So, you hate your school accommodation. Or maybe you moved to Korea with a job that isn’t teaching English and they don’t provide you with a house. Maybe you’ve never even lived here before and you’re confused about finding your own house in Korea. Where to begin? Well, I’ve dealt with this on several occasions and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned some helpful lessons over the years. And since I’m emotionally affected by my surroundings, I’m not good at settling for subpar. Let me share my tips and experiences with you so that you can find your home-sweet-home in this exciting country.
1. Tackle the Differences
What’s so special about moving in Korea? Well, a lot of things. It’s best to familiarize yourself with the different terms and systems before you pick up your phone and download a real estate app. Here are some key considerations:
Key Money: Average deposit money in Korea can vary, but most average around 5-10 mil. won. This is out of your personal bank account, so make sure you still have money for rent and living expenses!
Types of Rent: There are several ways to rent in Korea with the most popular being wolse 월세 (monthly rent) and jeonse 전세 (pre-payment). Unless you have tens of thousands stashed away or are married to a local who can take out a massive loan, monthly rental is your best option.
Average Prices: It’s a sad fact that people often get swindled by their landlords or are only shown the crappiest houses. Depending on the area, you’ll need to search for the average rental price before making any viewing appointments. When it comes to agents here, you need to be confident and show them that you know what you want – regardless of your Korean ability.
If you’re looking at a single bedroom in Seoul, you shouldn’t be paying more than 600,000 won. For a two or three-room apartment, the price is closer to 700-800,000 and can be split between tenants. My two-room (+balcony) is in an old neighborhood and costs me 730,000 won per month. When my friend moved in, our landlord only charged us 20,000 more for the water bill.
Quality Check: Truth be told, many Korean houses are not in pristine condition. They’re often put together with scraps of sticker flooring, tacky wall art and splashes of paint. Unless you’re moving into a newer flat or living in an expensive area, don’t expect it to be perfect when you move in. Don’t get out the paintbrush right away either – you’ll need to check with your landlord about any type of renovation.
2. Know The Terms
Apartment? Villa? Officetel? There are so many different names for Korean houses that getting familiar with these before rushing out the door is probably a good idea.
Pyeong – You’ll come across this word everywhere on your house-hunt. Pyeong is a Korean measurement unit for floor space that’s equal to 36 Korean feet or about 3.4 square meters.
Apartments – These have around 4 bedrooms and are designed for family living.
Officetel – A popular choice among foreigners, these rooms are part of a multi-story high-rise building usually found in busy areas. These might have a slightly higher price tag but they come with convenience stores, gyms and other amenities.
Villas – Nice apartment buildings that usually have no more than five floors. These can range from cheap to expensive and are hot choices for those looking for something on the quieter side.
One Room/Two Room/Etc – The most popular choice, these are more like what we’d call apartments or studios in the west (essentially a cheap villa). These are the most affordable options in Korea although you may have to buy some of the appliances yourself.
Goshiwon – A notorious ‘house’ often rented by students, goshiwons are scarily cheap (although prices continue to rise as the housing crisis gets worse) and with good reason. Most goshiwons are no bigger than about 6 people and regularly come without any windows. If you’re on a tight budget, at least try to find one with some sunlight.
3. Consider Your Options
Think about this carefully. Where do you spend most of your time? Are you concerned about safety? Do you own or want to foster a pet? Are you easily cold or warm? Make a list of everything that you need to think about and make sure that the house you select checks about 70% of these options. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
-Basement room/Loft room (while loft rooms are adorable, they also get complaints about the lack of air circulation)
-Near a bus route or subway
-North or south of the river
-Air conditioning/Heating (underfloor heating is the most common)
-Wet room/Shower (most places do not have separate shower areas)
-Neighborhood (click here for our best traditional neighborhoods!)
-Large/Small floor space (this could affect how much you pay for heating)
-Maintenance fee (you shouldn’t have to pay more than 100,000 won and even that’s pushing it)
4. Download the Apps
Quick tip: avoid Dabang 다방. Dabang has far more fake advertisements than Zigbang 찍방. Nearly every house I found on Dabang was “already sold” or “didn’t take foreigners” when I showed up for my viewing. Truthfully, they just post beautiful photos of apartments and wind up taking you to the trash they can’t get rid of. No, no, no aaaaaand no.
