Building a House in Panama 1: Jane’s Story 2

Jane's House

This is the House That Jane Built

Many people who come here prefer to build a house rather than buy one already built.  This is understandable, as we all want things “our way,” customized to our specific needs and likes.  But the tales of people who have done this are often loaded with anecdotes of theft, delay, poor craftsmanship and general frustration.

It is my very great pleasure to tell you about one friend’s fairly smooth custom building adventure.  This friend is no spring chicken.  In fact, Jane is another Fearless Eld Fowl, like me.  And like me, she moved to Central America without the support and comfort that a companion brings.  A “brave woman.”

Having selected the Azuero as her home-to-be, the first thing Jane did was to betake herself to a Spanish language school, where she picked up a lot of tips about the area.  Then she toured it.  As she didn’t have a car, she used taxis.  She found the gated communities in Chitre and Pedasi. But besides being ridiculously expensive, they were not how she wanted to live, so they immediately came off her list.  Rentals in Las Tablas are notoriously hard to find, nor could she find anything she liked.  So she decided to build.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Jane had sufficient experience as an expat to know not to expect the same kind of building experience she would have had in say, upper New York.

She found a local builder with a good reputation who also spoke excellent English.  He took care of negotiating the price of the lot she selected, the title search, registering the sale and the stamps.  One thing she insists on is that if you plan to build here, you NEED a person who knows this stuff and speaks fluent Spanish.  It helps if they know people in various offices.

Now she owned the lot, her title free and paid for.  She decided to divide it and sell part later to help defray some of her costs.  Next she began studying the different house styles in the area.  Her builder drew up a pencil sketch of what she liked, made changes according to her wishes, and took it to a local architect, who then drew up the formal plan.

She approved it and her builder took it to the fire department to obtain the necessary stamps.  “That took a while,” Jane says in her mild, understated way.

Jane in Her Lovely, Big Kitchen

Jane in Her Lovely, Big Kitchen

Finally, the builder had everything in place and broke ground.  The construction process was slow, but steady and she experienced no more frustrations and disappointments than she would have in New York state.  A year later, at last she had her occupancy permit and obtained the tax dispensation on new construction.

The house is beautiful, spacious and well-designed.  It has a nice air flow, the porches are wonderfully shady, and Jane and her dog and cat are very happy there.

Does she have any advice for those who are also thinking of building a house  in the Azuero?  Definitely.

  1. 1.  Her contract was first written in English, then put into Spanish.  “Get a translator you can trust,”  she warns and go through the final document line by line with him or her, just as you would in the States.
  2. 2.  Question everything – for instance, her contract did not include light fixtures.  She didn’t realize it until late in construction.
  3. 3.  Be sure to ask about the availability of utilities BEFORE you buy the lot.  Visit the cable company and the electric, water, sewer and garbage companies and make sure you can get these things.  Check to see if you receive phone and internet signal.
  4. 4.  Work out a payment plan with your contractor, what you will put down, then monthly, then the final payment for occupancy.  Be careful how much you put out up front – so many people have hard luck stories regarding this.  Talk to others about their experiences with a builder before hiring one.
  5. 5.  Be a squeaky wheel.  But be a VERY PATIENT squeaky wheel.

To see posts on renting in the Azuero, check out our Adventures in Renting series:

  1. 1. A House at the Beach
  2. 2. Life in a Quincha House
  3. 3. Rent in Las Tablas
  4. 4. A House Sit in the Azuero
  5. 5. Finding a Las Tablas Rental



2 thoughts on “Building a House in Panama 1: Jane’s Story

  • 4sarge

    Sounds like Jane did her due diligence. Same here in the States, delays, interpretations and finding the right subcontractors then add the Espanol translation. Nice casita

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