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Planting, growing, and harvesting is the first stage. The second stage, at least as important, is selling the crops. The developer has had contacts in Panama for selling his planned mango production from the start. This past year, he has been working to find additional potential and higher-value buyers for the mango crops when the trees start producing in three to four years. The Panama juice processors the developer has relationships with offer an easy market, but exporting the mangos to the United States would mean higher sales prices... and therefore greater profits for both the developer and investors.

Mango trees enjoy a lifespan of up to 80 years (although production peaks around year 15), meaning generations of harvests. In addition, mango trees are best planted very far apart, allowing for intercropping in between. The developer has been experimenting to identify ideal plants for intercropping harvests.

Annualized returns have been projected over 20 years (even though, again, the trees should grow and produce for decades beyond that). Figured over that period, the return to investors works out to 17% per year. That return is net in Panama after all costs including local taxes, as agriculture revenues are tax exempt in this country up to US$300,000. You may be liable for tax in your home country; Americans definitely would be. Regardless, 17% net is an impressive yield.

A year ago, when I first alerted readers to this opportunity, the biggest risk factor was implementation. Would the developer carry through to do what he was promising he would do? Back then, you had to ask that question. The developer had acquired the land for the plantation, but clearing and planting hadn't begun.

Now, a year later, that risk is gone. Investors who took a chance early on are now one year into their investments. Trees are in the ground, and titles are being issued.

What's the biggest risk today? Frankly, the only risk I see at this point is not acting on the opportunity while it remains available. As I said, I don't believe that's going to be much longer.

If you've been waiting on the sidelines to see how things played out here before pulling the trigger, there's no reason to wait any longer. Things have played out as well or better than projected.

If you're just learning of this opportunity now, don't waste any time in following up and getting your questions answered if you're interested.

The time is act on this is right now. You can find out more here.

Lief Simon

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"I'll serve," I replied, reaching for a towel to tie around my waist as an apron and a pitcher to fill with water.

By now the dining room was full, and our tour-goers were visibly unhappy.

I set the tables as quick as I could with the mismatched china we found in the kitchen cabinet, poured water all around, and took orders (fried versus scrambled), while Josianne fired up the gas stove. We served eggs, toast, juice, and tea that morning to our 40 guests and made it out the door in time to meet the bus scheduled to take us on our first property-viewing appointment of the day.

If you were among the 40 participants at that long-ago event, thank you. You're a good sport.

I hosted the second conference of my career a year later in Belize. Again, Josianne was my cohort.

Infrastructure isn't Belize's strong suit, even today. But 30 years ago this was a seriously undeveloped, unappointed little country. After two days of meetings in Belize City, we wanted to take the group south along the coast to look at beachfront lots and houses for sale. We needed a bus to transport the 50 of us. The bus we'd organized in advance was promised to be "modern." The bus that showed up outside our hotel that morning was an old U.S. school bus with broken windows, torn seats, and balding tires.

The best thing that could be said about the bus was that it was there, on the scene, as expected, at 8 o'clock that morning. The same wasn't true for the real estate agent who was to act as our tour guide for the day. The guy finally showed up an hour-and-a-half late and, Josianne and I realized quickly, drunk.

We knew Belize well enough to know that substitutions were not an option. The bus was the bus and the agent was the agent. We either went off with them for the day or we cancelled the day.

We loaded the group and set off.

The road we traveled was dirt (today it's paved). As we had no air conditioning, we opened the windows for ventilation. But, with the windows open, the bus filled with dust from the road. With the windows closed, temperatures became unbearable. So we pushed the windows down when the air became stiflingly hot and back up when the air became stiflingly dusty.

Josianne and I reviewed an itinerary for the day with our agent guide, who we positioned in the front seat so he could give instructions to the driver. Then we wandered up and down the aisle chatting with our tour-goers, trying to keep spirits up in spite of the transportation discomforts.

The things I didn't know back then about managing conferences and leading tours could have filled an encyclopedia. One of the things I didn't know but have learned since, for example, is that you don't, at any time, want to hand over control of the group to a drunk real estate agent.

After two hours had passed, Josianne and I became concerned and walked up front to check in with our intoxicated friend. The guy had passed out. We shook him awake and asked how much longer until we'd arrive at our destination.

The guy looked at us, at the driver, at his lap, out the window...

After a few long minutes, something finally registered and the guy began yelling at our driver. We'd missed our turn, Josianne and I came to understand, which was an hour-and-a-half back up the dusty road we'd just traveled.

Now what? Turn around? No. Better to continue on to our next stop. This, the agent explained, was another hour in a different direction.

