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Housing in Panama

Renting a Property

Renting in Panama is a good idea, expatriates often live in small communities and it is wise to make sure you have a good fit before you buy. Some real estate agencies recommend 6 months to a year of renting before you decide to buy. Popular areas in Panama City among the expatriate communities are El Carmen, Obarrio, Cangrejo, Punta Paitilla, Altos del Golf and Cinquentenario, all located within a mile of the Pacific Ocean.

Housing is affordable and plentiful in Panama. Rentals are inexpensive compared to what you would pay in the U.S., Canada or Europe. Prices of rentals can vary greatly depending on where you choose to live and the amenities. In the lower range— from $300 to $700—you can expect to find a two to three bedroom house or apartment in a middle class neighbourhood. Since the majority of Panamanians pay less than $150 monthly for rent, a few hundred dollars should rent a nice place to live. Most affordable houses and apartments are unfurnished. However, you can usually buy a complete household of furniture from someone who is leaving the country. This way you can save money.

Many of the upper end apartments have such amenities as parking, elevators, 24-hour security, a swimming pool, a doorman, recreational area, a gym and a social area for parties or entertaining friends.

Do not expect to get a good rental from a Panama Real Estate Broker that is heavily involved in selling the new projects. These people have inflating real estate prices in their sales presentations and probably believe it. They will tell you how high the rental market is. They want to drive rentals up as high as they can so more people will be inclined to buy. They make very little on rentals compared to sales so they are a poor choice for a rental since they prefer sales. Go to a smaller broker who is probably not involved with the new projects under construction. They will value a rental commission which is typically one month rent on a minimum one year rental contract.

Here are some tips on finding a good rental property and the rental process:

•Ask friends and contacts, good property is often found through word of mouth.
•Try the La Prensa or El Siglo classifieds section called 'alquiler - casas' 'alquiler - apartamentos' .
•Look for signs in windows, 'se alquila' means 'For rent'.
•In some places you can find classifieds online in English, try the Panama Unclassifieds at Yahoo!
•Rental contracts are for 1 year. They may be renewed automatically and increase 15% per year if the price is in Colones.
•Prices are based on location. In rural areas you can get a large house with a large yard for $500 per month, in more exclusive areas they will cost $3000.
•A security deposit ('deposito') is usually required and returned when you leave if everything is in good condition and if you have given written notice 30 days in advance.
•Utilities are generally separate.
•Rent for apartments or offices built before 1984 that have a monthly rent between $250 & $500 may not be raised without approval from the Housing Ministry. All other leasing contracts are unrestricted.

Do have a competent lawyer review or even write your rental agreement. If you break the rental agreement, you generally are liable for loss of your security agreement which is one month rent and that is it. Be careful that the agreement is not otherwise written. It is wise to take pictures of the apartment or house when you move in to document the condition of the property. Feel free to change the locks on the door and not provide them to the landlord unless there are other provisions. In some apartments, the keys are required to be on file with the building manager in case of a flood but many do not keep current with the keys on file.

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