My little family and I moved to Seoul, South Korea, for my husband’s new assignment in December 2013. We were really excited for this opportunity but honestly had no idea what to expect. Not too long after we arrived in our new country, we had to start finding that perfect place to call home for the next three years. No pressure, right?
South Korea apartment hunting can be a bit different than looking in the US. Here are a few things to remember while you’re finding your new home.
Get a Good Realtor… or Two or Three.
You don’t look for an apartment, your realtor does it for you. When you get to your housing office, they will provide you with a list of realtors to use in the area you’re looking. You contact a realtor with your home preferences and then they find homes for you to see. Your realtor is the one who negotiates the contract and also the person you’ll be paying your rent to. Keep in mind that every realtor has connections with different apartments; it’s perfectly fine – and expected – to meet up with a few realtors until you find the right fit and the home you want.
High rise vs Villa vs House
There are three different types of homes you can look at in Korea. The most common are high rises and villas, and the least common are single family houses. A high rise is just what you can expect: A building with five or more floors, typically in a complex with other high rise buildings. The positives of these are complex amenities such as fitness centers and playgrounds, elevators, and parking garages. Villas are apartments in small buildings, usually four or less floors. These usually don’t have elevators and don’t offer the amenities like the high rises, but can be comfortable and quieter. Houses are smaller than US homes, but not by too much, and they are not as common as the others. Most homes are older than villas or high rises, but they have the added bonus of small yards and no shared walls.
Keep Parking in Mind
Parking can sometimes be a challenge in Korea. High rises will have parking garages under the buildings. You could be fighting for a parking spot if it’s a particularly busy evening, but you’ll be protected from the elements (cold winters, hot summers). Villas sometimes have garages but most have open parking, covered or street, and you’ll be looking for a spot if it’s crowded. Houses will have their own parking.
Ask What’s Included
Most apartments will include internet and Korean cable. You could get membership to the fitness center, if there is one, and access to any other amenities and perks your place might have. Ask your realtor what you’ll get.
How Many Bedrooms?
When we were looking for homes, we wanted a place with at least three bedrooms and our realtor was good about finding that for us. We actually ended up with a four-bedroom apartment. Your realtor will be able to find the right sized apartment for you because there are so many options. Keep in mind that the bedrooms are usually smaller, except the masters. Also, the master bedroom is separate in the home from the other bedrooms.
What’s in the Bathrooms?
Again, remind your realtor what you’re looking for: whether you want one or two bathrooms. Korean apartments have “wet” bathrooms, meaning they don’t have a shower curtain and there’s a drain in the floor and a lip on the door so water doesn’t escape. Usually one bathroom in the apartment will have a bathtub, but not always both. The bathrooms can be a whole range of sizes, too.
And the Kitchen?
Kitchens aren’t too different from American homes. The ovens are smaller and regular baking pans won’t fit (think 15” or smaller). The stoves are mostly gas. The fridges are regular size. There’s plenty of storage. Oh, but the sinks are different – they are bigger and have NO garbage disposable. Plenty of homes have dishwashers, too.
Koreans have apartment living down. There is plenty of storage for all your belongings, so when you’re looking at apartments start thinking what you have and where you want to put it. Apartments are a great size, we actually live in a home that’s just as big as ours was back at our last duty station. Finding a home in Korea can be daunting at first, but take your time and don’t settle. Your perfect place is out there!