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Expats Blog

Buying a house in David, Panama

The conventional wisdom I seem to read everywhere is “don’t buy a house”. There are a myriad of reasons – one of the ones I see cited most often is difficulty selling (and it is true, I have seen some houses on the market for years in Costa Rica). Another suggestion is not to buy without living in the area where you’re considering purchasing for a year – which also, makes sense.

I have decided to forgo conventional wisdom and do it anyway. I spent a number of months looking at houses in Costa Rica before falling in love and putting all those plans on hold. We have been looking in David since Christmas, and an opportunity finally came up that seemed like it was the best we were going to be able to find in our price range, and we are under contract.

Real Estate Agents

I had heard some conflicting things. Originally, I assumed it would be like in Canada, where the seller pays a 6% commission which is split between the buyer’s and seller’s agents. I found a few websites telling me something similar, but what I found in person seemed to be the seller pays a 5% commission to their agent (this is also in our purchase contract so I know it’s 5%), and the buyer’s agent pays their own agent. We had one agent offer to work with us for 2% or a flat fee. I am sure all of these things are negotiable, but we decided to not use an agent. It just seemed like way too much money to be paying in addition to lawyer’s fees, and we’d already found the house we wanted. Actually, we had seen a house months ago we’d liked, and when this house went on the market the seller’s agent reached out to us. This was also after months of looking on Olx and Encuentra24 as well as other real estate agent’s sites.

Inspection

Inspection’s don’t really seem to be a thing here. I asked our lawyer, and he was able to give me the contact information for several contractors, and for $40 one of them came out and spent about an hour and a half looking at the house and making notes. He also gave us estimates for what he thought things would cost to repair, as well as estimates for some improvements we might want to make in the future. We were given the avaluo of the house which lists the appraised value and a breakdown of how that number was arrived at, and that generally seems to be what people consider sufficient to buy the house. There were a couple small issues we had noticed (like a leak), and were told that here generally you buy the house ‘As-Is’, and you don’t really negotiate things after you’ve made the purchase offer. We asked about the leak, however, and they said they would fix it.

Lawyer

We have been using Kraemer & Kraemer. I had gotten a referral to them, and while Luis has a friend who is a lawyer, I wanted to use someone who was fluent in English, and also who had a lot of experience dealing with expat buyers. The inspection and Escrow were things that people here seemed to be really unfamiliar with. I’m still not entirely sure how we would have transferred the money otherwise, but we were able to use the lawyer and do a wire transfer from my US account in Canada. Then, they emitted a check and sent it to David, and we went to pick it up the day of signing the purchase agreement. They read offer and updated the purchase offer contract, and did the title search for us. They will also review the final contract.

Fees

This process has been a lot more expensive than I thought it would. For the title search and contract, the lawyer offers a package for the entire process for $1500. The Escrow service has additional fees of about $1000. We want to purchase the house through a corporation – that has extra fees to set up. Reading the purchase contract, the buyer is obligated to pay to update the public registry fees. I’ve heard that’s going to be about another $1000. I definitely wasn’t expecting all these extra costs when we started looking. It was only when we really got serious that I became acutely aware of exactly how much more than what I offered I was going to be spending.

What worries me a bit is the idea of reselling the house. Obviously for the fact that it will probably sit there for a very long time, but also for the fact that you incur so many fees in buying and selling a house that you would need to sell it for much more than the purchase price just to break even. I imagine having to pay the 5% seller’s agent fee. Having to pay the 2% transfer tax. Having to pay the 3% capital gains tax. That’s like a 10% fee just to sell the house!

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