Adventures in International Real Estate Closings

International real estate saleIt’s been a busy couple of weeks for Future Expat.

When we came to Las Tablas, Panama, we had sold all our household goods. Because the real estate market was still terrible, we opted to rent out our Florida house.

A year later, the market had picked up and it seemed like a good time to sell. So we put the house on the market and within 10 days we had multiple offers. We accepted the one that looked the best.

Fast forward through the normal sales process. . . lots of papers to sign, inspections, appraisals, etc.

Of course, the buyers are in Florida, USA and we’re in a small town in Panama, 4-1/2 hours away from Panama City.

Fortunately, we were able to sign all the initial paperwork electronically through a system our real estate agent is a member of.

Good news! Our agent calls to tell us the appraisal came in right where it needed to be.

Oops! Bad news. . . the inspection showed some problems.

Now, I don’t want to get into all the gory details here, but that inspector was an ass. There’s no nicer way to put it. For example, he checked off that the bathroom fans were a problem because they vented into the attic. Hello. . . it’s an old house and there are no bathroom fans.

He also got the buyers so freaked out about a meaningless issue that the whole deal ended up falling apart.

So it was back to the drawing boards for round two. . .

The agent activated the house in the MLS and started showing it again.

A couple weeks later, we got another flurry of offers. Once again we accepted the one that looked the best.

This time the appraisal came in almost $10,000 too low. There was no way we could absorb that much, and we were afraid the second deal would go down the tubes as well. After some back and forth negotiating, we cobbled together a new agreement.

But wait — the buyer wanted to have an extra month to close. What’s up with that? Well, we worked that one out.

Signing the Closing Paperwork

While it was great that we could sign documents electronically up to this point, that doesn’t work with the closing documents. They need real signatures, and some of those signatures need to be notarized as well.

Fortunately, when I was in Orlando in July I was able to sign one set. That left my husband needing to sign.

About 10 days before the scheduled closing, the title company (in Florida, closings are conducted by the title company) emailed us a copy of all the closing documents to be signed and notarized.

Now the real fun started!

Notarizing the Documents

You see, if you want a US document notarized in Panama, you have to go to the US Embassy. They charge for the “service,” to the tune of $50 per signature.

But first, you have to go online and make an appointment! They only schedule appointments in the morning. And we’re 4-1/2 hours away.

We were able to get an appointment two days later. My husband left the house at ten minutes to four in the morning, and arrived at the Embassy around 9:30. He paid his fee (for five signatures, or $250), and left with signed, notarized closing documents.

He raced home, and I quickly scanned and emailed them to the closing agent. She looked them over, and emailed me back that they were fine.

Sending the Documents

Now, here’s the Catch 22. The title company was willing to hold the closing with the scanned documents, but they won’t release our funds until they have the actual, physical paper in their hands. So my husband drove up to Chitre to the Mailboxes, Etc. store.

They put everything into a USPS Priority Mail envelope and sent it off.

Normally it goes from Chitre to the central Mailboxes, Etc.facility in Panama City, and from there gets flown to Miami to the facility there. That takes two days.

The Miami facility takes it to the post office, and the USPS gets it to Orlando, usually the next day.

We’ve used the Priority service in the past, and it’s taken three or four days total for delivery to Orlando. This time, because it’s documents that are irreplaceable and very important, it’s already been over a week with no sign of them. We’ve been unable to track them, either.

So here we are — we no longer own property anywhere, but we’ve got nothing to show for the sale.

Like I said, adventures in international real estate closings.


  1. Oh no! I hope that package turns up soon.

  2. I was in Panama when our Florida house sold, and it was cheaper and easier to just fly back for the closing, rather than go through all that hassle and carry the expenses for the extra week or two on the house it would have taken to get the paperwork back and forth. It’s taken us as long as 3 weeks to get mail through with our mail service here, and a week or more with priority service. Wasn’t there a holiday at the end of last week? That means your mail was sitting in an office waiting for the folks to come back to work and send it on. Good luck, hope your papers show up soon!

    • FutureExpat says:

      Kris, if anyone at the mail service had done their job properly (a big “if,” I realize), the documents would have arrived in FL before the holiday. We’ve sent documents several times this way, and they took 4-5 days. We did consider flying back, but in our situation it made more sense not to.

  3. September 26, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Future Expat:
    What do you think of something like this to first time visit Panama,with expat intentions?

    • FutureExpat says:

      Mike, I’ve met Jackie from Panama Relocation Tours — in fact I’ve had lunch with her groups a few times when they’ve come through Las Tablas. Since the tours are all inclusive you know up front what your costs will be. At a bit over $200/day per person, you’ll end up paying more than you would for similar travel and accommodations you arrange yourself, but you do have the advantage of being with a group and having knowledgeable people to guide you. (Plus somebody else has to work out all those details!) Only you can decide whether it’s worth it for you.

      If you want a quick but reasonably comprehensive overview of what the different areas of the country have to offer, this can be a good way to get it.

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