Saturday, 27 August 2016

Living in Seoul 101: Looking For An Apartment

For non-locals, hunting for a 'home away from home' is probably one of the most difficult things to do when settling in Seoul, unless you have your employer do that for you.

When I arrived in Seoul years ago, my employer booked me in a hotel for two weeks, the amount of time they probably thought I needed to find a new apartment.

When renting an apartment in Korea, you will need a Korean real estate agent to finalize the lease contract between you (the lessee) and your landlord. Luckily, my colleague, who settled in Seoul a few months before I arrived, recommended his realty agent and she was able to assist me. It only took us one morning to find an apartment. Ronie, the name of my female realty agent, drove me to three prospective apartment buildings in the Yongsan District, and we were able to decide which one my jeonse allowance could afford.

In Korea, there are two types of housing rentals:

1. Jeonse, or key money deposit, is where you give your landlord this huge sum and you don't need to pay any monthly rent. The landlord probably would earn interest from your jeonse deposit.

2. Weolse, or monthly rental, is where you give your landlord a deposit, relatively smaller than jeonse, upon the commencement of your lease contract, and a monthly rent payment.

And with the two kinds of rental in Korea, these are the types of housing accommodations: 

  • apartments (in high-rise buildings), serviced apartments;
  • officetels (much like an office-turned-residence popular among singles);
  • one-room (a slightly smaller officetel popular among students); 
  • hanok (a traditional Korean house);
  • villa (usually a three or four-story house with each floor occupied by one family; and
  • private house (the most expensive accommodation which usually includes a garden and garage, and are mostly found in Itaewon and Seongbuk-dong areas). 
Two months ago, I had to look for a new apartment, and I thought of sharing the experience. Here are the steps I did:

1. Download the zzikbang app!
As recommended by my friend Tessa, I downloaded the zzikbang app and it was very helpful! The app is all in hangeul; so, a basic knowledge of Korean would be helpful.

2. Have a budget in mind
Know your budget for both the rental deposit and monthly rent. Also include in your budget the amount for kwanlibi 관리비 or the monthly charge for management and common area expenses. If it's an apartment building, you need to pay for the maintenance, electricity used for elevators and common areas, and for the salary of the ajussi assigned as security guard/door man.

3. Surf the virtual city using zzikbang
Surf the app for an apartment that's within your budget and is located in your preferred location. This is helpful if you have an idea about Seoul's geography and you know the area that you prefer.

Write down the 'candidates', listing the name of the apartment building, location, monthly rent, required deposit, size of the apartment, and amount of 관리비. 

By the way, always remember that the ones near a university or a subway station hosting two lines are always pricier.

4. Call the real estate agent for a visit to the apartment

After narrowing down your prospective apartments, call the real estate agent in charged of the property. The app allows you to make a call to the agent directly, and you may need a Korean friend in case the agent doesn't speak English.

5. When finalizing a lease contract, ask a Korean-speaking friend to join you

When I finally decided on the apartment, I asked my friend Veronica to help me with the negotiation and finalization of my lease contract with the real estate agent. 
Details such as the date of moving in, garbage disposal rules in the building, the apartment door code, bank accounts where you need to deposit monthly rent and kwanlibi and dates you're required to deposit must be discussed. And if you have questions about the neighborhood, for example, the nearest airport bus stops, supermarkets and hospital, you can always ask the real estate agent.

Upon signing of the lease contract, I paid the required deposit and the realty agent fee. It's always an option if you want to pay the monthly rent in advance.

Having a real estate agent in finalizing your contract helps protect you, the lessee, as well as the lessor. There are stories where foreigners in Seoul get duped by some landlords, or people posing as landlords. My real estate agents are an elderly couple who seemed to have been in the business for decades. The first time I walked into their office, I immediately sensed their helpfulness even though I was conversing with them in my basic Korean; I gave them a pack of dried mangoes during that visit.

6. Contact a small moving company
Unlike my friend Marissa and her family, I didn't need to get a big moving company. I asked Miss Katherine Corteza, the director of the Itaewon Global Center, for a list of their recommended moving companies and requested a Korean friend to call them. I didn't have big furnitures, only a table and a few chairs, and personal effects, which were moved in 12 boxes. The two ajussi movers were very efficient and it only took a morning to transport my Seoul life from Yongsan-gu to Dongdaemun-gu.

You have to set the date of your move, and the time of day you expect them. The best time is actually on Saturday or Sunday morning when there's no traffic, or cars moving around your neighborhood as the truck may have to block an alley near your building.

But if you have really few things, you may just have to ask a friend to help you carry things to the new apartment in a cab, or a friend's car. Two Korean friends actually offered, but I didn't want to bother them.

But before moving, you have to clean the new apartment. In my case, the real estate agent recommended cleaners to clean, sanitize and prepare the apartment before I moved in. I paid a reasonable amount for the service. I thought I'd rather leave it to the professionals to do the cleaning.

7. Register your new postal address
Once you're settled, you have to visit the community center, or in my case, the Dongdaemun District Office to register myself. I brought my passport and my alien registration card (ARC), filled up a form and in about 15 minutes, I was officially a happy citizen of the Dongdaemun District! I didn't have to visit the immigration office. The staff at the district office simply annotated my new address on my ARC.

I also had to change my registered address for my bank accounts, credit cards, National Pension Service, National Health Insurance, and the Korean Red Cross. I may have to visit Costco as well for the change.

                    *  *  *  *  *

I have now happily settled in my new apartment, enjoying the incredible view from my window! In Hannam-dong, I only saw the peak of Gwanaksan and the neighbor's rooftop. Here, without any tall building next to us, I can see the Lotte World Tower, Namsan and Seoul Tower, a few buildings of Gangnam, and the Dongdaemun shopping district! My new neighborhood deserves a separate blog!

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like your move went smoothly. Now I want to see photos of your great view from your new apartment.