"Where can we go for refreshments?" I asked the guy. "We need to take the group somewhere they can use a bathroom and buy drinks and snacks."

He knew a place, he said, and gave the driver new instructions. About 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a roadside shack alongside a river. We unloaded the bus. Our group used the facilities and ordered bottles of Coke and water, then stood in the shade of a big mango tree. The morning had been a bust, but the drinks and the shady respite cooled and calmed everyone down. Onward.

But where was the real estate agent? He wasn't in the shop. Our male tour-goers assured us he wasn't in the bathroom.

Josianne and I stood, with the group, at the door to the bus trying to figure out what we'd do if we'd lost our guide altogether.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy walking toward us. He was stripped down to his underpants and dripping wet. He'd gone for a swim in the river.

The agent, carrying his clothes, climbed back on the bus and took his seat. Josianne and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and followed our guide back inside the vehicle, along with the rest of the group.

By the time we arrived at our next destination, the guy had put his pants back on and sobered up enough to explain to us all what we were looking at. We toured for several more hours that day then returned late, dusty, and exhausted to our hotel in Belize City.

Josianne and I went on to lead tours and conferences together for several years, in Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, and Argentina. I have more stories from those early years. Ask me about them next time you see me. Some are best told over a cold rum and Coke while watching the sun set.

I've been thinking about these stories from a lifetime ago this week as my current conference team has been finalizing our calendar for the next 12 months. Looking through 2015, we'll be returning to old haunts that continue to offer great opportunity for the would-be retiree and investor, including Belize, Panama, Nicaragua, and Colombia.

In addition, we've added new destinations of special appeal, including Portugal, which took top spot in our 2014 Retire Overseas Index, and the Dominican Republic, our top pick for retirement in the Caribbean right now.

We'll be hosting our annual Global Property Summit in March and our Global Asset Protection and Wealth Summit in October. This year's calendar also includes a first-ever Agricultural Investment Seminar, taking place in July. For our biggest event of the year, our annual Retire Overseas Conference, we're heading this 2015 to the Big Easy, New Orleans.

I've learned a few things since those early years, and this much I can promise you: Breakfast will be served every morning, buses will be air-conditioned, and real estate agents will wear pants.

Kathleen Peddicord

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Now that they've reached this important phase of development, the developer is planning a price increase. I'm writing today to let you know that I have talked them into postponing this for Live and Invest Overseas readers. I believe this is one of the best agri-land investment opportunities you'll find right now, and I want to be sure you have a chance to get in on the ground floor, so to speak.

I also, as you know, recommend that you buy what you see...meaning you should, if you can, come see this organic mango plantation for yourself. The developer is offering a tour of the property in September and have agreed to hold current pricing for Live and Invest Overseas readers through the dates of that tour.

One key risk in any agricultural project is implementation. In this case, at this stage, this risk has been minimized significantly. With planting underway, you can have a higher degree of confidence that your trees will be planted according to the contractual timeline.

Another risk for any agricultural project is water, as I've mentioned. Farmers in California are having a rough time right now thanks to the prolonged drought. Panama is in the tropics and enjoys significant rainfall every year. Nevertheless, the developer here chose for his mango plantation land with several rivers running through it, including a river that runs year-round, even through the dry season. They have the rights to take as much water from it as they need.

Market risk is something else to consider with any turnkey project. With an agricultural project, this translates to: Who is going to buy your product?

Mangos are the most eaten tree fruit in the world. The market is large. That said, the tropical fruit markets in the United States and Europe could be considered in their infancy...but expanding big time. The USDA's figures for mango consumption between 1980 and 2012 show an increase of a staggering 896% (from 0.25 pounds per person to 2.49 pounds per person, on average), and the demand continues to grow. In 2013, mangos made up 39% of this market.

Not all mangos are created equal. The agricultural partner of the developer behind the plantation in Panama has created a variety of the fruit that has more meat and is naturally sweeter than most any other mango you'll find.

A quality product and a big and growing demand aren't a guarantee that you'll be able to sell your inventory, right? You have to have access to buyers. In this case, the developer already has a 350-hectare mango plantation in production and is selling those mangos to juice companies in Panama. These same outlets have said they'll take as many additional mangos as the developer can produce. Right now those juice companies have to import the vast majority of their mangos for processing, which is far more costly than buying locally grown fruit.

While having that ready-made outlet available is great, it's not the most profitable strategy. Therefore, the developer is in discussion with several groups in the United States, from dried fruit wholesalers to grocery stores, lining up contracts for selling your mangos directly into the U.S. marketplace where they would be able to charge substantially more than the local Panama juice companies are paying.

