Something Big Is Happening Here
“I don’t think I’ve ever told you this story,” Gary began. “The story of how I found you.
“After the bottom fell out of real estate markets in the States, in 2008/2009, I lost my job in the construction industry,” Gary explained. “My job of 32 years,” he added, shaking his head.
“When a friend, Dale Stewart, with a land planning business called Land Design, heard about my situation, he called me up.
“‘Gary, I’ve got an opportunity for you,’ he told me. ‘I’m working with a new project in Panama City called Los Islotes,’ he said. ‘The developer behind it is a guy named Lief Simon. I’m helping him to create his master plan. I think this could be an ideal situation for you.’
“‘Dale,’ I said, ‘my wife can’t stand Florida. There’s no way Karen is moving to Florida.’
“‘No, not Panama City, Florida,’ Dale replied. ‘Panama City, Panama!’
“I’d never thought about Panama before,” Gary admitted, “but Dale put me in touch with you, Lief, do you remember. You interviewed me over the phone for an hour-and-a-half and invited Karen and me to come down for the next Live and Invest Overseas conference in Panama. And we did, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” Lief interjected. “And right away Kathleen and I knew that you were the man we needed to help us build what we wanted to build at Los Islotes. The trouble was, we were at such an early stage. Once you made your decision, you were ready to move. I remember being so torn at the time. We wanted you down here in Panama with us as soon as possible, but we knew we just weren’t ready for you to be out on site. We were at the very early planning and permissions stage. You were e-mailing me every month, and every time I’d get another e-mail from you I’d cringe, because I just didn’t know how to respond…”
“I was e-mailing you every week!” Gary cut Lief off. “Finally, after about a year of that, I came to the conclusion one afternoon driving home that this thing in Panama just wasn’t meant to be…it just wasn’t going to work out. I decided I was going to call you the next day to say you’d best start looking for someone else to be your Project Manager, as I just couldn’t wait any longer.
“At that very moment…I’m not kidding you,” Gary continued, “at that moment, my cell phone rang. I pulled off the road to answer the call. Into a Hardee’s parking lot. It was you, Lief, calling to say that you were ready for me and Karen to come on down. You said you’d just learned that it would be only two more months until you had all your permits in place, so Karen and I should make our plan for the move.
“I drove straight home and told Karen to start packing.”
“Two more months! Ha!” Lief said. “It ended up taking two more years from that point, didn’t it? Before we finally got all of our permissions in order.”
“No kidding,” Gary said, shaking his head again. “Don’t remind me. But that’s all behind us now,” Gary added. “Now, finally, we’re in business, aren’t we? We’re moving dirt around!”
Lief and I have spent this long Easter weekend at Los Islotes with Gary and Karen, as well as other friends, a small video crew, and two of our earliest Los Islotes investors, Shannen Harle and his dad. And we have realized, the bunch of us, that our Los Islotes efforts have turned a corner. We’ve entered a new stage.
Since the start of this year’s dry season here in Panama, Gary has been on the property from sunup until sundown, six days a week. He has assembled a crew that has worked, these past three months, to cut wide roads through the property, up and down the hillsides, over the creeks, all the way to the shores of our two beaches. Now, finally, we’ve got access.
“My dad and I have been out here all week,” Shannen told Lief and me when we arrived on the scene on Friday. “Driving in the first day, we were so struck. All the equipment at the entrance…and then all the fresh orange cuts up and down these mountains…boy, it sure makes an impression. You get the point right away. Something big is happening here.”
Years ago, a real estate agent on Mexico’s Yucatan coast told Lief and me a story that we’ve remembered since.
“I was driving down the coast with a client,” the agent told us. “We were in my four-wheel-drive SUV, but we were bumping and bouncing along. The beach access road along this coast has been improved since, but, at the time, you couldn’t really call it a road. It was more of a path, with big rocks in the middle of it and ruts everywhere. After about an hour jostling around like we were, the client turned to me and said, ‘Turn around. Take me back to Cancun. Call me when prices are higher.’
