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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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.