We first arrived in Panama in the Fall of 2006.
I felt a huge sense of relief at having taken a “side exit” out of the fast paced life of being a designer/builder in Seattle.
Boy, was it a welcome change to settle into the life of a family of tourists in the tropics.
Given that, I was surprised that one of my favorite things to do as we traveled around Panama was to stop by construction sites and talk with other builders. I had fled the hustle and bustle of the building trade in Seattle only to discover, once again, how much I enjoy the fundamental beauty of human “dwellings” and how they are built. Apparently I made a good choice when I chose to become a designer/builder.
It doesn’t take long for one builder, chatting with another builder, in a new area, before the conversation winds its way around to the cost of materials, the cost of labor, the cost of land, to arrive at the potential profitability of being a builder in this new location.
Although I always prided myself on being more of an artisan design/builder than just a financially-motivated contractor, the profit potential in Panama is very seductive.
The Fish That Got Away
Early in our Panama travels we met a young builder and his girlfriend at Playa Cambutal. Playa Cambutal is out on the Azuero Peninsula, past Pedasi and Tonosi. They were both surfers and they loved this beautiful surf spot. The young man had borrowed $30,000 (as I recall) from his father who was a realtor somewhere in California. With this money, he and his girlfriend were able to buy a number of oceanfront farms, totaling over 2 miles of beachfront. Amazing!
We all know stories like this, and at first glance, one might say, “Wow! You guys are lucky. I guess we got here too late.” I remember my Dad telling stories about the farm he could have bought in Northern Virginia, a farm that later became Tyson’s Corner Mall.
There have always been great deals. And there will always be great deals. And we are all going to die some day. We still see amazing land deals in Panama.
About 10 years ago we spent some time investigating Pedasi and Tonosi, and other nearby locations. Yes, we discovered some amazing land deals. However, we decided that we were not interested in living so remotely, so far from services. And we had no interest in traveling to check in on any land we would buy in such a remote location.
This young couple (above) explained to us that they had to spend several hours, twice a week, driving to a small town, about 40 miles away, to do their basic shopping. For our own family, spending so many hours on the road, just sitting in the car, and burning gasoline, would not have fit our desired lifestyle. This was the in-the-car lifestyle we were trying to avoid by moving from Seattle. So we left the Azuero Peninsula and chose to live and invest in Puerto Armuelles. If you have read our site much, you will know we are very happy with our decision.
Any Great Property Deals in Puerto?
When I am asked if there are any “deals” left in Puerto Armuelles, I have to chuckle.
In truth, the big speculator class of investors arrived in Puerto 12 or 13 years ago. We got here 3 years after the miles of beachfront were sold to speculators from out of town. These same early investors continue to sit on some of the largest tracts of beachfront property in our area. I have no idea how they spend their days. But I am sure that they hardly ever think about our little beach town, unless they are looking at their investment portfolios.
A couple of these “big fish” are now offering schematic drawings of their future plans for these properties, but they haven’t started to build yet. Or seemingly will in the near future. Meanwhile, a smaller class of builders, folks like us, is beginning to develop and build.
How To Find Deals
Yes, there are deals still to be had here. But you will not find the best deals advertised on the internet. You will find them by being here in Puerto.
You need to look around. Decide on your favorite locations and start talking with people. You will start to hear about some stellar deals.
For instance, if you shop, you can still pick up a house, a block from the water, for only $11,000 and a buildable lot for as low as 3 to $5,000.
Puerto Armuelles and Builders
Puerto Armuelles is a beach town of 25,000 residents, give or take.
It has many good properties and existing buildings, that with a skillful touch can still be resold for a substantial profit.
We want to encourage designers and builders to come check out Puerto Armuelles. To discover if there are any potential projects that suit them in our town. If so, not only will you have a great project, but you can step out of the stressful lifestyle of being a builder, contractor, or designer up north.
If you have experience in alternative energy housing, cooling, and transportation, even better. That is an untapped market here.
There is plenty of room for competitors in our market. Puerto Armuelles does have a few good builders, but we definitely need more motivated and skilled investor builders to provide housing for the growing influx of expat retirees. More good builders will just bring a greater diversity of expats and Panamanians to enjoy the lifestyle that Puerto has to offer.
Small-scale projects are definitely in demand. We recently sold a couple of our own projects. We did not make ten, or even five times our initial investment, but we have done well enough to carry us forward. Plus we have had a good family adventure and enjoyed our time doing it. And we have also slowly evolved our guiding design principles for building in our area. We are eager to continue to buy, to build and to sell.
We are excited by the uptick in the housing sales market. This enables us and others to design and build in a manner that inspires us, and that we think will be useful to new expat residents of Puerto Armuelles.
Our friend Victor describes life in Puerto Armuelles as being similar to that of Hawaii, or Southern California of 50 years ago.
You may find Puerto Armuelles is a more relaxed, and probably a more profitable building environment. And you won’t have the stiff competition from other builders.
The broadest market niche by far available to expats in the construction field is that of “investor/builder”. You don’t need a work permit to work on your own property, even if your intent is to sell it.
However, for the last few years, Panama has made getting a work permit much easier. This is especially true if you obtain the easy-to-get, Friendly Nations visa. That permanent resident visa was designed as a stepping stone to a work permit.
If you are a builder looking for a change in lifestyle, we invite you to check out our town.
For the builder who loves a beach town lifestyle, I would say that Puerto Armuelles is similar to Puerto Vallarta 50 years ago. It is a relaxed, maritime environment. And it probably won’t be like this forever.
You may be interested in reading my articles about building. I have given my 2 cents on
- Cement construction
- Building in wood
- Shipping container housing
- Building bamboo houses
- Chiquita Salvage house for under $5k
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