships moved through the Miraflores Locks just to the west  of the road.


“Many Zonians stayed and some of the bases have become these gorgeous neighborhoods,” Ramesch said.

Clayton is one of them. Though it was now getting dark, I could see  community centers and signs for the City of Knowledge, a compound for  research, tech companies and nongovernmental organizations. We parked  near a soccer field and wandered toward a massive corotu tree where a  crowd had spread out blankets and lawn chairs. A band was warming up  near the trunk.


While much of the city’s night life unfolds along Calle Uruguay,  every full moon during the dry months hundreds of people head out to  Clayton to bang on Tupperware containers, buckets and anything else that  might make a noise. They do their best to follow the band — just a  group of friends, really — which plays pop, reggae and whatever else it  feels like.


“Who here can drum?” an announcer shouted into a microphone, and the pounding became a roar.

Over the next several days, few things I saw or did in the city had  quite the same wow factor as this bucket band gathered under an old  tree. I sipped cocktails at Barlovento, a new rooftop bar where slinky  women and V-shaped men swirled around in a cyclone of perfume and  cigarettes, and I shopped for tapestries made by Kuna Indians along a  waterfront paseo. A hike on a steep, carless road up a jungly hill in  the middle of the city stood out, but that’s because an anteater crossed  my tracks, and I’d never seen one of those before.


But here on the ground with wine and cheese and a fat moon hanging in  the trees, I wondered if a city needs to add up to make sense. As  absurd as Panama City can feel at times, it is certainly a lot of fun,  too, and between the cracks of all the chaos, these mini-miracles are  burbling through.


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