Many can agree that doing any kind of business in Panama whether it is building or buying a house, opening a bank account, or acquiring a residence visa or driver’s license, to name a few, can be challenging to say the least. I think it is no different than in the U.S. There are just different laws and requirements. Many times an expat forgets that different countries have different ways of doing things than from the country they came. It doesn’t mean they are wrong, just different than what we are used to.
The point I am heading toward is that even in the country we came from, in my case the U.S., doing business in that country can be just as challenging and frustrating. Case at point is the sale of our home in Auburn, California. When we first considered possibly moving to Panama after our first trip, we explored renting our home out. We had a mortgage with Chase Bank, although other friends have gone through similar experiences with other banks. After adding up the mortgage payments, HOA fees, insurance, and property management fees, then looking at the rents of other similar homes in the complex and neighborhood, we knew we would have to get the mortgage refinanced or modified in order to break even. We first looked into a refi, but somehow could not qualify at that time. So we applied for a modification with Chase, but they won’t even talk to you until you are 3 months in arrears with mortgage payments. That was hard because I had worked so hard to keep a good credit rating and pay my bills. But we played the game and 3 months later applied for the modification.
After a 17-page application attached with 2 months of bank statements, pay stubs, proof of payments to credit cards, insurance, HOA, etc. and a hardship letter, the process began. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Calls from the bank continued, requesting updated or the same information that was previously submitted; foreclosure notices continued to be sent, only to be postponed; and about every 90 days, Chase would close our file and request we reapply, sending the same application and documents all over again. This went on for almost a year, always being promised by the bank representative that it would be approved any day now.
Finally after our 2nd trip to Panama, we were convinced that we definitely wanted to move to Panama, hopefully by September, 2013. We reconsidered the pros and cons of renting our home while out of the country and decided it would be better to sell. In 2008, the housing market had dropped considerably and although it was finally coming back up, home prices were increasing very slowly in California and our area especially. At one point, homes in our gated community were being sold for $60,000 less than what we owed the bank. So we accepted the fact we would have to short sale. We knew we would have to take the loss, but a short sale is an “as is” sale, meaning we did not have to do any more home improvements. Plus we had not paid our mortgage for over a year now, so we basically were living rent-free. But after speaking with our realtor, we could probably ask for a price that was about $15K-$20K less than what we owed, which should be easily accepted by the bank. HAH!!!!
In March, 2013 the home was on the market and 3 offers came in by April. We accepted the full cash offer which was about $15K less than we owed. More paperwork and documents were submitted to the bank and then we waited and waited. The bank finally agreed to the short sale but then had to submit everything to the loan investor, who was not Chase, but USDA (a government program who had originally secured the loan). Again we waited and waited, but we were assured by the bank that the short sale would be approved. Mikkel and I pursued our plans to move to Panama in August, believing all would be well shortly afterwards. HAH, HAH!!!!
About 3 weeks later after moving to Pedasí, we got a message from our realtor that the buyer pulled out; she apparently got tired of waiting. I was devastated. Then 3 days later the short sale was accepted and approved by the investor and bank, but now we had no buyer. Thanks to my realtor, the home was placed immediately back on the market and we acquired another offer within 2 weeks. The offer was for the same amount, but with a partial loan contingency. Now it was September. Another application and more documents submitted to Chase; more waiting. Chase again approved and submitted to the investor. Then there was a U.S. government shut-down and everything was put on hold. When that was over, it was December and the holidays-more delays. Finally around January we received the long-awaited approval, so we thought. Due to the incompetence of Chase, the approval was for the previous buyer who had pulled out. We had to start all over again. I am surprised and grateful that the 2nd buyer did not pull out then. But thank God she was patient. And thank God for both our realtors and the title company who stayed on top of everything, continuously contacting Chase for updates on what they considered to be the longest short sale they had ever dealt with. Also thank God for technology whereas we could receive, electronically sign, and return documents over the internet. Although I had given power-of-attorney to my daughter who lived in Sacramento just in case she was needed to sign something in person, but that was never necessary.
Again in March we had to reapply with all new updated required documents. Apparently every 90 days, the file gets shifted to another bank representative, making us basically start all over again. I truly believe this is a ploy by the bank to frustrate us so much that we give up and they can then foreclose. I am not sure how that benefits the bank, but I have heard the government subsidizes the banks for foreclosures. But short sales do not affect your credit rating as bad as foreclosures; it shows up on the report as being late in payments and not abandoning payment of a debt. So we didn’t give up and trusted God would take care of everything in His time, even though I didn’t understand why He was waiting so long to resolve this for us. Seems like I am always being taught patience, and I believe I was being patient. I then am reminded of James 1:2-4 – Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result…. Most of the time I just forgot about our Auburn home and continued to enjoy our new life here in Pedasí.
I can attest that patience and perseverance eventually brings joy. Around the end May, Chase and USDA had approved the short sale. Escrow was finally opened; more documents were signed, although two documents had to be notarized. That’s why we were at the U.S. Embassy a week ago. Then for some unknown reason, Chase put a hold on everything for two days, creating another thread of emails, but they reopened it up on June 18th. Escrow closed the afternoon of Friday, June 20th. Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!! I never thought I would be so happy to no longer be a homeowner. We are content in just renting here or anywhere for the rest of our lives. Of course we immediately contacted the utility companies in Auburn to cancel service. In California the homeowner is required to continue to pay the water and electric/gas bills until escrow closes. The water bill we received since we moved out was about $30 per month for no usage, only fees; the electric/gas bill about $10 per month (refrigerator was on & fees). Home insurance and legal services were cancelled. We have a little more spendable income now. It took 15 months to sell this home; 9 months with our 2nd buyer. As a final goodbye to our home in the states, we celebrated that night with a lobster dinner at La Huerta, a local new favorite restaurant.
So when we start to get a little frustrated over how slow things happen or all the procedures and requirements we must meet to get something accomplished in Panama or whatever country we have chosen to live in, we need to remember why we moved and what it was like before possibly. Tranquilo comes from accepting new and different ways. We may not like it at time, but it is what it is. For us, it was not that we had a terrible life in the U.S. I am proud to be one of its citizens still. But I am grateful that in our retirement we have the opportunity to a new and different life full of different experiences, adventures, and joy.