Zigbang is the most reliable application in Korea when looking for a house. This also has fake listings from time to time, so if it looks too good to be true, you know what to do. Unfortunately, the app is only offered in Korean, so put your skills to the test or have a friend explain the settings to you. I know that there’ll be moments where you’re itching to review the houses when you’re alone on the toilet. Trust me. I’ve been there. So if you can’t read Korean well, map out a step-by-step chart with a friend to remind yourself how to search for specific listings.
5. Prepare a List of Questions
I can’t stress this point enough. Go back to your list of desired objects (tip #3) and write down these in question format. Most people in Korea only view a house once (and houses go really fast here), so you want to go completely prepared. You can ask the agent all of your questions before or during the visit, or send them a text afterward if you’re not confident about your Korean.
If they’re beating around the bush about something, be sure to take note of that as well. Like I mentioned before, many houses are in bad condition and they could be trying to hide something that could be potentially dangerous like mold, leaky floorboards or smelly bathrooms. As always, be prepared to be a little lenient.
6. Grab a Friend
Even if you speak perfect Korean, visiting houses or looking over Zigbang with a friend is a real life-saver. I can’t tell you how many things my friends pointed out that I missed. Everyone sees things differently, so head to the apartment together for an extra pair of eyes (maybe she’ll notice the slightly crooked doorway that will bother you for the rest of the year).
Also, be sure that both of you take a lot of photos. It’s polite to ask the real estate agent before doing so, but it’ll be a lifesaver when you’re looking back on 30+ apartments.
7. Give Yourself Time
Sometimes moving to a new house at the last minute is unavoidable. However, most of us need plenty of time to ponder over what we really want. It can get really tiring doing this over the course of a couple of months, but I promise that it’s worth it to slow down rather than to look for immediate satisfaction. And you’ll regret it far less in the future.
You could even go the extra mile and visit real estate agents in person rather than browsing online. If you come to their office with a list of requirements, they’ll be sure to oblige. In fact, a lot of real estate agents have hidden gems waiting that haven’t been posted yet or where the contract failed. You might just get lucky.
8. Seal The Deal
At last. You’ve found your dream house. Or maybe not your ‘dream’ house, but one that’s going to satisfy you for the next year or so. The last step is sealing the deal, and this is also a good time to ask a friend to come along. And this time, I really do suggest that one of you speak fluent Korean.
There may be some alterations to the contract without you knowing. Most real estate agents briskly walk you through the pages without discussing the finer details. So, if they promised that you could have a cat during your first phone call, that pretty detail might not appear as friendly in writing. To be on the safe side, buddy up.
9. Report Your Move to Immigration
I can’t stress how important this step is. You MUST report your new address within two weeks to immigration, otherwise, you’ll have to pay a fine and will get points deducted when you try to apply for citizenship. You can do this online or in-person.
You’ll need a copy of your contract (I always bring my original as well, for safety measures) along with several other documents. Don’t laze around or spend all your time shopping at IKEA – get this done immediately.
Bonus Tip: Make it Your Own
You didn’t do all this hard work to not buy that fake Persian rug you want. You haven’t lived in a goshiwon for two years only to now shrug at the thought of buying that microwave you oh-so-need.
This is a house you got on your own and you deserve to make it everything you want. Saving money to buy what you want, not just what you need, is a really simple but important point that will make the whole experience far more enjoyable. After all, this is your home now. You deserve it.
Key Money / Deposit Money: 보증금
Water bills: 물세
Gas bill: 가스 요금
Electric bill: 전기 요금
Underfloor heating: 온돌
One-Room/Two Room: 원룸/투룸
Basement room: 지하
Rooftop room: 옥탕
Loft room: 복층
Real Estate Agent: 부동산
Air Condition: 에어컨
Amenities: 편의 시실
Monthly Rent: 월세
Down Payment Rent: 전세
Maintenance Fee: 관리비
Supermarket/Market: 마트 / 시장