My Korean Apartment Hunt

Horror of horrors. When I got my new job in Seoul this spring my new boss said to me, “so where will you live?” At that moment I was between apartments, crashing on a friend’s floor about 45 minutes away from the school. Typically workplaces will have suggested accommodations (which you are free to refuse for something else) or will help you deal with real estate agents.

zik

Not my new school. Most of the teacher at my new school are more established. They’ve been in Korea for several years or they are married and already settled into an apartment with their partner. I’ve been in Korea a while too, but this was the first time I’ve had to go through the hunting on my own. Well, on my own is a strong word. I had a few supportive friends and a lovely fiance to help with the actually visiting places and talking to estate agents.

Ultimately it was overwhelming, but also somewhat satisfying to be in control, making deals and negotiating. I had some agents who were amazing, some who were super pushy. Some spoke great English. Some spoke zero English. The whole process felt like some final exam for how adapted to Korean life I’ve become.

Seoul-Yongsan.gu-01
Yongsan district

Getting an apartment in Seoul can be an ordeal for many reasons. Things get snapped up quickly in a metropolitan area of more than 20 million. Many newcomers to Korea are also shocked at the cost of a deposit. For a basic studio apartment, it can be almost ten thousand dollars for your deposit– more than a year of monthly rent in many cases. Fortunately, most employers will sponsor your deposit (they’ll get it back once you move out).

I was daunted, but decided that this was my chance. I could finally have an apartment that wasn’t crap. My first apartment was a studio that was so small, it was bursting at the seams with a bed and a desk as the only furniture. My second apartment was more spacious, but suffered from mold and was two subway stops away from a decent supermarket. The third apartment (which I shared with my friend from New Zealand) also had a severe mold problem and neighbors who were always experiencing some form of screaming, dish breaking, death threatening domestic upset. Perhaps that’s a story for another time.

gangnam

So there were a variety of tools I used for my search:

Zikbang App: This a Korea real estate app. You can narrow your app by area, price, and other factors. You can also star your favorite properties. Through the app you can contact agents. The downsides are that it’s pretty much entirely in Korean. After a couple years here, that’s not a problem for me. My Korean’s not great, but I can read it well. I had Korean friends call the estate agents for me because I’m not that confident.

Craigslist: Many listing for smaller, less expensive properties can be found on Craigslist. A lot of English-friendly agents will post shorter term, low deposit places there specifically looking for foreign workers and students who might be staying in Korea for less than a year

Seoul Homes: This site had a great variety of listings throughout the city. Some agents were English friendly on that site as well. I highly recommend that site.

Over the course of two weeks, I saw about 40 apartments. I was completely exhausted by the end of it. My work is in Gangnam district, but typically living in the Gangnam area means paying for the neighborhood more than the tiny apartment, so I widened my search to Yongsan, even as far west as Guro.

I realized a couple of things. Many loft apartments are not worth in. Having a loft was something I really wanted to create a bedroom space separate from the rest of the house. Nearly every loft I saw was about three feet from floor to ceiling. That means you could only sleep on a floor mat. When we get married, my fiance is bringing his plush queen size bed with him. That’s about a foot thick. So if the cat knocks something over and we bolt upright in the night, our foreheads would be at real risk for concussion. Lofts tend to bulk up the price tag one to two hundred thousand won a month as well.

If a building is less than five years old, that also adds expense. Elevators in the building are great, especially if it’s over five stories, but that usually comes with a maintenance fee slapped on top of your rent. Living on a lower floor will often be slightly cheaper because in a high rise building, higher floors are more desirable.

The neighborhood is extremely important too. Having markets in walking district, as well as close access to train and bus stations is extremely important to your comfort and time. Sometimes you will have to pay a bit more for prime spots.

After a couple of overpriced high rises, and a few cheap, but scary places in the middle of a slum that looked like the perfect spot for a murder, I finally settled on a villa about a 20 minute walk or ten minute bus ride from my work. Yep, I ended up in Gangnam. The price is about the same as my apartment in the north of the city, but it’s about a third of the size. Villas are nice though because they are studios plus. Mine has a little patio room where my washer is so I don’t have to have it in the kitchen or bathroom like most Korean apartments.

It’s about ten years old, but the landlord is super nice. And it’s on a fourth floor with no elevator, which is very livable. Not a hint of mold. So, it’s pricey for the size, but overall, it is the nicest place I’ve lived in Seoul. I guess I passed the test.

Are you on the apartment hunt? What have your experiences been?