Selling directly into U.S. markets would mean a more profitable operation; however, the financial projections the developer has put together are based on selling at local Panama prices. In other words, the projections are conservative. Using those numbers, the projected annualized yield (or IRR) through 15 years (although the project will produce for 60 to 80 years) is 16.52% at the current investment price. The mango trees don't start producing until year four, but, when they do, the annual cash flow is very healthy. By year five, when the trees are fully producing, the yield on your original investment is projected at 30% per year.

The investment price is US$33,500 per hectare right now. The developer hasn't finalized the plan for the coming price increase, but it will be at least 10%. As he's sold out phase one already and has started selling phase two, it's been a tough conversation to persuade him to hold the original launch price for a couple of months more for Live and Invest Overseas readers. But, as I said, he has agreed.

If you're interested in an agricultural investment and like the idea of mangos or Panama, now is the time to take action.

You can find out more here.

Lief Simon

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And so is ours. We will start construction of our Founder's Lodge this month. This will be a Spanish colonial-style clubhouse for owners and visitors, with a great room, a dining room, four guest suites, a pool, and a bar-b-que area. In just a couple of weeks, Kathleen and I, along with our children and some friends, will gather with the local mayor, our architects, our contractor, Gary, and his crew to throw the first shovelfuls of dirt and to drink a toast to commemorate this turning point for Los Islotes.

Indeed, Los Islotes is entering a next phase of development. We have moved beyond drawings and plans to infrastructure and construction. Which means it's time to raise prices.

All prices for ocean-view lots will go up starting March 15. 

If you've dreamt of waking up each morning to Pacific Ocean views enjoyed from the comfort of your own home in a private beach community, then Los Islotes could be calling your name. I’m hardly unbiased, I realize, but I have to say: This is the most beautiful stretch of coast I’ve seen anywhere in the world in all these many years of scouting.

And this is the last time you’ll have the chance to become part of the community we’re developing on this beautiful coast at current Phase 1 prices.

Reserve a lot before March 15, and you can lock in the current price. You'll then have 30 days from the date of your reservation to visit the property if you'd like before completing a purchase agreement. That timing works well if you’d like to join us for our next tour out, which is scheduled for April 12-13.

You can also still avail for a limited time of developer financing, which allows you to buy with 20% down and 0% interest, with the balance paid over 36 months.

Los Islotes Sales Director James Archer and his team are standing by to tell you more and answer your questions. You can reach them here.

Lief Simon

P.S. We took some photos while we were out there last weekend. Take a look.

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We'd never encountered a couple of tourists quite like them in Panama before. A couple of young, well-dressed, obviously successful American guys who'd hopped a flight for a quick weekend in Panama. Retirees, backpackers, eco-tourists, older gentleman in search of younger female companionship...sure, Panama's got plenty of those. But young urban professionals, for whom money didn't seem to be any object, hopping around the country over a long weekend? That's new.

And those two guys weren't the only ones like them we met this weekend.

Buenaventura, Panama

We spent the weekend at Buenaventura, a resort development on Panama's Pacific coast about an hour-and-a-half outside Panama City. We've known Buenaventura since her birth, about 15 years ago. We've watched her these years since as she's grown, slowly at first, more quickly more recently. Back at Buenaventura this weekend, we recognized that this place has come of age.

When we saw Buenaventura for the first time years ago, it was, frankly, just another piece of land with a nice coastline. Our first visit, the clubhouse was under construction, along with a handful of getting-started condos. Today, Buenaventura features the best resort hotel in the country, truly five-star (and that became, just about a month ago, a JW Marriott property); a clubhouse that, with its five swimming pools stretching, one after another, to the beach and the ocean, could be at home on the cover of Conde Nast Traveler magazine; condos, townhouses, private homes, and beachfront villas (for which "villa" is not an inflated description); an 18-hole golf course and golf club; plus several restaurants, shops, a church (where two weddings took place this weekend), and a spa.

Nothing at Buenaventura, Panama is cheap, but it's all a good example of getting what you pay for. The service, the amenities, the food, the ambiance...it's all of a better standard than you'll find anywhere else in this country...better, almost, than you'll find anywhere else in Central America.

At the pool, in the restaurants, at the concierge desk, all weekend, we ran into all kinds of characters we've met before in this country only now and then, never before in such a high concentration--American families with small children, a group of French women, the guys from LA, and an entire busload of upscale gringo tourists.

Tourism in Panama has turned a corner. This country, like Buenaventura, is coming of age, increasingly recognized as a mainstream holiday and beach destination.

