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One Couple's Story: Buying a Home in Panama

Editor's Note: In 2006, Rachelle and Ben Smith left their life in Florida behind and bought a house in Panama, on a mountain with views of both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Seven years later they have put the home on the market. In this first column in a series, Rachelle shares their experiences buying--and now selling--a home in Panama.

WPC News | Rachelle and Ben Smith
Rachelle and Ben Smith
It was February, 2006, when we got a phone call from a friend who wanted to know if we were interested in flying to Panama and looking at property. She had met a realtor who was bringing a group of retirees to Panama to look at retiring there. We said, why not? We still didn't know where we wanted to retire.

We arrived in Panama on March 3, 2006, three days before we were to meet up with the agent, Marie. I had told my husband that for me to move to a foreign country, I needed to feel safe and know the people accepted us into their country. To start, we booked a hotel downtown, so we could walk all over the city and talk to the people.

Our first morning we took off for a walk down Balboa Avenue, the coastal strip in the city. Wow... I had never seen rush hour traffic quite like this before. I think the road only had four lanes but I swear the drivers made eight lanes out of them. The blowing horns were mind boggling. Then the smell of the Panama Bay hit us and we decided eating along Balboa wouldn't be a wise idea, if we wanted to keep it down.

But I have to say I fell in love with the city and people.  Even if we met someone who couldn't speak any English, as our Spanish was very poco, poco, they always wanted to help us and welcome us to their country.

WPC News | Buying a Home in PanamaThe morning we met Marie we found out she grew up in Panama, but had married a military man stationed in Panama and moved to the states. She knew we wanted to live near the beach so she had a ReMax realtor lined up to show us properties. We definitely wanted to live on the water after living on a boat three years.

But in 2006 the beaches here didn't have a lot of infrastructure and safety wasn't the best. We looked for three days and decided we probably wouldn't buy on this trip as it was almost time to go. We went to the Remax office on our fourth day, tired of driving 2-3 hours to the beach area then fighting traffic at rush hour coming back into the city. But Marie said they had a property on a lake to show us. The property was about an hour from town and the roads weren't the best, but they are putting in a new highway and it will be finished in a year, she said.

We said okay but we weren't excited about a lake. When we got to the property they had said it had a house but what they meant was a foundation and we weren't interested in building a new house. As we explained out feelings, a member of the family that owned the property said he had a house in an area called Cerro Azul, up on the mountain. It was only 30 minutes away, if you want to look, he said.

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