Real Real Estate

When I arrived back in Korea in late January I immediately began the search for a new apartment. Since my roommate from the Fall didn’t return back to Korea the apartment I was living in was just too big and too expensive for me to maintain on my own. Although having a roommate for three+ months was fun, it definitely made me realize there was a reason I’ve lived alone for the past seven years. The search was on for the elusive two bedroom in Seoul. Cheap studios and micro-sized one bedrooms are plentiful, as are three bedroom/two baths, but two bedrooms/one bath are a bit rare.
In Korea the easiest thing to do is use a realtor and there are plenty that speak enough English to help you out. My
previous realtor, although nice, was a bit flaky so I decided to do a little research and reach out to some other ones. I’m glad I did, since I found a great young realtor, with good English, and ultra quick responses. I was sold, then I gave her the impossible task of finding me a two bedroom apartment, with a strict budget, in a small radius surrounding the train station which is a pretty high end and desirable area, especially for expats. After a few late evenings viewing apartments after work I finally found the two bedroom I was hoping for. It wasn’t furnished and at the top of my budget, but the finishes were great, not tacky like so many other places, and the location was prime. Still within walking distance to the best pizza in Korea was a major plus (I love you, Pizza Heaven).
After some strange, all in Korean negotiations, and lots of signing and stamping on papers covered in pretty symbols that meant nothing to me I had my apartment and moving day scheduled for a few weeks later. Sure I realized a week after signing my lease that the appliance under my stove was not an oven but a kimchi fridge instead, and I had a minor freak out thinking about all the laundry I’d be doing without the convienence of an American style clothes dryer, so much so that I almost forfeited my 1 mil Won deposit (roughly $1,000). In the end, I decided to suck it up, living like a true Korean without Western appliances would make the expat experience more authentic.
Most of my friends/coworkers live near the Army base in Pyeongtaek where apartments are almost always fully furnished, come with western-style; sometimes American brand; appliances, and even have both 220v and 110v power ouets throughout. I like to consider this “cheating” and living in what I refer to as “Little America”. Where is the true expat experience?
Some things I will never get used to in Korean apartments or rental ways include kimchi fridges, windows into public hallways, and key money. Yes, any respectable Korean household has a separate refrigerator, normally in the form of two drawers resembling a high end dishwasher, solely for the storage of kimchi. My second bedroom has a window, however it’s not to the great outdoors, but to the common hallway outside my unit. The owner placed contact paper on the window, with fun little clouds on it, for privacy but it doesn’t block out the light. Sleeping in there is ultra confusing since its always the same brightness no matter what time of the day/night it is. Key money is a deposit system used widely in Korea. In the US we put down security deposits, usually equal to one month’s rent or less. In Korea, the deposit which they call “key money” is a large sum usually anywhere from 10mil to 200mil+ Won. This money is fully refundable. The more you put down the less you pay in monthly rent. In some cases Koreans will put down a large sum of money and live rent free, then get all their money back. I’m still unsure how this really benefits the landlord/owner but its the way it’s done. For my apartment the key money was 10 million Won, which is equivalent to a little mess than $10,000.00 depending on the exchange rate. I can’t tell you how nerve racking it is to go to a bank with almost $10,000 cash and tell the Korean banker to deposit it into an account number provided to me by my landlord/realtor. I still get nervous just thinking about that amount of money just given away. I can’t wait till I move out and it’s given back…in full hopefully (*fingers crossed).
My realtor helped me scheduled movers to pack and move all my items for a nominal fee, they spoke English and were awesome and so fast, and everything went smoothly. I’m getting settled and navigating the process of purchasing furniture for my new place but it’s coming along. I’m hoping to make some progress this weekend and then Ill post some pictures. Lets hope I stay for a long long time…not sure I want to do the Korean real estate process again anytime soon.

1 thought on “Real Real Estate

  1. I was reading online about kimchi refrigerators….apparently they also make good wine and beer coolers…not to give you any ideas. I you want to be healthy (ahem….)they are also a great place to store fresh fruit & veggies.


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