After the Acobir Fair, we got inspired to write a series of articles for first home buyers. Finally we put our thoughts in order, so we´ll start publishing several blogs with our opinion on the most popular themes at the fair.
The first one! :
House vs Apartament: Myths and Realities
Having your own place to call home is a common, and important dream for everyone.Specially for those thinking about forming a family, to have a stable place to root or leave to the next generation, is truly a life changing investment.
In my case, I grew up in a house in Panama´s suburbs, with a garden, a fence, dogs, cats, a hen and at least two rabbits (which you can imagine they didn´t last too long, nor the hen…). Yes, it was like several episodes of Animal Planet. But when the moment to buy something of my own came, I had a lot of questions. I learned it wasn´t as simple as it looked, that this decision was tied to many other things. I also learned that there are many misconceptions about both decisions. Here, in my opinion, are some of the most important ones:
First, some myths about having a “house”:
It is mine and I don´t have to deal with anyone: PARTIALLY TRUE. Independence of actions and decisions is one of the most attractive things of owning a house. But you still have to deal with your neighbors, as the value of the house is tied up to the value of the neighborhood… which is made by collaboration. Many houses are also part of a condo regimen, and rules are to be followed. No one is an island! The community I grew up with was fabulous, and looking back I realize that it was because everyone knew each other, worked together, celebrated together and helped each other out constantly.
No maintenance fee, Lower costs: FALSE. As the sole owner of the property, you have to pay 100% of the expenses of fixing anything, including stuff that in a condo would be shared with others. Maintenance of fasade, roof, fumigation, gardens. The list goes on and on… In a house, every day is maintenance day, and absolutely everything is done by you and your checkbook. And as in everything, proactive maintenance is the key to long term maintenance and value.
With a house I have more space and expansion capacity: TRUE, and it comes with many hidden costs. Having space and being able to expand is very important, specially if you have a large family and pets. You also have space for multiple cars. However, this means that, depending on your budget, your options are most likely located outside the city. This has negative consequences if the economic life of the family is in the city. It forces you to have a car (or two) with the costs it carries both in money and commuting time, which in Panama can be brutal. The advantage of space vs time and money has to be carefully analyzed according to each case. As I always say; the cost is always there, you need to look around and see in which currency.
And now, what about an “apartment”:
I am not owner of the land: FALSE. Every “horizontal property” as we call condos in Panama own a percentage of the land, divided between all the owners. The most important concept in a condo is that all owners are in one boat, and everyone owns a bit of all common things.
They are too small, I won´t fit! : TRUE AND FALSE. It depends on your lifestyle. Modern apartments are compact, but they are also designed to be very efficient. You also tend to have social areas, and be centrally located near public amenities and private services, so you end up enjoying more of an outdoor lifestyle than indoors. In my case, remembering my parents house, it was a large home with areas that were never used. When I finally had to pack to move, I frankly shedded a bunch of stuff and felt awesome. I admit this is not for everyone, and that it is not always easy, specially with children. But to have a pre conceived notion on whether you´ll fit or not without giving space to a true excercise of cleaning up (and keeping only what truly makes you happy) might be closing up what could be real options for you.
Apartments can be safer: TRUE. Unless you live in a fully gated community, a house is much more vulnerable to theft. In a building, security services and systems tend to be very efficient as they are in a compact area, which makes them better and cheaper.
Of course, living in a condo community is not for everyone. You are in a boat with a number of people and this implies working together, rowing to the same side. And many times this can be frustrating. In a house, you feel the boat is all yours, even though it is dependent of a larger boat which is the community it is in. It is a very personal cultural calling.
For me, at the end, the decision of a smaller, more manageable place, close to everything, was the right one for my lifestyle. It would be hard to go back to a house. I have a wonderful 65 pound dog and my lifestyle allows me to walk her out several times a day. Another thought is that sometimes it has to do with your lifecycle, I´ve seen many young couples starting with an apartment, moving to a house when they have kids, and going back to an apartment when the kids no longer need the space.
What I believe is important is to have your priorities well defined and all cards on the table before making a decision!