In order to be satisfied as to the construction standards in Panama, you have to talk to local people who’ve used the builders here. If you’re going to build down here, you just don’t walk in and hire somebody. I would go around and talk to people for recommendations, referrals and guidance.
Panama has a big expat community so if you put the question out there, a lot of people will come up with answers on who they hired to do this.
You’re going to have to have a good architect and be on top of the project because the standards here are not the same as they are where you’re coming from. It’s not like people in Panama have bad homes or anything. It’s just that in Panama we don’t build the same kind of house that you would build if you were living in the North and people in Panama have been satisfied with simpler housing here in the past, but all of that is changing.
If I were coming down to Panama to live I’d buy an already constructed house. It’s just too much work to build. I would come down initially and either rent or buy a place that I like and then, in two or three years, if I decide to build, I would do it. I wouldn’t come right down and build. You can do it. People do it all the time. But it’s a job. You really have to work at it and be on top of it.
If you’re going to build something, you need to have a permit to build. One thing that is typically required is a Panamanian architect to take a look at the plans and sign off on them. People get away from doing that from time to time. Basically the idea here for the permit is to be sure whatever you’re doing makes sense in Panama and is legal.
This is a very emotional topic for a lot of people. A lot of people have had problems in building homes here, but it’s because they come out on their own and expect everything to work the same way and it doesn’t. Architects here just don’t do building plans. They’re like engineers and are involved in all aspects of building the home. You work with crews and a subcontractor. There are a lot of factors involved.
I wouldn’t move from the United States to France and try to build something right off the bat. It’s not a question of how advanced the country is, but rather it’s getting to know the local community, who does good work and who doesn’t, the problems that other people have faced in that area and how they dealt with them. If you don’t do that, then you will discover the hard way.
I tell people to come down and stay for a while. If they want to build, first come and rent for two or three months and get to know people and talk to them. In 90 days they’re going to know so much more as to whether or not they want to construct and if they do, how to go about doing it. They’re much better off. If they get off the plane looking for land to build a house, I think that’s a very foolish thing to do.
It is possible to have a home built to the highest quality standards you could possibly desire as long as you pay top dollar, just like you would anywhere.
If you want top-notch quality, you have to go to a good architect, a good engineer with the right background, and the right construction people. Then you work out your contract that is very specific relative to the materials that are going to be used and the plans that are going to be followed. Then, you keep on top of it.