For the past five years, since the global real estate market debacles of 2008 and after, people have asked when we expect the collapse to come in Panama. Certainly the Panama City property market is headed for a fall...isn't it? So much construction--of hotels, condos, and commercial space--so much new inventory coming online. How could it all possibly be absorbed? Prices have to tumble, don't they...even crumble?

Panama City prices did soften in the wake of 2008, by about 20% across the board. But they've held their levels since and have even begun appreciating again. I don't see any further tumbling in this market's future anytime soon. Nor in the rest of the country, either.

I haven't been able to confirm this as fact yet, but, last week, I was told by two people I trust and who usually know what they're talking about that Panama banks today have an average liquidity rate in excess of 60%. Meantime, the government of Panama continues to take the proceeds from Panama Canal operations and plow them into never-ending infrastructure and improvement projects across the country.

No, you don't get the feeling that this market is in for any correction. You get the feeling, traveling, doing business, and living in Panama, that this country, like its premier resort offering Buenaventura, even with as far as she's come, is still just getting started. You get the feeling that there's still big upside to be seen...and that this is a place where you'd do well to take a little stake, for the coming decade and beyond.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. What else this week?

  • Penonomé's riotous Carnaval (which I experienced firsthand earlier this month and survived to report on in this month's issue of the Panama Letter) has put the town on the map, but the people of Penonomé also host annual orange, tomato, and sugar cane festivals.

When it's not celebrating and putting on a show for visitors, Penonomé is, at heart, a humble country town--family-oriented, quiet, safe, peaceful, friendly, and traditional.

But don't mistake humble for poor. The agricultural festivals bespeak the town's long-established agriculture-based economy. As a commercial and banking hub for the big-time farmers and ranchers from the fertile hills and open pastures just outside town, significant agri-business profits pass through Penonomé.

And don't mistake traditional for backward. The town is served by high-speed Internet, six banks, open-air produce and meat markets, fully equipped pharmacies, athletic fields, a university, a hospital, clinics, and loads of restaurants, bars, and casinos. Modern shopping centers, including chain restaurants and a 24-hour grocer, have sprung up along the Pan-American Highway, the main route into town from the east or west (or the north or south, depending on how confused you are by Panama's unique geography)...

  • "Ms. Peddicord, would you mind sharing where you live throughout the year and why you chose each individual location?"

--Question from a reader on Huffington Post

I write today from Panama City. My family and I moved here it will be five years ago this July from Paris.

From Paris to Panama City?

Before I answer that question, I'll back up a little and start from the beginning...

  • Surf, sand, scuba diving, lazing on the beach, watching sunsets while sipping aperitifs...that all sounds like the perfect vacation destination, doesn't it? But here's some really good news: It could also be a description of your new retirement home.

As the Northern Hemisphere slowly creeps its way out of winter, we went on a virtual tour to find you properties located within a stone's throw of five of the world's best beaches...with sunshine and beautiful sunsets aplenty...

  • Most folks considering the idea of retiring overseas focus on options in Latin America. If your base is North America, this makes sense. Countries south of the border are, first, nearby and, generally, easily accessible. In addition, they can also offer two things that most retirees actively seek: a low cost of living and an abundance of sunshine.

But there's a world beyond these Americas that can also offer good weather and a low cost of living...plus, in some cases, some things you won't find here. In fact, the world's most affordable overseas retirement havens today are not to be found in Latin America, but in Asia. As a friend who has been retired in Asia for many years puts it, "Everywhere in Asia is more affordable than the cheapest places in Latin America right now." That may be a stretch, but pockets of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and India, for example, can be absurdly cheap. You could live a modest but comfortable life in this part of the world on a budget of $700 or $800 a month, even less...

PLUS--From resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon:

I've written this week to readers of my Offshore Living Letter about the objective of organizing your life so that your passive income is greater than your living expenses. It's an ideal situation that we all can strive for...understanding, of course, that achieving it requires time, planning, and, I'd say more than anything else, diversification.

My preferred way to generate passive income is from real estate--specifically from rental income, from residential, commercial, or agricultural property, all of which qualifies as passive income (although I know some people with rental properties who would say they work hard for that passive income).

Much better, whenever possible, to invest in solid turn-key opportunities for generating rental income. One such turn-key revenue-generation property option would be a condo hotel.

Condo hotels give you built-in management while offering diversification offshore. You don't find these in the United States, because most condo hotels pool revenue and disburse profits to unit owners rather than tracking the nightly rental for each unit individually. Therefore, these would be highly regulated in the United States.

The benefit of pooling is that you don't run the risk of the management company playing favorites with any specific units. The downside is that you can't differentiate your unit to try to get better occupancy. However, most condo hotels are professionally run hotels that offer management and branding that help you achieve good returns.

