The housing market and renting in Latin America and the norms surrounding it differ a great deal from what you may be used to in North America, or other parts of the world.
There are things you will need to look out for when choosing your new home in Latin America, whether you are buying or renting a home. But for this article, we will mostly focus on renting, because it is best to rent for a short trial period, even if you know you want to buy a home in the future.
During your trial period, you will learn a lot about your new community and you will have a better idea of what you do and don’t want in your future home. Of course, many expats also choose to keep renting, as it allows more freedom to move around.
Renter (or buyer) beware. Here, everything is about the contract. You must ask if it comes furnished exactly how it was shown to you.
Ask if they allow pets. Check for mold, water damage, electric plugs, and do your due diligence. Who pays for damages and repairs? Remember that everything discussed with your landlord must be in the contract.
Don’t assume your landlord will cover certain costs. Does the gardener come with the house? How many times a week? Who pays for that? Who pays for electric/water/garbage pick up? You must be very thorough in the contract.
Does the house come with internet? Or are you even able to get internet? Do the appliances use propane or electricity? In Panama, there is a vast difference in cost between these two options. Does your home need air conditioning? This may be a big electric expense.
How so? Propane tanks are subsidized here, so it costs $5 for a 20 lb gas tank which most people use for cooking and for clothes dryers. Having all of your appliances run on electricity could run up your electric bill pretty quickly.
Visit your desired neighborhood at different times of the day, week, even a season if you can.
Some places might transform by boom boxes for roosters depending if you visit in the morning, evening, weekday, or weekend. Some places vary significantly by the season as well.
For example, in my community of Boquete, there is a big change in weather from rainy season to dry windy season, and there is an even greater variation as you move through the microclimates in the mountains.
Don’t forget that homes are created differently here. Hot water is not guaranteed, and if it is present in the house, double-check if there is hot water throughout the house, or just in the shower.
Is there a gas hot water heater or a “suicide shower”, aka electrically heated shower?
You may want a reserve water tank with your house, as it can be common for water to go out every once in a while, especially in smaller communities in Latin America.
This could be from a break in a pipe to turning it off to repair something.
It is a good idea to double-check on this. Screens on the windows are not a given either. You will probably want screens during buggy times of the year.
Some homes have metal roofs, which can be very loud during rainstorms.
Think about transportation. Public transport is safe and reliable here in Panama, but that is not the case in all areas of Latin America. If you don’t plan to have a car, you need to know how to get around, for example, where is the closest bus stop, etc.
Don’t be ignorant of the laws in your new country of residency.
In Panama, a one-year lease doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to stay in your rental for one year. The owner can give you a 30-day.
As a renter, you can do the same, but you may lose your deposit. Your rental agreement should be registered at the public registry, but it is not common for anyone to do that. But technically, if it’s not, then your contract isn’t necessarily enforceable.
It’s okay to keep asking to put more into the contract before you sign it. Most rentals are for a 6-12 month lease, but it’s best to do 6 months to start, just to make sure you really like it first.
Finding rentals isn’t always the easiest thing to do in Latin America. They can’t be found in the same place online, so take your time and do your research. Figure out the things you need available to you in the community you live in.
There are many things we take for granted as North Americans or Europeans that just aren’t available everywhere in Latin America. So, follow these do’s and don’t and always do a trial before going all-in on one location. And remember every country is different, so ask our alliance members about renting where they live.
For more information on rentals in Panama or around the world, log in to TCI-Intl.com, and ask our Alliance members. We’re here to help with your questions.
by: Megan Thompson