Friday, August 7, 2009

House-hunting in Cerro Azul

We have looked at a few houses since our arrival in Panama. We saw two in Las Cumbres (a neighborhood on the edge of Panama City at a slightly higher elevation than the city) and have seen several in Cerro Azul, since we like the climate up here.

There is no Multiple Listing Service for houses in Panama - it's every man and woman for him- and her-self. An owner can advertise property for sale by placing an ad in a newspaper or online, or by a "Se Vende" sign at the front of the property, or through the use of a licensed real estate agent. We have heard that many of the houses in C.A. that are for sale are not listed anywhere, sometimes not even with a Se Vende sign. It's all word of mouth, through friends, neighbors, gardeners. So far, we have been using all the avenues mentioned above, and it is cumbersome. We have never searched for or bought a house before in any country - whether that makes it easier or more difficult, we do not know.

We have also been driving through the entire development up here in C.A. I think we have gone up and down every street, including every cul de sac, at least once. One place where we saw the Se Vende sign had fabulous habitat on the lot, but the house has obviously not been lived in for a long time. The paint on the outside is fresh, and there are tools and supplies strewn about that indicate efforts toward maintenance and upgrades, but much work would still need to be done to make it habitable. But the birds! Violaceous Trogon, Rufous-capped Warbler, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Plain-colored Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Palm Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, our lifer Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Masked Tityra. It was a goldmine of birds, undoubtedly due to the yard being full of native trees, several of which were in bloom or fruit, and not a single pine tree. (C.A. was planted with pine trees several decades ago. We have heard stories about why this was done, among which are: because Panamanians are fond of pine trees, the pines were used as stabilizers for the steep hillsides, and because the pines reminded the Swiss expats of their homeland.) Admittedly, we have seen quite a few woodpeckers on the pines, but other than that, we don't like the pines here and when we do buy property, we will chop the pines and replace them with cecropia or other natives that the birds love.

We have been back to the "Mega-habitat House" several times, at various times of the day, and it always impresses us with the birds. But we are not sure we have the stomach and patience for major remodeling. We have been warned away from it since before we even began exploring in Panama. Contractors from hell (some would say all contractors are from there) are legendary in the U.S.A., but in Panama, it's reported to be worse.

So there are other houses that are "move-in ready" - we have seen a few, and we wonder if we could quickly make the yards more attractive to birds, so we would not have to wait too terribly long to create our own mega-habitat house. We saw a small house on a lot with mainly pines, but the little Geoffrey's Tamarins still came foraging along through the pines. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be in a yard full of pines for a year or so. Cecropias grow fast - 6 or more feet per year - maybe we could have a cecropia forest in a fairly short time.

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