Investing in Casco Viejo

“We have been reading a lot about Panama and visited recently. We loved it and are thinking of investing in Casco Viejo. However, we are confused about the Panama City market. It seems that there are too many high-rise condos, and we have been reading that this is really not the right time to invest there.

“Do you consider Casco Viejo a different market? Do you think the prices in this area will come down? Would you consider this a wise investment at the moment for the long term?”

— Véronique M., Canada

Yes, Casco Viejo is a market unto itself, separate from the high-rise tower market of the rest of Panama City.

And it’s evolving as a foreign market, because most Panamanians don’t want to live in Casco Viejo. They want new and shiny. Casco Viejo is old and crumbling.

For many foreigners, though (like me), Casco Viejo is what you come to this part of the world to find. It’s charming, historic, and romantic. The rest of Panama City is a jumble of ever-taller condo towers and constant road construction. Casco Viejo is shady plazas and parks surrounded by centuries-old brick-paved roads and overlooked by once stately 200- and 300-year-old French- and Spanish-colonial facades.

The important thing to understand about Casco Viejo is that they’re not building anymore of it. Not in Panama City…and not anywhere. Travel the world over, and you find only a limited inventory of buildings like the ones in Casco Viejo.

People who appreciate history and architecture recognize this market fundamental. So, while there isn’t much demand among the local population, there is a global demand. And the supply, again, is permanently limited.

Prices in Casco Viejo have been moving up for the past decade. They surged a few years ago and now have leveled out. I don’t think they’ll fall, though…not dramatically so. Frankly, anecdotally, the area is busier than ever. I visited last week to find eight busloads of cruise-goers wandering along the streets that Paul Gauguin once enjoyed, buying in the souvenir and gift shops and filling up the restaurants and cafes.

Bottom line, while I’ve been cautioning against an investment in a Panama City condo for the past 18 months or longer…yes, I’d buy in Casco Viejo today. Don’t look for appreciation in the short term, but a renovation project in this World Heritage Site enclave would leave you with something rentable and worth owning.

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“We are looking to move to Argentina within 24 months to retire. We will be on a fixed income of approximately US$1,800 per month. It will be the two of us. We have no children. We’re looking for something reasonable. Not very big but also not a box. We’re more interested in a house than apartment living.

“We want to start getting an idea of areas that are safe and cost effective. We are hoping to travel to the country in April to look seriously and have been told that Mendoza is a good place to start.

“After reading several articles, we have found your site to be the most referenced, so this e-mail is to ask for help from you and to see if you can also give is more information. We do not speak much Spanish, so this is one thing that is weighing heavy on our minds.”

— J. Shawen

Intrepid Correspondent and part-time resident of Argentina Paul Terhorst replies:

“You could live in Mendoza on US$1,800 a month if you were to come now, but you’d have to watch expenses carefully. In 24 months, US$1,800 might be more than enough or not even close to enough. With inflation sometimes running wild and no relief likely on the exchange rate in the near future, Argentina is becoming more and more expensive. Earlier this year alone, the price of meat went up 22% in peso terms, slightly more in dollars.

“But, by all means, come down and take a look for yourself. Also take a look at WelcomeToMendoza.com, the English-language website for expats in this part of the world.”

Editor’s Note: As Paul explains, the best thing to do in your situation is what you’re already planning to do–get on a plane and go see what you see. We hope you’ll report back after your trip to let us know your impressions. Mendoza is, in fact, a top choice in this country. More here.

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