Relocation pillar number two:
buy or rent first?

Before you go madly through the real estate listings looking for a home, ask yourself these two questions, "Do we really know where we want to live?"

The second question is, "Are we buying as an end user or are we buying for investment?"

To simplify why you should rent first before buying is that if you find you are unhappy with your choice of location, then it could take two years or more to sell your new home. That is two years living in a place that you are not happy with - or worse - a place you absolutely hate. Panama is a very diversified country - getting your relocation choice right the first time can be difficult.

Rose-tinted tourist sunglasses. Most of us when we buy a house generally do so with a great deal of emotion. We fall in love with it and the small faults or shortcomings are glossed over by our enthusiasm and our rose-tinted tourist sunglasses.

As you buy, think how you will sell? Many years ago I learnt the crucial lesson, that when you are looking to buy a house you should also be looking to the future at how you are going to sell it.

How many of us when buying a house actually spent a night sleeping there before we bought? When buying in the tropics with its non-existent noise laws, spending a day and night in a house before buying is a good reason. Here's a true story from Panama. A man bought a small house on the water's edge in Bocas del Toro. In the day time with the sun shining the location was idyllic - nighttime was a different scene altogether. Next to his ideal house he failed to fully grasp the importance of the small, innocuous looking, tropical bar. The bar's mind-numbing disco music started early in the evening and didn't stop until four o'clock the next morning.

Most of us have some idea of where we would like to live - for most of us it's a mental image of a white sand beach, palms swaying and almost kissing the clear blue ocean waves as they rush to shore.

Be careful what you wish for. Another true story. A few years ago I was filming on the Pearl Quays of Nicaragua. Let me preface this by saying these islands are an advertisers dream - white sand beach, azure blue waters, coconut palms - the works. A group of us were dropped off on one island were we had lunch and explored and snorkeled for two hours before the boat came back to pick us up.

There was a Californian dentist in our group called Mickey. At first he seemed excited as we landed on this deserted stretch of paradise. Two hours later I saw him sitting dejected on the beach with his head in his hands. "What's the problem," I asked. He gazed sadly out across the pristine clear waters and said that all his life he had fantasized about being on a desert island such as this. Now after two hours he couldn't wait to get off. The cruel hand of reality had destroyed another dream.

The Panamanian tourist board may hate me for saying this but Panama is not paradise. Sometimes the heat and humidity can be oppressive and in the mountains it can rain a lot. Let me clarify the previous statement by saying that in my sixty years of traveling this globe I haven't found paradise - even benchmark Hawaii has its downside. I will say for the record that as a retirement destination Panama is the best place in the world to retire - bar none!

Explore fully, then buy. My last piece of advice would be for potential retirees to come to Panama and spend at least a month touring the country. Spend a week in Panama City, go shopping and try as many of the great restaurants as you can. Travel to Bocas del Toro and walk the beaches.

Spend at least a few nights in Boquete, the town will charm you and if the prices don't scare you that might be your future home.

If a drier beach life is for you definitely check out Chitre and the Azuero peninsular. I feel it is Panama's best-kept secret.

Then come and see Volcan. The next Boquete in the making. It has wide open spaces and is affordable.

Then travel up the Alpine valleys to Cerro Punta. Look down on the clouds below. Breathe in the freshest air your lungs have had in ages, then sit down in a nice restaurant and over a good bottle of wine decide where you are going to buy.

Let your heart guide you to your new home, trust me the furniture and other stuff will follow along later.

David Dell

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