Just a short note to let you know that the address of this blog has changed. If you are used to entering https://jkhowie1.wordpress.com in your browser, it has changed to JKeithHowie.com. The old address will continue to work but the primary address is now JKeithHowie.com. If you receive an email notifying you of each post, there is no change.
As many of you know, we are here this year to begin the construction of our new home in Cerro Azul. This has been several years in the making. Our last visit to Panama in early 2014 was for research and identification of resources to get started so we would have everything ready to start as the weather permitted at the start of this dry season. (Usually December through April).
In early 2014, we found an Architect, Reynaldo Rodriguez, who had just retired from a lengthy career of creating buildings and houses on the west side of Panama City. We found him through a dear Panamanian friend who introduced us and helped us through a house description session by interpreting our English into Spanish that Reynaldo could understand. His experience was immediately obvious when he presented us with the first cut of plans for the house that we had described to him through our friend. The first rendering almost perfectly represented the house we had described to him. After a few minor changes, we sent him off to complete the approvals process, which will take several months. Here are a couple of extracts from the plans to give you an idea of what we are building. (There will be changes)
What happens here is the architect submits the plans for signature to the owners and then a review process starts that included an engineering, plumbing, and electrical. Each reviews the appropriate portions of the plans and affixes their seal of approval. Once this is completed, the building permit is issued.
Our liberally treed lot required the removal of 13 trees to allow the house construction. The process is to apply for permits from the parks department after which an inspection of the lot takes place by a parks person. If they agree with the removals, they issue a permit at a cost of $3.00 per tree. We elected to do the tree removal legally as if they catch you removing trees without a permit, the fines can be up to $10,000. Locals here often kill the trees first then remove them without permits, as you do not need permits to remove dead trees. There are other ways to make trees disappear. For a few bucks, you can hire someone with a chain saw. They typically work in the evening, when the park office is closed.
Our next issue was to get money from Canada to Panama. You are required to declare when you are bring more than $10,000 into the country so each of us stayed just under that amount. Thanks to a friend, we connected with a great currency broker at home. In addition to a much better exchange rate of Canadian to US dollars than any bank, we could find. They have a special deal for people building houses out of the country. You get two free money transfers before any charges apply and their fees are much less than others are. If anyone needs to move money internationally, we would be glad to refer you to this broker. Just email me and I will provide you the information.
Panama had an election earlier this year and surprisingly changed parties from the government of the incumbent president, who was favored to win until a large corruption scandal involving some of his ministers surfaced during the campaign. They have a process here of full financial disclosure when politicians both enter and exit government. It seems that several of the outgoing ministers had become millionaires during their stint in the government, with funds stashed in multiple bank accounts. It was such a big deal that the people elected a different party at the last minute than the one expected to be the winner.
So how did that affect us? Well, the banks were majorly embarrassed so they tightened up their investigation of money moving around and our wire transfer was caught up in it. The transfer was delayed and the recipient had to go through a bank interrogation to explain where the money was from and how it would be used, to finally sort it out. This made us very nervous as wire transfers can go astray without recourse.
Now with all that under our belts, we should begin our construction tomorrow. The preliminary work involves building a “deposito” which is a shack to store the materials for the construction. The old house on the property will have a makeshift roof and walls installed to house the materials as well as accommodations for the several workers that will live on the lot throughout the construction
Here are a few of the people who are involved our building project. Our builder (the girl in purple) is Caterina Armengol. She is also an architect. The man to her right is the site construction supervisor. He will live on the property to make sure of security and proper behavior of the workers during off hours. To Caterina’s left is Paulino, our landscaper. He does amazing things with everything that grows as well as he has maintained our lot in our absence.
Here we go!