August 9th, 2010
My bag and notebook is littered with the business cards of realtors. This is what I learned from the process of renting (again) in Korea.
1) prepare at least a 10,000 USD deposit. Yes, it’s a lot. Whatever, deal with it, it’s Korea. Most of the Koreans are putting down 100,000 or so on the places they rent, the kind of places that look like you’d want to live in them, this is just the way the system works
2) you’ll have to pay a commission to the realtor- go with a realtor you like. I met a lot of realtors, and I liked most of them. The guy with the second best apartment I looked at, 200 per month cheaper than this one with even more appliances (it even had an oven!) was a total drip. (Eden Realty in 해방촌 for those of you in Korea). I didn’t want to give him a commission and I’m glad I found this (better) place. A lot of the realtors I met though would sound impolite or asinine in English, but they were charming in Korean. Is it better to reward a realtor who works harder to communicate with non-Korean speakers? I don’t know.
3) the places that are authorized to deal with the US military guys rent the same type of place for MUCH more money to the military guys (this usually means a larger commission), and they have little incentive to deal well with us non-military types.
4) I went with Hyatt Hill Realty (half way up the Hyatt Road from Jungang Gyeongridan 02.797.4984). But the place was actually through Jo-eun Realty (on the main drag near Jungang Gyeongridan 02.749.4009). I liked the people at both places, or at least the owner at Jo-eun. I also had a favorable impression of the realtor at Rex Realty (02.790.8833) and the person I liked the absolute most was 배광재 (Bryan Bae) at Haeng’un Realty (02.797.7797) whom I would recommend anyone starting with. The office location is hard to explain, it’s near the 동사무서/파출서, so best to just try to get him to meet you at the Paris Baguette just off the road to the Hyatt.
5) if, like me, you refuse to live in a basement, and you have a serious budget issue, you just need to be firm about what you’re willing to see, from the start, otherwise you’re dragged everywhere up these steep hills, and aren’t even seeing passable places. I ended up saying I needed to see 3rd floor and above. Although some second floor places would have been okay, I just got tired of what I was seeing.
6) be prepared for surprises. I saw one place with at least five different wallpapers—one was leopard print, one was red with a large gold geometric design (even on the ceiling!), one was white with sparkly pastel pink and blue designs and two were the same print but one was black on white, the other white on black (of silhouetted booze bottles and cups for drinking booze). Yes, this means that except for the red room, each room had two different wallpapers. At least. No, there had to have been a third, a neutral one on the ceiling of the main room and the bedroom that wasn’t in red… This is why you might want to carry a camera, just for kicks.
7) you can bargain for “options” this means you get things like in my case a gas range, a refrigerator and a washing machine. Not all landlords will go for it, but some see it as an investment in the right kind of tenant.
8) in other areas of Seoul I’m sure it’s different, but in the foreigner heavy Yongsan’gu region many landlords prefer foreigners to Korean tenants because, dig this, we don’t split town without paying rent!
9) it pays to emphasize the ways in which you are higher status/more responsible seeming. I made a point to tell them I was in my 40s (I’m 40 Korean age if you count my lunar birthday not my Western birthday). Going to a famous university also helped me seem like a good tenant. Saying I was living on my fellowship helped people understand why I couldn’t pay a little more in rent (because I can’t just work a little overtime).
10) if you’ve already seen certain places, describe them as Koreans would. Say which realtors you already went to. Because they often just call each other, and you don’t want to be shown the same place twice (when I was looking in Samgakji (삼각지) three times realtors tried to show me the same exact apartment, the second time I walked part way there, the third time I just described it and said I’d seen it). Sometimes owners list their places with multiple realtors, sometimes they only list with one place. If listed with multiple realtors you can be taken to the same place by two different realtors.
11) if you want a cheap place, and you don't want a hovel, do what Koreans do-- move to an inconvenient out of the way location. At least you'll avoid the sketchy people in this neighborhood!
The highlight of the day—I got a phone with Gyeongjin (경진)’s help. We ate dinner, had coffee, and shopped at E-mart for home essentials until my eyes glazed over. Meeting really good friends and hanging out is just another of the reasons I LOVE Korea.
Photo: My foot after scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees. This also shows the nice flooring I have.