“That guy understood how this works,” the agent continued. “Prices are at their lowest when access and infrastructure are at their most basic. As the infrastructure is improved, prices go up. The guy wasn’t interested in putting up with the non-existent infrastructure. He was willing to pay more after the roads had been improved.”
Fair enough. That’s the trade-off any of us weighs for any opportunity we consider.
At Los Islotes now, the infrastructure is no longer non-existent. Thanks to Gary’s ongoing efforts, it’s improving every day. Gary’s got an ambitious schedule that has him cutting, shoring up, and covering with what’s referred to as “select materials” all the roads in Phase 1 before this year’s rains get serious.
“We’ve been so lucky,” Gary told me this weekend. “We’ve had such a great run. No rain at all so far this year has meant we’ve been able to make remarkable progress.”
Our primary agenda on the property this weekend was securing footage for a new Los Islotes video we’re producing. (I’ll share bits of it with you later this week.) Saturday, after a full day driving around from hilltop to hilltop trying out the views from all the newly accessible vantage points, our little group gathered, just as the sun began its descent for the day, on the spot where we’re building an open-air great room. We want a place where we can spend time with friends, enjoying a rum cocktail while watching the surf and, come day’s end, the glorious sunsets for which this coast is known.
On this spot, our videographer Lauren set up her tripod and her camera to record the sun’s slow slide to the horizon. Meantime, the group of us hung out, planning…and reminiscing.
“Remember when the only way to get to any of these hilltop points was on foot,” Lief said. “You didn’t want to forget anything back at the car. Whatever you needed for the day’s exploring, you carried with you on your back.”
“Do you hear the monkeys?” Shannen asked as the howlers began their evening chatter.
“They follow that tree line,” Lief pointed. “This time of day, those trees are full of them. Over in that direction is where I saw my first toucan on the property,” he added, pointing to the left.
“Kathleen, come over here and take a look at this stone,” Gary suggested. “This is the stone I want to use to face the walls of our first structure.”
“Ah, that’s perfect,” I said, taking a closer look. “Beautiful.”
“Yes, I think so. And we’ve got so much of it here on the property. I want as much as possible to build using our own materials,” Gary added.
“Come on,” Lief said as darkness settled in. “We need to head back to Santiago. “Boy, it sure will be nice when we’re able to spend the night here,” he said as he helped Lauren pack up the video equipment.
That’s the next stage: construction of our Founder’s Lodge with its four guest suites. We’ll break ground on that before the end of this year.
“You know, I’m thinking,” Lief said after we’d climbed into our car and started the drive back to the hotel in Santiago, “we need to review the lot pricing. The roads are in. It’s time to raise prices.
“Plus,” Lief continued, “some of the lots have been seriously undervalued. We’ve been so conservative in our pricing. If we weren’t certain a lot would have an ocean view, we priced it as though it didn’t. But, now that Gary is clearing the land a little, we can see that a few lots in particular turn out to be way better than we thought they were.
“Lot 47, for example, has been priced at US$80,000. That needs to be increased by at least US$10,000. And lot 69 is priced at US$115,000. That needs to be raised by at least US$10,000, too, maybe more.
“Really, I need to review the whole list. All of the Toucan Forest lots are underpriced now that we can see what that section of the property really has to offer.”
When we’re back in the office this week, Lief will be reviewing the entire list of available lots and making adjustments. Right now, though, you have a last chance to avail of before-the-road pricing…even though the road, indeed, is in.
For more information on how to become part of what’s emerging at Los Islotes, you can get in touch here.
P.S. “This has been a remarkable experience,” Shannen commented Saturday evening, “to be able to spend time here, on the property, with all these folks who share this vision. My dad and I feel so fortunate to have found our way to this group of people who share our priorities and who appreciate the opportunity on the table here as much as we do,” he continued.
This weekend at Los Islotes, Lief and I have realized that, yes, we’ve got the start of infrastructure, but also, as important, we’ve got the start of the like-minded community we’ve envisioned for this little coastal corner of the world for so long. We tried to get some of it on video. I’ll share clips with you later this week, after Lauren has finished editing.
Meantime, we also took some photos, which we’ve posted to our Facebook page. You can take a look here.