August 10, 2022

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House Hunting in Panama: A Tuscan-Style Villa in the Hills of Boquete

6 min read

This six-bedroom Tuscan-style mansion is secluded between two hillsides in the exclusive estate section of Valle Escondido, a high-end community, resort and club close to downtown Boquete, the mountain town nestled in the Chiriquí Highlands of western Panama.

“You are looking over the valley,” said Ryan Braasch, a sales associate at Casa Solution, the agency with the listing. “The views are nice, but what the seller was going for was serious privacy.”

The 11,850-square-foot house, built on 1.3 acres in 2011, has a clay tile roof. Wrought-iron gates open to a long driveway past an equipment and supply building with a backup generator, water and filter systems. Beyond the main house, the driveway curves past a koi pond to a parking court near a side entrance and a garage designed for two cars and a golf cart.

At the front, three steps lead past a fountain to a covered loggia and an arched wood door flanked by matching windows. Inside, foyer windows link the front and backyards, and a broad hall connects the home’s north and south wings.

Imported travertine floors run throughout, with 11.5-foot ceilings on the first floor and 12.5 feet upstairs. Beige walls have a marbleized look; doors and windows are framed in dark wood. There are two powder rooms.

The living room has a cross-beamed ceiling and a wide fireplace with a wood mantel. A trio of double windows with arched tops illuminate the room. Across the hall in the banquet-sized dining room, glass doors open to the garden.

The kitchen, accessed from the dining room or a butler’s pantry, has a double Viking cobalt industrial stove, a stainless steel farm sink, a center island with a wood top, and illuminated glass-front cabinetry. Square tiles, some with culinary images, adorn the backsplash and countertop. “The appliances are big enough to throw a big dinner party for 25 people,” Mr. Braasch said, adding the owners “never expected to cook it themselves.”

A staircase climbs from the center hall to the five upstairs bedrooms, all with en suite baths. Free-standing arches on one side of the hall define an open “hangout” seating area, and a nearby bedroom is set up as a library/home theater. The primary suite, with a dressing room and walk-in custom closet, is at the south end of the hall and opens through double glass doors to a loggia-style balcony overlooking the Chiclet-tiled pool with balustrades at the deep end.

The hallway and two bedrooms at the opposite end open to a broad balcony. A back staircase near the primary suite leads to a third-floor tower office with bird’s nest views.

A one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and bath is at the southern end of the first floor. Outside, a covered terrace has a seating area and an outdoor kitchen with a barbecue, a cobalt blue tile counter, starfish-shaped cabinet knobs, a refrigerator and a sink. The pool area includes a cabana with a free-standing gym, a dry sauna and a full bath.

Papaya, lemon, banana, and avocado trees stand near a pond and near a river edging one side of the property.

The home is a two-minute golf-cart ride from Valle Escondido’s restaurant, bar, resort hotel, chapel, amphitheater and pro shop. Other facilities include an executive golf course, tennis and spa. The gated community has about 200 residences, including condominiums, duplex villas, single-family homes and estate homes.

Downtown Boquete, about a mile away, has Panamanian and expat-owned restaurants, a brewery, and a new plaza and public park. Nearby are coffee farms and hiking trails at Baru Volcano National Park, the highest point in Panama. Enrique Malek International Airport, in the Chiriquí capital city of David, is about an hour away. The flight from Boquete to Panama-Tocumen International Airport in Panama City takes just over an hour.

Property sales have escalated in the wake of pandemic lockdowns in Panama, a favorite destination among foreign buyers, particularly American retirees. But prices have remained relatively flat, said Rafael Gangi, the broker-owner of Sotheby’s International Realty Panama, who called the market “very active and stabilized.”

“Sales volume may have increased 40 percent depending on the property and its location,” Mr. Gangi said, though sales along and near the nation’s beaches are exceeding those in the capital, Panama City, since “many people migrated to live on beaches.”

Inventory has dipped from its peak two years ago, said Michael Vuytowecz, founder of Inside Panama Real Estate. Before the pandemic, “they were choking on inventory in Panama City,” he said. “There has been some absorption, but not enough to affect the prices.”

Boquete has been an exception. Over the past two years, the small mountain town on the Caldera River has enticed a wider group of buyers. Prices have been up about 15 percent each year, said Jason Cohen, owner of Casa Solution, citing his company’s data.

“This year is beginning to look as good as last year,” which, volume-wise, was “double our best year, and we’ve been here 16 years,” Mr. Cohen said, though he’s now running out of listings. “I would have sold more if I had more. Now we see people competing for properties.”

The main market has shifted from $200,000 to $300,000 to $400,000 to $500,000 homes. “Inventory is a big factor,” Mr. Cohen said. “What was expensive at $250,000, at $350,000 or $400,000 seems quite reasonable. People asking more than they should have been before are now getting their prices.”

In Boquete, there are four or five gated communities in the mold of Valle Escondido, with some of the homes asking more than $1 million. “There are many multimillionaires in the market,” Mr. Cohen said. “I’m waiting to see what happens.”

Before the pandemic, “it was the 55 and older crowd moving to Panama,” said Joanne Hatch, a saleswoman for Inside Panama Real Estate who sells mainly to expats. “We’ve seen a huge increase in people with families.”

Much of that is a result of the new remote-work economy. “The foreigners that are coming here, especially now, are getting out of the top of the U.S. market and coming to Panama and the prices seem low to them compared to California and New York,” Mr. Vuytowecz said.

Other areas popular with international buyers include Coronado, a beach town on the Gulf of Panama; Boca Chica, on the Gulf of Chiriquí; and, on the Pacific Coast, Pedasí, a surfing, diving and fishing haven on the Azuero Peninsula.

Inflation and rising interest rates have yet to impact the market, Mr. Gangi said. “Since our currency is the dollar, the banks have adapted to the new measures, and depending on the type of loan, interest rates may be a little higher.”

Buyers in Panama primarily come from the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America, agents said.

Most American buyers hail from the east coast, Mr. Gangi said. Canadians come mainly from Toronto, with others from Quebec and British Columbia, said Matthew Marx, a sales executive with Panama Equity Real Estate, noting a smattering of Koreans who recently purchased homes.

Europeans come mainly from France, Germany, Spain and Romania, agents said.

Israelis are buying and building resorts in Pedasi, Ms. Hatch said, while South Africans are settling in Boquete, some building their own homes and others renting and farming.

International buyers may not own land within six miles of Panama’s border with Costa Rica or Colombia.

For houses, a structural inspection is recommended along with a new, more precise survey of the property. “Older surveys were done with less high-tech equipment,” Mr. Cohen said, noting that expensive homes like this one would likely be purchased as a corporate transaction.

A notary handles the closing, though lawyers are always recommended for foreign buyers, Mr. Cohen said. Notaries cost $200 to $250, buyer’s registration fees run about $500, and lawyers charge between $2,500 and $3,000.

Mortgages are not difficult to obtain, Mr. Gangi said, though a “significant percentage” of international buyers pay cash “if the closing price is lower than the market price.”

Spanish; U.S. dollar

Because of an exemption, taxes on this property are $400 a year for the next nine years, Mr. Braasch said, though “taxes by the book are approximately $13,650 annually.”

Annual homeowner’s association dues are $2,200, including security and maintenance of common areas. Club and golf memberships may be available for an additional monthly fee.

Ryan Braasch, Casa Solution, 011-507-720-1331, casasolution.com

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Marcelle Sussman Fischler

2022-07-13 12:00:21

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