Obstacles such as language barriers, large security deposits, and confusing contracts leave many expats and international visitors to Korea feeling overwhelmed before they even get started searching for housing.
Though many expats have little say in where they live during their first year in Korea, expats eventually want to venture out on their own and find a place that matches their lifestyle and preferences. Below are 12 dos and don’ts for those searching for housing in Korea:
DO prioritize and consider alternative locations.
Going a few stops on the same subway line from your search location can open up a completely new set of options at a much better value. Know your priorities in terms of location, price, size, and cleanliness and be ready to pounce on any deals.
DO check the financial status of the residence.
Before entering into a contract, it’s a good idea to ensure that the building owner is in good financial standing. Ask the real estate agent to print the court registry1.
DO ask about the monthly building maintenance fee2 for each apartment.
The monthly building fee covers things such as common area lighting and cleaning, elevator usage, Internet, and the water fee. As a negotiation tactic, try to get it included in the rent!
DO maximize your contract terms by matching your rent and deposit preferences.
Rent and deposit amounts can be negotiated: A W5 million security deposit is equal to W50,000 in rent each month. Many landlords will negotiate the rent by accepting a larger deposit amount. If you put down an extra W5 million, your rent can typically be decreased by W50,000 every month.
DO update your ARC card and get a fixed-date stamp on your housing contract.
After you move, you have 14 days to update your ARC(Alien Registration) card with the new address. Do this at the immigration office or the local government office3. You also need to get a “fixed-date” stamp on your housing contract at the government office. The stamp indicates that your housing contract has been entered into the government system, which helps to protect your housing deposit.
DO NOT expect all real estate agents to speak English.
The majority of real estate agents will not speak English. We have created a list of real estate-specific Korean vocabulary and expressions, and 10 Magazine readers can download it at: yourultimateapartment.com/korea. These will help you to a point, but once you are ready to negotiate and sign the contract, it will be helpful to have a Korean or other knowledgeable party present to assist you.
DO NOT visit a real estate office unless you are two to four weeks out from moving into a new place.
The pace of life is fast in Korea, and the same is true for the housing market. Many real estate agents will request that you come back about 2-4 weeks prior to your move date.
DO NOT be surprised if some apartment owners won’t rent to you.
Some apartment owners have preferences for who they’ll accept as tenants. They may only rent to females or may not want to rent to non-Koreans. Don’t take it personally.
DO NOT assume that one real estate agent has all the listings for a given area.
Although most real estate agents have access to the same database for housing, these databases aren’t always up to date. Often certain agents will have relationships with landlords and will know when hot deals become available before others will. Using only one real estate agent to cover large areas of a city will limit your choices.
DO NOT rely solely on Craigslist.
In Korea, the housing rental market isn’t well-organized online. Contracts happen faster than agents can snap pictures and upload them to a site. If a house is on the internet or a site like Craigslist for a while and nobody has rented it, then there’s usually a good reason why. Many listings on Craigslist are actually real estate agents. If a listing says there is no commission for the contract or the real estate agent, then you should be suspicious as to whether or not it’s a legally binding contract. With the often times large amounts of money involved in the transactions, it’s by far better to pay the fee of a professional agent. If you are looking at sublet listings, know that many contracts have clauses that do not allow for subletting.
If you’ve been thinking about looking for a place in Korea and you’ve been hesitating about moving forward, hopefully this information will give you a boost in the right direction. Good luck and we’ll see you at the housewarming!
1 Court registry – 등기사항전부증명서 (deung-gi-sa-hang-jeon-bu-jeung-myeong-seo)
2 Monthly building maintenance fee – 관리비 (gwalli-bi)
3 Local government office – 구청 (gu-cheong) or 주민센터 (jumin-center)
*A real estate agent will tell you which office you need to go to.