By Beverly Gallagher
While the Boquete real estate market feels the pinch of the economy along with the rest of the world, the current crisis may be more of a blessing than a curse - with demands on infrastructure and dependence on loans and speculators alleviated.
© Beverly Gallagher
Boquete is no stranger to the international spotlight. Located in Panama's Chiriqui province on the eastern slope of the dormant Baru volcano, the mountain community at a cool 1000 meters (3200 feet) above sea level claims a long history of immigrants seeking peace and prosperity. Inhabited first by the Doraz Indians and then Spanish conquistadors, European and North American settlers drawn to fertile lands, and even gold-crazed 49ers looking to cut their journey in half by crossing the Panama isthmus en route to California, Boquete has evolved into a multi-cultural area. Being named in Fortune and International Living as one of the top retirement destinations worldwide has meant a flood of investors in the verdant Boquete valley.
Sam Taliaferro, the developer who put Boquete on the retirement destination map with the creation of Valle Escondido says, "Boquete's growth will slow, which is a good thing. Too many developers had jumped in undercapitalized or with just bad timing." Similarly, John Villegas, six year resident, luxury homebuilder, and owner of Boquete Legacy Real Estate agrees. "Based on our metrics and our day-to-day experience, we are certain that Boquete will continue to flourish, but at a more sustainable, realistic pace…quick flip speculators have moved on or gone bust."
© Sam Taliaferro
Current trends in Panama
Boquete's diversity and natural beauty continues to beckon investors. "Our market is American and European," says Maky Cedeño, a sales consultant with New World Real Estate. As the real estate market stumbles, a new class of buyers is coming to the forefront. "We are seeing more Europeans," says Cedeño. "The biggest change I'm noticing is the number of families with children considering the idea of moving to our country."
In addition to changes in buyer profiles, there is increased activity at the lower end of the market. Luchini Lescure, born and raised in Boquete and owner of Boquete Property, says "the most significant change we have noticed is that customers are looking for less expensive houses ($170,000 - $250,000)."
While interest in the area remains steady, many would-be buyers are held back by slow home sales. "Most [Americans and Europeans] can't afford to buy a second home until they sell their homes in their countries," says Cedeño.
"We are still selling," explains Taliaferro, "but to those who are looking for a safe haven and had kept their powder dry."
Beauty and Infrastructure in Boquete
When you ask people what makes Boquete stand out, they are quick to mention the scenery and the weather, which averages 60°F (16°C), rendering air conditioning unnecessary, a rarity in Panama. Locals also like to point out their friendly nature, small town quality of life, the nascent art colony, and their claim to fame as growing some of the world's best coffee. "Best of all," says Taliaferro, "the work force is trained and hard working and we have access to everything needed in David, just 30 minutes away."
© John Villegas
Across the board, real estate experts agree that the area's developing infrastructure is a major selling point. In addition to the main commercial hub of David nearby, the local area boasts some of the county's finest small hotels and restaurants, bilingual medical services, nine banks, and even golf.
Villegas also points to the recent remodeling of the town's aqueduct, which will help the local water system taxed by rapid growth, and improved municipal services as examples of a progressive local government intent on strengthening infrastructure and public services.
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