Apartment Hunting in Seoul, South Korea
If you watched my latest life update video, you know that this month I’m finally moving out of my sweet little basement apartment. Other than not having a good window to look out of, my basement studio was such a great home for me, and for my wallet. I will miss it and my giant closet/junk room dearly, but am excited for my new space. We’ve already signed our contract but I wanted to share some of the places we looked at and how our plans went in a totally different direction from what we thought we wanted. We had a spreadsheet (i married the right man lol) of about 20 places which we narrowed down to a top 5, but we ended up technically looking at 6 rooms (and a few of the places we wanted to see were sold out before we could look or the relator never answered us)
What we wanted:
Since I’ll be moving in with my husband (still not used to that, I will just say Kurt for the rest of this lol!) we originally thought we wanted extra space. I love him to death but we’re both really independent people and need a little alone time, so I thought having a separate room would be good for us. Especially since he’s a total night owl and will stay up working until 4am while I’d like to be in bed by 10pm - being able to give him his own work space separate from the bedroom would have been a plus. We started looking at 2-room apartments but ran into a few snags.
Apartments tend to be more expensive than a one room (obviously) and if the rent is the same, the deposit is much higher.
Apartments that were in our budget tended to be in older buildings (you will see what I mean…)
You often need to buy your own appliances for apartments such as laundry machines, fridges, etc.
We saw two apartments in two different neighborhoods and this is what we found:
This was the second place that we toured, and I had initially put this pretty high on our list before we saw it. When we called the relator, he told us the address and time to meet him out front. When we arrived, we genuinely thought he gave us the wrong building number. The photos of the apartment made it look so modern and chic and the front of the house was…not.
It was a very old building, the stairs were dirty and dark, and it had trash and dead plants all over. The apartment itself was okay. The owner had renovated it so that it was nice looking, but a little cramped. It had 2 bedrooms, a large living room, and a kitchen and small veranda for the laundry machine. We couldn’t take many photos because the family was still living there at the time, but for the price, the actually living space was alright. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to live in that building.
Price: 3000만 deposit/105만 rent (roughly $30,000/$1,050)
Park View Apartment
This ended up being number 2 on our final list and we probably would have chosen this if our number 1 fell through. The building was relatively new and sat facing a large neighborhood park filled with cute dogs and families enjoying the spring weather. It was close to a subway station and the neighborhood seemed really friendly. The apartment was on the 2nd floor and had two rooms plus a large kitchen and small bathroom. The front room, which we would have used as a living room, had one nice window that got a lot of western light, the kitchen was a good size with a bar/counter space that is very rare in Korean housing, and the second back room which would have been our bedroom had a nice closet. The bathroom was tiny as was the veranda but that didn’t matter too much to us. The problem was the apartment was just a tiny but too cramped. It was nice to have 3 separate living spaces but they all felt just a few square inches too tight and the light (I saw the space in the evening) was a bit dim and didn’t fill the whole house. We’d also need to buy all the appliances and there really wasn’t much space for them. I think we could have made it work nicely for us, but there would have just been a lot more work involved.
Price: 2000만 deposit/95만 rent (roughly $20,000/$950)
What we ended up with:
A popular form of housing in Korea is called an officetel, which is a small studio or loft-style apartment that is good for 1 or 2 people and tends to be affordable in the right neighborhoods. They also typically come with appliances and relatively new features. Another bonus is that if you see a layout you like, typically you can find it in other neighborhoods too since many officetels have the same general layout.
Officetel of Our Dreams
The officetel at the top of both of our lists was a rare one. It had a large kitchen, a small separate bedroom (typically officetels are one rooms or open lofts) and, get ready for this one, a bathtub. A BATHTUB. So of course, this was the place we wanted to see first. But as luck would have it, it had been taken just a few hours before we went to see it. There was another opening in the building but with a different layout, we still checked it out.
Price: 1000만 deposit/120만 rent (roughly $10,000/$1,200)
Officetel of Our Sort-of Dreams
This space was equally nice, with a lovely window and view of the Han River, and with that bathtub! What kind of wonderland is this officetel building?! We thought about the place a bit more and reluctantly agreed that, as much as we would have loved to live in the neighborhood where it was located, it would be so hard for Kurt to get to work every morning and wasn’t worth that sacrifice. We said goodbye to this dreamy space and started looking in better locations for our needs, not our wants.
Price: 1000만 deposit/100만 rent (roughly $10,000/$1,000)
The wonderful thing about officetels, is that there are typically multiple rooms of the same style available at the same time. We found the building we wanted to live in and viewed one on a high floor facing south. We were interested but needed some time to think it over (we still needed to look at the park view apartment!). By the time we asked to re-see the one we viewed, it was taken but never fear! There were 2 open on a lower floor facing another direction. I went alone since Kurt had a meeting so I checked out both of the rooms. We ended up going with one that had brand new floors and appliances and, are you ready for this?! A BATHTUB. I know, I can’t believe it either.
It was essentially the same layout as the place we didn’t take because of location and is an impressive size for an officetel. It might not have a view of the Han, but it has a rooftop garden ;) Even better, we were able to negotiate with our new landlord and got the rent down to way below our budget! We have literally no money in the bank now since the deposit was all of both of our savings combined but for the location, the rent, the amenities, and everything else that we love about this space, it’s worth being thrifty for a few months. Our landlord also seems really sweet compared to my current landlord who hates my guts lol.
Original Price: Price: 2000만 deposit/110만 rent (roughly $20,000/$1,100)
After Negotiation Price: 5000만 deposit/85만 rent (roughly $50,000/$850)
I’ll give a proper tour once everything is set up, but if you’re getting set to look for housing in Seoul, don’t limit yourself to styles of housing you think you want. Also, if you have a chunk of money saved for the deposit, try seeing places that are outside your budget and negotiating. They’ll often drop the price (not by much usually) of the rent if you up your deposit price.
What We Used:
We used Zigbang, Naver부동산, and Dabang. Zigbang and Dabang are honestly exactly the same except Dabang’s photos are so bad. They’ll have listings for the exact same house and somehow Dabang’s photos literally only show a random corner of the house or a weird shot of the ceiling. It’s wild. For how to use Zigbang, here’s a tutorial!
Naver부동산 had a lot more options and is where we ended up finding the place we are now living in.
We used a different relator for each spot rather than having one drive us all over the place. That way we were more free to try different styles and neighborhoods and our relator fee was a lot less. They also tend to pressure you less about answering them ASAP because they aren’t wasting as much of their time on you if they’re just showing you the house for a few minutes versus taking you around the whole day.
Kurt did most of the calling, but I saw the last 3 places by myself without any problem. With basic Korean you’ll be fine, especially if you do the individual relator route like I mentioned because they aren’t hassling you to decided right away. I also did the initial contacting for the places because that usually takes place via message and I’m okay with writing in Korea - phone calls still make me sweat lol.