It came in as any other email. At first, I was not too excited. A member wrote that her mother was coming down to Panama with her husband for a week, during which she wanted to buy a condo in Panama City. Could I help?
My standard (and necessary) answer is “no”. I am not a real estate agent and cannot act as one, but most importantly, I know it is common for people to come down who think they know where they want to live in Panama, then change their minds once, twice, three or more times as they look around. I love my members, but they must be on their own when they are getting to know Panama. I would end up being a tour guide and I simply do not have the time for that.
But Brenda, the buyer, soon wrote me and attracted my attention. It turns out that she and her husband have visited Panama on prior occasions and traveled extensively, so she was not new to the nation. She knew exactly the kind of condo unit she wanted, what her budget was, and the kind of neighborhood that attracted her.
That caught my attention. She was different. She clearly knew what she wanted. She only had set aside a week to find it and I knew she was very unlikely to get it done on her own. So I took it as a challenge!
I called John, a Panamanian in real estate who I have known for more than a decade and fully trust. Why John? If you remember that complaint about being shown only the properties that one agency represented, John was the perfect choice. Although he is a fully-certified to act as an agent, his firm is a developer, the people who build the projects so many of us live in. Best of all, his firm has no developments in Panama City. He cannot show any of “their properties” because there are none to show. He is free to check out any property. If he sells one, then he gets half the commission and he earns it, but he does not care which property is sold. He can focus solely on what the client needs without a conflict of interest. When I told him Brenda’s price range, he took that seriously.
It was an intense week. John set up several appointments and he and Brenda were off and running. Even though Brenda found one she was happy with on the first day, John insisted that she see others to be sure she was getting the best property for her needs. In the process, I discovered Brenda had not yet chosen a lawyer and it is essential that anyone buying a home have a lawyer to take care of the paperwork. I found her a lawyer, but she could have chosen anyone she wanted. She and he made an agreement (it is their business, not mine) and he went to work too. Yes, it was an intense week.
There was still paperwork that needed to be completed after Brenda’s departure, but a very specific power of attorney allowed the lawyer to represent her. When it was all done and over, it had been a complete success and Brenda was delighted. We were delighted too!
The Metro Match
When something unexpected happens that might be useful to someone else, I try to think of ways I can share it with you.
How would you benefit? One factor is understanding that the real estate market in the city and the metro area is highly competitive. Another is to understand that an agency receives the full commission on a sale if the property sold is their listing. If it is another agency’s listing, the most they can expect is half of the commission. Obviously, agents are under pressure from their agencies to sell the agency’s listings. They can do that simply by showing you only their listings. Or if you insist on seeing others, they can always find a couple that are clearly not as good as the ones they list. There is nothing evil about this. It is just common sense and you would do precisely the same thing, if you were in their position.
We did not have that problem. During Brenda’s visit, John took her only to properties listed by other agencies. How do we know that for a fact? Because he had to set up the appointment with the other agent who would be present when the property was visited. It is all very transparent. John is not under pressure to sell a specific property since he has no exclusive properties of his own. His goal is to find something that fits your needs and no one else’s. That can make a very big difference. In essence, the agent is working for you, not for his agency. Yes, his agency will get a share of the commission, but that is not a primary goal in Panama real estate (or in any other nation, really). That’s fair. He earns it and you benefit from it too.
The Key Factor in Metro Match - You
The purpose of this “project” is to help you get what you want, but like Brenda, you must know what you want! Of course, no one expects you to commit to buying a property in advance. Of course not.
However, we need to feel you are truly serious in your interest because we will have to make an intense effort to meet your requirements and you need to be clear on what those are. If you are coming to Panama for the first time, you are not ready. I know from years of experience that you will not be able to make a good judgment until you are here and see the possibilities yourself. You cannot do it on the Internet alone. You need to be here.
Since most people only come for a week or two the first time, it is very unlikely you will have enough time both to make the right decision as to the area where you want to live, as well as find and buy a home. I suppose if you come down for a month, for example, determined to choose a location and buy, then that might work because you are committed to making it work and you have given yourself time to check out different areas.
So, if you are interested, what do you do?
Contact me and let me know what you are looking for, your budget, and any useful information. We should be able to tell you whether there is good potential to find something that suits you or not before you arrive. If we do not think the potential is good, we will say so. None of us wants to waste our time when we know we cannot find you anything worthwhile.
Finally, there is no charge to you. The agent gets his piece of the commission and, if you ask us to help find a good lawyer, you will have to make your own arrangement with him or her. Otherwise, you pay nothing that you would not be paying anyhow. No hidden charges, but people working on your behalf. And yes, I look forward to meeting with you too! I am not a real estate agent or lawyer, so I will not be directly involved, but I want to talk to people to see if we are doing the right thing in the right way.
Beyond the Metro Area
I have no doubt that there will be people who write and ask about other areas of the nation, like Boquete, Pedasi, Bocas del Toro, etc. Can we help them there? Unfortunately, no, not now. First, we must be sure this works well. If we are convinced that it is working, then we must find the appropriate agents in other parts of the nation who can meet the same requirements as we expect here in the metro area. That will be a challenge and not one we want to confront until we know we are doing the right thing with Metro Match.