Rent First |
Feb. 27, 2009
Panama City, Panama
- "This Is A City In Transition Undoubtedly Going Places"...
- "We Baby Boomers Don't Retire, Per Se"...
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Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
When trying a place on for size, to determine whether it might be the
overseas retirement haven with your name on it, we say: Rent before
Maybe rent, period. In the wake of the tumble and even collapse of
property markets around the world, maybe you don't want to mess with
investing in real estate at all as part of your retire overseas plans.
Renting long-term, rather than owning, leaves you mobile and flexible.
No maintenance, no repairs, no property taxes...
Understand, though, that even renting abroad can come with
complications you may not expect.
Here are 11 things to know before you sign a lease in a foreign
- What's included in your monthly rent? Make sure the lease establishes
clearly what's included in your rent and what's not--building or homeowner's
association fees, water expense, utilities, phone, Internet, etc.
- If you're liable for utilities, find out previous renter's average costs.
Sometimes, they can be a shock.
- Understand what's included with "furnished" versus "unfurnished." In some
places, "unfurnished" means no refrigerator and no stove. Does "furnished"
include air-conditioning units? Years ago, when we were shopping for a house
to rent in Waterford, Ireland, I was confused by ads that indicated, "All Mod
Cons" (that is, "All Modern Conveniences"). Finally, I came to understand that
this meant the house had central heating. Many in Ireland at the time still
- Understand how, where, and who you pay what each month. Maybe you deposit
the rent directly into the owner's bank account. Maybe you pay a rental
manager. Maybe you have to hand-deliver the check to your landlord. In Europe,
rent is often paid by direct debit to your local bank account...which means
you need a local bank account. And, often, building, homeowner’s association,
etc., fees are paid to a different person or organization and by a separate
check than the rent.
- Check for a sales clause in your lease. What protection do you have
against the owner selling the apartment and giving you limited notice that you
have to move out? The lease should include a compensation allowance in case
the place is sold while you're renting.
- Understand who is responsible for setting up the utilities. Will they
remain in the landlord's name...or will they be switched to your name? There
are pluses and minuses in each case. Understand, for example, what your
liability is if the electric bill is transferred into your name.
- Understand what documentation you'll have to produce to be able to rent.
In France, you need to satisfy the landlord that you can afford to become his
tenant...and, because it's France, you do this by creating a thick dossier of
financial documents, bank statements, pay stubs, reference letters, bank
letters, guarantor letters, etc. It's a serious effort that you can't
- What repairs and maintenance are you responsible for? In some countries,
as the renter, you can be responsible for structural repairs.
- Document any existing damage and the current condition of used fixtures or
appliances. Take photos.
- Understand when the rental period begins. The start date of your rental
(that is, the date from which you're paying rent) doesn't always coincide with
the date you take up occupancy. Here in Panama City, for example, we paid rent
for two weeks in advance of our moving in. The market was so competitive that
we had to agree to pay half a month's rent in advance of the first of the
month we moved in.
- Don't sign anything until your lawyer reads it first.
Time For Plan B
In the United States and elsewhere, this is shaping up to be the
retirement era of scraping by and making do.
But not everywhere. In some key spots, not only can you maintain the
standard of living you enjoyed during your hard-working years...you
can improve it!
You can live better than you ever did "back home."
By the sea...in big cities...in small colonial towns...sometimes,
even, on the edge of nowhere...
Here's your road map to the world's
top Plan B retirement options right now.
"My husband and I," writes new Belize Correspondent
Ann Kuffner, "first bought in this country in 1999. We spent a lot of
time here, and my husband moved to Ambergris Caye about six years ago,
when we opened the San Pedro Family Fitness Club.
"I finally joined him fulltime last June, after taking early
retirement from corporate life. We lived separate lives while we tried
to figure out what do with the property in Belize. I continued in my
corporate role. I was a VP in a Fortune 500 company. But I was eager
for escape. It just took me a while to extricate myself from the
security of a regular paycheck.
"We Baby Boomers don't usually retire, per se. We transition. My
husband knew I would drive him crazy if I didn't have something to do
after I left my corporate job. I think I am busier now than ever,
running the fitness club, setting up a real estate business, teaching
salsa aerobics, trying my hand at travel writing... But it is so much
more fun and interesting than my previous life.
"There is a real sense of community here that I have never experienced
before. Big cities are busy and remote. You never see your neighbor.
Now, everywhere I go, I know people. It is very satisfying, since I
never lived in a small town.
"I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 35 years, which is
fantastic. But it is huge. We lived in a cute neighborhood in Oakland,
which I loved. I miss the foreign flicks and fantastic little
restaurants...and my friends, of course. Otherwise, the transition has
been a lot easier than I anticipated."
Ann has much more to tell about her experiences choosing Belize,
moving to Ambergris Caye, building a house, and starting a series of
businesses. More to come soon.
"I am a real estate broker aged 53 living in Tenerife, in the Canary
Islands, for the last 14 years. We own properties here that we rent
out short-term, and we have been thinking about an investment further
"Being in the business, I receive lots of information about hot spots
around the world.
"I had read so much about Panama that my wife and I
decided to visit last November.
"It was very much as Kathleen has explained so many times--hustle,
bustle, noisy, construction of condos, and new road infrastructure
going on all over.
"But I must say, it has a very exciting feel about it. Panama City is
a city in transition that is, without doubt, going places.
"We stayed at the Radisson Decapolis for a week, which is connected to
one of the impressive shopping malls Panama City has to offer.
"During our stay, we looked at quite a few pre-construction condo
sites and decided to purchase in the San Francisco area called San
"We checked out the developers, who have been in business for over 28
years, and the construction company, Quebec, which seems
"The project we bought into is comprised of five towers, two of which
are finished. Numbers three and four are now under construction. Our
unit is in tower three on the 31st floor of 35.
"It will be around 2.5 years to completion, but we feel confident it
is a good investment taking into account the changing face of Panama
"Our idea is to rent it long term for a few years and then maybe to
use the unit ourselves for three or four months a year when we come to
"None of us has a crystal ball, but after all the overseas
opportunities we have looked at, we have a good feeling about this."
-- Mike H., Canary Islands
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