In the News from Panama

Inside Panama Real Estate’s ‘Miami Factor’

For many years, real estate experts in Panama City have noticed a distinct correlation between the Miami real estate market and Panama City’s property sales. To casual observers, it may sound like speculation, but after years living and working in Panama City I believe the “Miami Factor” is very real.

This is how it works: When Miami prices get too high, international buyers turn to Panama City, which offers many of the same attributes – waterfront towers, cultural diversity, a stable economy and access to a beautiful countryside. When Miami prices soared 10 years ago, Panama became a reasonable alternative, especially for Venezuelans and Colombians eager to find a safe haven for their investments. The reverse is also true – when Miami’s market crashed and prices hit rock bottom, investors from Latin America flocked back to Miami, betting prices would go up again.

Now the cycle is happening again. Miami prices have started to skyrocket and we’re seeing international investors look to Panama City as an attractive alternative. It only makes sense. With prices rising and yields dropping, investors are already growing leery of Miami, fearful that another crash is almost certain.

The average sales price of a condo in Miami-Dade in the fourth quarter was up 18.5 percent in from a year earlier to $375,269, according to the Miami Association of Realtors. That type of growth looks scarily familiar to anyone who follows Miami.

“Whenever prices go up, we all have to wonder whether Miami is going to let us down once again,” Sepehr Niakan, a principal at HB Roswell Realty, wrote in a recent Miami Herald column. “When you start digging into today’s numbers, the scary prospect of a fall looks very real.”

More than 100 new condo towers are under construction along the coast in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, representing more than 11,550 new units, according to Another 200 towers are in the planning stages.

The basic metrics of the Miami are out of whack. Supply is booming and there is no guarantee demand will continue at the current rate. Condo sales actually dropped 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, compared to a year earlier, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

“You have to get a little bit more and more cynical and skeptical as to whether or not developers will be able to deliver what they ultimately promised, and we know what our history is here for the last century,” Peter Zalewski, a co-founder of CraneSpotters recently told CNBC.

When the house of cards starts collapsing in Miami, Panama City will be one of the key beneficiaries, we believe. Panama City is maturing as a market, based on a growing economy and both internal and external drivers – a steady increase in GDP, the growing Panama middle class, heavy foreign investment and an increasing worldwide tourism market, to name a few.

Investors tired of trying to predict Miami’s rollercoaster boom and bust cycle will find Panama City a refreshing change

Duncan McGowan is president of Punta Pacifica Realty, a Panama real estate agency focused on Punta Pacifica, the exclusive neighborhood of 18 towers perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

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