Depending on the type of condo hotel structure in place and the location, the returns for a condo hotel investment can range from okay to excellent. For example, leaseback investments in France, which are essentially condo hotel investments where the management company pays you a fixed return no matter what level of profits the hotel actually manages to achieve, historically offer 3% to 6% net yields. Resale units in Medellin, Colombia, that I've written about in the past can return net yields between 6% and 7%.

Investing in a condo hotel unit pre-construction brings some additional risk (you're taking the risk that the hotel will, in fact, be built), but it also comes with more potential upside; the projected net yields based on the original purchase price are typically much better than even the 7% you might get from, say, a resale unit in Medellin. Investing in a condo hotel pre-construction also has the advantage of not requiring all the cash up front; typically, you make staged payments during the period of construction.

Right now in Panama City I know of a condo hotel investment still available "pre-construction," even though construction is, in fact, under way. Unicorn is expected to be delivered by the end of 2014.

Unicorn is an all-suites hotel whose target market is businessmen traveling to Panama. In addition to flagging the hotel as a Park Inn (Carlson Group's mid- to upper-market brand), the developer also has an agreement in place with an Italian designer that puts Unicorn as the center piece for fashion events in Panama.

With affordable suites (expected to charge an average daily rate that is about 70% of the rates for a suite in the same category of hotels that aren't all-suite), Unicorn expects to gain loyalty from frequent business travelers. The key metrics for any hotel are the average daily room rate and the occupancy rate. These tend to move hand in hand throughout whatever seasons a market sees, moving lower during the slow season and moving up during tourist season, to help keep occupancy as high as possible.

Panama hotels saw a small dip in occupancy rates last year. The figures I saw were something like a 10% drop in occupancy rates in 2012 across all hotels in the city. However, that decrease came in a year that saw an increase in the number of available hotel rooms along the lines of 62%. (The biggest surge in new hotel rooms in Panama City in 2012 came from the Hard Rock Hotel, which has 1,500 rooms.) The fact that occupancy rates remained as high as they did in the face of this dramatic increase in inventory is a testament to the continued growth in both business and tourism travel to this city. And is an important part of the reason why the developer behind Unicorn, Bruno Carnasella, returned to Panama.

Bruno, originally from Italy, developed some projects in Panama in the early 1970s before turning to south Florida, where he went on to develop high-rise residential projects for decades. Then, about four years ago, Bruno returned his attention to Panama, specifically to Panama City. He was attracted not only by the potential he perceived in the hotel industry in this city, but also by the big potential he sees in the country in general over the coming 10-plus years.

Despite his bullishness on Panama, Bruno's projections for the returns on an investment in Unicorn are conservative. He's projecting just 60% occupancy and a room rate of US$229 for year one. You can pay more than US$229 today for a regular room in some of the finer hotels in Panama City during high season.

Regardless, using Bruno's figures, investors are projected to return 8% during the first year of operations, increasing to 13.3% by year five, assuming reasonable increases in occupancy and room rates.

Particular positive factors for the hotel industry in Panama City include further airport expansion at Tocumen International Airport and the planned construction of a new convention center. Meantime, Panama's GDP growth is back in double-digit range (10.6% for 2011 and projected to be more than 11% for 2012). I believe it is very reasonable to anticipate demand for hotel rooms in this city growing rapidly over the next several years.

Unicorn offers three different sized units: 47 square meter, 51 square meters, and 61 square meters. Each size equates to a slightly different split of the profits – 68%, 70%, and 75%, respectively – allowing for the differences in size, room rates, and capital investment. Unit prices start at US$268,537 for a 47-square-meter suite. On a per-square-meter basis, that's expensive for an apartment...but not for a hotel room. You have to remember that your hotel room is furnished with high-end furniture, hotel-quality linens (it is a hotel, after all), televisions, and the requisite mini-bar. Also, the hotel itself comes "furnished," as it were, as well, with the lobby, front desk area, phone system, and all the necessary back of house areas for maids and maintenance.

The payment plan of 30% down at signing (remember construction is already under way) and the balance due at completion couldn't be more straightforward. No regular progress payments to have to keep up with.

Once the hotel is up and running, your revenue payments will be made every quarter. It could be the perfect cornerstone for your passive income portfolio. To learn more about the opportunity available at Unicorn, you can inquire here.

***

Kathleen Peddicord's New Book "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas" Available Now Pre-Release!

Kathleen Peddicord's latest book, published by Wiley & Sons, hits bookstores April 8. Starting now, though, you can buy a copy pre-release and save 36% off the release price!

Go here now to place your order for "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas"!

Image credit: Roger Schultz

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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