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14 thoughts on “My Korean Apartment Hunt

  1. Ugh, sounds like a nightmare Rachel! We were REALLY lucky when I first came to Korea (Scott was already here) and the guy who recruited me for my job’s parents were real estate agents. They helped us find an awesome place our first year, but we were in Goyang where your money gets you much further than in Seoul. This year was a bit of a nightmare when we first got back as you can remember. And that MOLD! WTF why isn’t there ventilation in these places? All of your places sound like nightmares, I am not as strong as you I would have probably peaced out of Korea at some point with all that nonsense. Glad you found a nicer place near your new job! By the way, congrats on the engagement!

  2. I’ve only had 2 Korean apartments. I lucked out hard in Busan as my apartment was spacious enough for 2 beds and a couch and had two massive closets. I also had a read bathroom with a real shower – no Korean surprise showers there! This one in Seoul is a dump. I can’t even clean it properly because of the wallpaper obsession. I didn’t have water pressure or hot water for my first 3 weeks. That apartment coupled with the stress of being in a new city, having a new job, and being made fun of for my Busan accent when speaking what little Korean I knew led to an immediate break-up and tons of stress tears. When I first started reading the title of your article my thoughts were literally “NOOOOOO! THE HORROR!!!!”…and then I read your first line. Kudos to you for making it through! I’ll definitely use this next year when trying to find my own place. I’ve got to get away from this looneytunes landlord of mine!

  3. Our first apartment here in Seoul was chosen by my husband’s company. 2 years after, I was so glad the contract was over since we needed a bigger apartment with our new baby. 3 buildings from where we lived was a 2-year old building and I was intimidated to inquire since I thought it would be expensive. With the help of a Korean friend, I was glad to know it was within my husband’s company’s budget. And then a year ago, we needed to get a bigger one with 2 sons already and I just wanted it nearer to my son’s international school. This time, hubby’s HR staff looked for apartments for me to check out at the area I wanted. I just was really grateful.

    Congrats and Enjoy your new apartment!

  4. I’ve never for my entire 4 years of living in Korea hunt for an apartment or a place to live. I was just lucky that my company provides my accommodation. I’ve lived in three different accommodations in three different places but my boss provided that, so I was saved from the daunting apartment hunt. But your list of app is very helpful and maybe will come in handy for future perusal.

  5. My wife is Korean so she deals with the apartment stuff. We currently live very happily in Bundang. It’s quiet here, but very close to Seoul. Our kid has lots of space to play and no danger of a car running her over. I wonder why you didn’t expand your search outside of Seoul a bit. Or did you really wanted to live in Seoul and nowhere else?

    1. My first, closet sized, apartment was in Bundang actually. I’m notmarried to Seoul of course, but I gotten a job already and wanted to be close to both it and my fiance who lives in the city.

  6. Congrats on finding your new apartment! Both of my apartments so far have beem distinctly so-so. They’re totally fine and liveable, but I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself. As much as I love having a free apartment I’d love to have more say in what it’s like. Your apartment hunt did sound like a bit of a nightmare but it’s sorted now! Yayyyy!

  7. Laura

    My first apartment was AWESOME and spacious as can be. My second apartment was near Garosugil in Sinsa-dong and it was the worst apartment possible. It was so small and pretty much falling apart. I made it a nice place to live but it was very frustrating as there was no closet or storage whatsoever! I’m glad you’ve found a good spot. Thanks for sharing!

  8. The amount of deposit money is insane and no wonder most people here are broke! I think the system definitely needs to change so people can live more comfortably! I’m glad you were able to find a new and awesome house in Gangnam!

  9. At first, I was thankful that my hagwon had set up a studio for me but as the year progressed, I was so teeed that they really sold me short in comparison to the places my friends/coworkers were given! “My first apartment was a studio that was so small, it was bursting at the seams with a bed and a desk as the only furniture” (yups me too i had to use my bed as a table cause the desk was a psuedo closet….) When I got to Vietnam, I loved that I got to choose my home. I feel like its helped me to enjoy this country better knowing I have a place I love to return to everyday!

  10. Used to live in Daegu and had an English speaking agent. He was very helpful and found us a unit in one of the newest high rise apartments. Our 1500 square feet home from the US could fit in this luxurious apartment (64 pyeoung)! Needless to say, we miss that SK Leader’s View and it will probably be best place we have rented. Glad you found what you were looking for and enjoy the new neighborhood!

  11. CityGirlSearching

    I’m not sure whether I’d say this was a nightmare of an adventure! I’m so glad you found a place though (and in Gangnam! Your friends and family must love that you live where Psy does haha). I am definitely going to share this awesome post with a friend of mine who is planning on moving to Seoul later this year and will have to find her own apartment.
    Such a great post filled with useful apps and places to find an apartment!

  12. CityGirlSearching

    Oh my – please excuse my spelling in the above comment!
    *I’m not sure whether I’d say this was a nightmare or an adventure!

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