Boquete Bargains: Prices Fall in Panama’s Idyllic Mountain Retreat

It feels like the highland town of Boquete is Panama’s fastest-growing relocation destination. There are a lot of “new things” around here…a new market, new theater, new library, and a new hospice are just a few. In fact, there’s little that can’t be found in Boquete these days. and you’re close to the city of David, just 30 to 40 minutes away (the road is being widened and drive times will vary until it’s done).

Taken together, David and Boquete are the ultimate twin towns. Join the hustle and bustle when you need to, then head for the hills and relax. After David’s sultry heat, a weekend in Boquete has put some extra pep in my step. The mountain air…a cool 79 f today…has something to do with it.

So do little pots of strawberries and blackberries for $2 each (get them plain or smothered in a sort of heavy cream called nata), potted orchids for $5, and vats of organic coconut oil for $7. If I were the type to shout from the mountaintops, the words would be “healthful” and “abundant.”

You can’t help but get a rosy glow, hiking up and down the hills, stopping now and then for freshly roasted highland coffee, available on nearly every corner. If you have a roving eye for real estate, the “se vende” (“for sale”) signs are hard to overlook.

Here the word to shout from the mountaintops is “value,” as properties on the market today represent the best value Boquete has seen in the past six years. During the boom years of 2007 to 2008, a modest Panamanian-style home could sell for over $180,000. But economic woes in the U.S. and the global crisis mean buyers are now scarce on the ground and prices have come down. Today the same property would cost around $140,000.

U.S.-style homes were also selling for much more back in the day. A home that sold for up to $300,000 in 2007 is likely to be on the market for around $200,000 to $230,000 today.

What’s the difference between U.S. and Panamanian style homes? In these parts, the typical Panamanian-style home tends to be 1,000 square feet or less. And the layout may surprise you. Bedrooms tend to be small, and terraces tend to be large… they’re considered the most important part of the home. Local families have always preferred the fresh mountain air to air conditioning. Thus the terrace is for leisure, quality family time, and socializing.

And then there are the kitchens. Panamanian homeowners can generally afford to keep a maid. In these homes, the kitchen/laundry room/maid’s quarters tend to be small or enclosed areas rarely seen by guests. Open or entertaining kitchens are catching on, but you’re likely to find them in newer “U.S.-style” homes.

Land prices in the greater Boquete district (encompassing Boquete town and surrounding areas like Volcancito, alto Boquete, Jaramillo, Los Naranjos, and Palmira) average around $40 per square meter (that’s approximately $3.72 per square foot). The closer you get to the Boquete town square, the more you’ll pay. Get 13,700 square feet (nearly a third of an acre) right by the town center for $49,000. Or pay $89,000 for a 1.2-acre lot overlooking the Valle Escondido sector just outside the Boquete town center.

As for construction, you can build a basic but solid home for about $600 per square meter ($56 per square foot), or go all out and build something “American style” for $80 a square foot or more. It’s that simple…if you’re happy to be 10 to 20 minutes by car from the Boquete town center, you can enjoy the same cool weather and mountain views for less.

Today, new and resale homes here run the gamut, from Panamanian style to luxurious “U.S.-style” homes. One Panamanian-style home is on offer in the Boquete district for $139,000. Located in the Volcancito Abajo neighborhood, about 10 minutes by car from the Boquete town center, the home is nicely tiled and features new plumbing.

About 1,945 square feet in size, the home features two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a spacious terrace, and plenty of storage. The lot is nearly 8,000 square feet. Volcancito Village is about a six-minute drive from the town center, overlooking the community of Santa Lucia. Though Santa Lucia is popular (it’s a well-established community with many upscale homes), Volcancito Village enjoys unbeatable mountain views.

Here, a 1,250-square-foot home features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a semi-open kitchen. The unit was built as a model home for the community, and comes with upgraded cabinetry (built-in hardwood), built-in closets, white line appliances, and instant water heater. The lot is about 1,600 square feet. Asking price: $165,000.

