Panama City’s Rental Market–What A Difference Two Years Have Made!

“I’m planning to move from the sleepy Panamanian town where I’ve been living for nearly two years, paying US$200 a month to rent a three-bedroom house at the beach,” writes Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tyre, “back to Panama City, where I lived for two years before moving to Las Tablas.

“Boy, how the rental market in Panama City has changed in the past two years!

“Two years ago, I lived in a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment in the heart of the city. This apartment was big–about 140 square meters. I had a balcony that overlooked the tree-lined streets of El Cangrejo. For this, I paid US$450 a month in rent.

 “No, the building wasn’t new. It was about 20 years old. An older building means less modern finishes and fewer amenities, but it also means bigger. The older apartments in Panama City are larger than the apartments being built today.

“The location was ideal. I could walk to grocery stores, movie theaters, casinos, restaurants, bars, and pharmacies. The building had a security guard on duty 24/7 and featured covered parking. It was only four stories tall but had an elevator, something that is not common in older buildings.

“Today the same apartment I rented for US$450 a month is being rented for nearly triple that amount.

“Two years ago, a friend in my neighborhood in El Cangrejo was renting a one-bedroom apartment. It was big compared with most one-bedroom apartments in this city. My friend paid US$250 a month to rent it.

“I recently saw a classified ad for that very same apartment. The owner is today asking US$800 a month.

“In both these cases, the apartments have not been renovated, and the buildings have not been improved. There are no new services or amenities. Nothing has changed from two years ago.

“Nothing except the market. Landlords today are able to ask much more for their rentals. It’s simple supply and demand. There aren’t enough apartments to go around in downtown Panama City.

“Based on my previous rental experience in the city, when I launched my search this time, I decided I would look at apartments in the US$500 a month range.

“Two years ago, that budget would get you your pick of ocean-view apartments in older buildings in appealing neighborhoods.

“Today, US$500 to US$600 gets you a one-bedroom apartment a half-hour from downtown or in a rundown neighborhood with gang activity.

“It’s not just the neighborhoods that are undesirable in that budget range. Apartments in the US$500 range are also rundown. Cupboards falling off the walls, bathrooms filled with mold, ceilings stained with water. In each case, I’ve turned around to walk out seconds after entering. I didn’t need to see anymore.

“The large, older apartments are now going for US$1,200 to US$2,200 a month. In that range, you will have no problem finding a nice place in an appealing neighborhood. The local newspaper classifieds and rental websites are filled with rentals in desirable areas starting at US$1,200.

“If your budget is less than that, frankly, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

“It won’t be this way forever. Hundreds of brand-new apartments will be coming online over the next 6 to 12 months. Many of these have been purchased by foreigners with the goal of renting them. The supply/demand ratio is going to right itself.

“Meantime, don’t come to Panama City right now looking for a bargain rental. At least not in a neighborhood where you’d want to live.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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