Casco Viejo has been touted as one of the only sustainable real estate market models in the Republic of Panama for years now, and while 2008 saw tremendous growth and activity on both the tourism and real estate fronts, there are several significant hiccups or road bumps that stand in the way of seamless success. While the objective of Casco Viejo development is not to pave over it’s flaws, there do stand several serious potholes that need fixing.
1. Crime: Crime is still certainly a factor in the historic district; anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Occasional shootings, gang violence, drug deals, and muggings are still part of every day life. Granted, this crime takes place in other neighborhoods of Panama City too, however Casco Viejo’s been trying hard to rewrite the negative connotation its had for years. A vigilant tourism force clearly cannot wipe out 100% of the mischief.
2. Finished/empty apartments: 2008 was a gigantic year for Casco Viejo development and real estate. Though what concerns a lot of experts is the large amount of apartments that have been finished (renovated fully) and that sit empty. While we are the only true property management agency around, it’s often difficult to a) contact owners of apartments and b) convince them that renting out their unit is necessary for growth in the area.
3. Bank lending caps: Many banks in Panama have capped lending at amounts very close to Casco Viejo’s average finished unit price/m2. Without getting into the numbers, this restriction is limiting a number of buyers from entering the market in addition to doubting the current mortgages many investors already signed on to. Some fear this bank tightness could have similar effects in Casco Viejo as it is elsewhere in Panama City where distressed real estate is going un-financed.
4. Unscrupulous organizations: Panama’s tourism police and the Office of Casco Antiguo are both wholeheartedly intent on making Casco Viejo a better place. However, when it comes to crime, the tourism police often fail to thoroughly investigate if the crime doesn’t involve a tourist. The Office of Casco Antiguo seems to abide by some antiquated laws and draconian mindset making new-age ideas and progressive projects a pain to get approval.
More small businesses are opening every month in Casco Viejo. Prices at restaurants are rising, the museums are increasing in popularity, and accommodations like Los Cuatro Tulipanes are thriving like never before. However, at the speed with which Casco evolved in the past year, appear to have risen several growing pains the neighborhood will no doubt address in 2009. What one cannot argue is that it still remains a city ever-changing, the defects and quirks still an everyday part of life in Casco Viejo. Whether the forces are shooting at you, or with you, has yet to be seen.