Though Boquete offers plenty of property in the under-$200,000 range, you’ll find a ready supply of U.S.-style homes in the $200,000 to $400,000 bracket. A single-level four-bedroom home with open kitchen is on offer in Boquete town for $225,000. A rare find so close to the town center, the home is about 2,000 square feet and the lot is nearly half an acre (plenty of room for gardening, a pool, or a guest house).

In Volcancito, a three-bedroom, two-and- a-half-bathroom home sits on a lot of just over a quarter acre. The 2,690-square-foot home has an open-plan kitchen and great room, graced with wood and stone-accented fireplace and granite breakfast bar. The master bedroom’s French doors open onto the large terrace, also accessible from the living room. His and hers sinks and a Jacuzzi bathtub in the en-suite bathroom add to the master suite’s appeal. The terrace overlooks a coffee plantation, so neighbors (and noise) are far away. Asking price: $289,000.

A three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the Volcancito area features a fireplace, large, arched windows in a living room, front and back terraces, bedroom with loft, garage, and two storage sheds. The two-story home is 3,200 square feet in size and sits on a landscaped lot of just over a quarter acre. Priced at $359,000, the home’s stonework and wood accents give it a European feel.

Another home in this price range sits atop a hill in Alto Jaramillo, high above the town center. It’s more a manor than a home, and its name, Casa Sol, means Sunshine House. Flanked by million-dollar homes, Casa Sol stands out because of its open, U.S.-style layout, high ceilings, and ample storage space. The home has three large bedrooms and two spacious bathrooms (one with spa-style rain shower). It also has an open kitchen that flows into a dining area and living room flanked by picture windows.

Stay indoors by the stone-accented fireplace, or step out onto the back terrace and into the yard, where you’ll find yourself on a walking trail that circles the 1.25-acre property. The home is 3,050 square feet and comes with tasteful furnishings. Asking price: $389,000.

Looking for luxury? For $524,900 Boquete offers that, too. In Vista Cerro Azul Estates, you’ll find a lot of nearly a third of an acre with a 3,000-square-foot home. The property is fully enclosed, with a rock wall that adds to the allure while allowing for greater privacy.

Drive through the electric gate and feel your jaw drop as you step into a great room with cathedral ceilings and a designer floor-to-ceiling gas fireplace. The home also has three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a garden solarium with built-in hot tub. There’s also a spacious, two-car garage, a large laundry room, and a wraparound terrace. A winding path leads to a raised patio offering sweeping mountain views.

“Priced Right…Properties Sell Fast”

By Margaret Summerfield

A dozen years ago, Boquete was little more than a sleepy mountain village. But the cool climate and low cost of living attracted a trickle of North American expats. Word got out, the trickle turned into a flood, and Boquete boomed.

As property prices started to climb, real estate developers piled in. They built luxury condos, enormous houses with top-notch finishes and exclusive private communities. The amenities got fancier and fancier. At the height of the boom in 2007, you’d easily pay $250,000 to $300,000 for a new condo. But then the U.S. economy slowed down and U.S. buyers stopped coming. That hit the Panama City market hard.

The city still appealed to Latin buyers from countries like Venezuela and Colombia. But those Latin buyers didn’t want Boquete. Properties in Boquete were priced beyond the reach of most of the locals. Without U.S. buyers, the Boquete market ground to a halt. As sales dried up, some planned developments quietly gave up, never making it off the drawing board. Others simply failed.

Today’s Boquete market is more realistic. Many of the developers I met on a recent trip survived the slowdown and are now looking at more affordable options—nice-sized lots instead of one acre spreads, condos and smaller homes instead of gigantic mansions. Individual owners, mostly from the U.S., are also more willing to negotiate on asking prices.

One owner slashed almost 30% off the list price of his house. It had lingered on the market for more than a year; it sold the same week he cut the price to $200,000 (around $1,000 per square meter). It takes time and effort and knowledge of the local market to find bargains like these and to recognize them as a good deal. Priced right, they sell fast.

You need to be ready to make a move when you see a home you like. When I come across these deals while scouting I write about them for my Pathfinder E-letter. Subscribing is free, see: Pathfinderinternational.net.

Editor’s Note: Margaret Summerfield is a director of Pathfinder – IL’s preferred real estate advertiser.

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