There were even a few tearful phones calls with my husband back home, running along the lines of, “I don’t think I can do this.”
Fortunately, I’m happy — no, ecstatic — to report that I’ve found a home! And, naturally, I’ve learned some lessons about navigating this local rental market that I’m happy to pass along.
I’ll be uploading some pictures as soon as I have my own internet connection. Hopefully that’ll be next week.
Since I last updated you, I looked at several more houses.
One was a referral from a member of the Panama Forum. Another was the result of a conversation with my hotel’s manager. A third was through a friend of a friend.
Remember, when you’re scouting for a house in this part of the world — especially if you’re on a tight budget — there’s no organized real estate or rental market the way we know it in North America. You need to talk to people because your success is all based on who you know.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
- Talk to everyone. Hotel clerks, supermarket cashiers, restaurant servers, taxi drivers. Let them know what you’re looking for. If your Spanish isn’t up to the task, find someone who can provide you with a few basic phrases to describe your needs.
- Scan the local bulletin boards. Here, people post notices outside the grocery stores.
- Search out other expats and talk to them. This may place you in a “gringo” instead of a local market, but do it anyway. At worst you might pay inflated prices for the first few months while you look for something that fits your budget longer term.
- If you can, scan the local newspapers.
- Sometimes Panama Craigslist has good deals, but as with anything you find online, be extra cautious.
- Walk or drive around neighborhoods looking for signs reading “Casa en alquiler” or something similar, then knock on the door or call the listed phone number.
- Follow up. Often. Be the squeaky wheel. In person is better than phone or email.
- Be prepared for the snowball effect. My search started slowly because it took a while for word to filter down. When my deal happened, it happened fast.
- Remember that everything here happens with cash, not checks or credit cards. I had to learn to be comfortable walking around with wads of cash zipped into a money belt I wore under my clothes. (I used the Rick Steves Silk Money Belt.) It’s very different from whipping out a credit or debit card at every turn.