When finding housing in Korea the easiest is visiting a real estate agent and have them help you.
Some people like to prepare well ahead of time and start looking for a new place several months before they have to move out of the old housing. This is not a good idea because the housing market in Korea moves quickly. It can feel a little stressful but three to two weeks, before your current contract expires, is plenty of time to find new housing in Korea. Koreans work at a fast pace and everyone does it this way.
When it is time to find new housing, visit a real estate agent in the area where you wish to move to or book an English speaking real estate agent. Let the real estate agent know your requirements and budget and they will show you a variety of housing that match. Even if the agent doesn’t operate in the area you want to move to, they partner with a local agent.
Don’t feel obligated to take a place you are not 100 percent sure of. You will be tied to the rental contract for at least a full year so you want to make sure you want to live there.
You can also look on Craigslist for apartments for rent, rooms, and people looking for roommates. On Craigslist listings by real estate agents are often without photos but listed by real estate agents that operate in English.
Even if there are photos, make sure you check out the place and the person behind the ad before you transfer any money or sign a contract.
Koreans use websites like Naver and Daum and apps (Zigbang, Dabang, Gobang) but all information is in the Korean language. You can use these listings to get an idea of the price level in different areas of Korea.
If you find a house that you want, you can ask the real estate agent or landlady/landlord to view it again before signing the contract if you e.g. need measurements for furniture or forgot the number of kitchen drawers, etc but you don’t need to explain why you want to see it again.
Make sure you inspect the house before you sign the contract in any case. The landlady/landlord is obligated to your request to change the floor or wallpaper with no extra charge.
The contract will have a description of appliances that are included in the contract - check that they are all there and function properly. If they don’t work or are missing, point it out to the landlady/landlord or real estate agent.
Don’t worry about bothering the real estate agent or the landlady/landlord - all parties are interested in landing the contract. The real estate agent doesn’t earn any money from you until you sign and the landlady/landlord is usually eager to secure a new renter because she needs the new deposit to pay the previous renter back.
It is a good idea to document the current state by taking photos before and after. If for nothing else, Korean people have respect for anything that can be proven with photos or CCTV (surveillance camera).
Make sure your demands are added in the contract so they become a contractual condition. Additionally, if there are other things you think should be fixed or replaced before you move in, negotiate with the landlord, and have them written in the contract before you sign it.
If you find housing through a real estate agent they will include the property checklist in the documents you will be asked to sign along with the contract. Take your time going through it and check if any damages that need repair or changes have been included.
On top of monthly rent, most contracts will have a maintenance fee. The maintenance fee can, in some cases, include utilities like electricity and water that the owner divides on the unit due to lack of individual meters per unit. In other cases, the maintenance fee is a fixed amount that you pay for electricity in common areas like the hallway, elevator, common area cleaning, etc. In some cases it also includes wifi. For example, while in other cases you just pay it and don’t really get anything in return. All this should be specified in the contract.
Check and copy the landlady/lord’s ID card or take photos of the front and back. If you use a real estate agent they will have it.
If you use a real estate agent they will already have a copy of the building registration and verified the information below.
If you don’t use a real estate agent you can get a copy of the building registration at the local community center and the fee is very low. You can also obtain it online if your Korean is sufficient.
When you have the document, check that the name of the owner on the registration matches the copy of the landlady/landlord’s ID card you have. If names and ID numbers do not match, the landlady/landlord may not have the right to rent out the house to you.
Check that the unit you are looking to rent actually is registered and registered correctly. Some buildings have illegally been reconstructed to expand the number of units or there might have been a mistake when the building was registered. This can become a problem because you then would have a contract on something that doesn’t technically exist.
You can also see on the registration how many creditors, who they are, and how much debt to them the landlady/landlord has.
If the value that remains after the debt is lower than your deposit, there is a risk of the landlady/landlord not being able to pay you back when it is time or a risk that the creditors may take over the housing.
When you have found your new home in Korea and want to reserve it you have to make a down payment of the deposit.
Are you lucky and wealthy enough to be able to buy housing in Korea? The total payment process happens in three steps: advance down payment followed by interim payment and paying the remaining balance.
Like most people, you might be renting a place in which case you make the down payment in two rounds: an advance payment and paying the remaining balance.
When you sign the contract, you pay 10 percent of the deposit to lock in the deal. You can, however, change your mind. This is a breach of the contract and it will cost you the 10 percent paid in advance, which the house owner has a right to keep. In case you move in as agreed in the contract and stay the whole contract period the 10 percent paid in advance is part of the fully refundable deposit to you.
Should the owner change their mind you are entitled to the double amount.
If you find a home through a real estate agent, there is a fee to the agent between 0.4% - 0.9 percent of the transaction amount. The rates vary according to the transaction amount and housing type.
The transaction amount consists of the deposit plus (monthly rentX100). You pay the fee on the spot when signing the contract. If you don’t have access to internet banking you can go to an ATM or bank and wire the money to the real estate agent’s account.
On the move-in day, inspect and check that your requirements that were added to the contract have been fulfilled, e.g. change of wallpaper, or engage in dialogue with the landlady/landlord about when it will be taken care of and hold her to it. You can go through the real estate agent and let them handle the situation as the contract is signed with them.
Make sure you always leave a paper trail or an electronic trail of payments as proof you have paid. This goes not only for the deposit but the monthly rent too.
You can set up an automatic transfer for a certain period of time, e.g. 12 months, on a certain date every month for the contract period to the landlady/landlord’s bank account. You can just go to the local branch of your bank and request automatic transfer and they will help you with the forms you need to fill out and sign.
If the landlady/landlord asks for cash payments it is most likely because she/he doesn’t pay tax on the income (since other things such as the legality of her/him renting out the premises should have been cleared already before signing). The contract will usually have a bank account number of the landlady/landlord where you can make the transfer to regardless of such a request.
As a foreigner in Korea, you must update your new address so Immigration knows where to send letters or find you. You can visit the district office in the area of your new home instead of going to immigration. The district office will need the housing contract and your alien registration card and the new address will be updated immediately on the spot. The process takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
At the local community center, you can register as a resident and secure your deposit. You just need to bring your contract and alien registration card and the clerk will input it in the system against a low fee. This process is called 확정일자 hwakjeongeelja and gives you priority over other creditors.
If the landlady/landlord has agreed, have the door lock changed or change the entrance code on the electronic door lock keypad since you don’t know the previous renter or who the person gave the code to. Have at least two copies of the new key made and give one to the landlady/landlord. The landlady/landlord will have a universal entrance code to enter in an emergency in case there is an electronic keypad so you don’t need to give the new code.
If necessary take pictures of the readings. Have the utility bills changed to your name to make sure you aren’t liable for the previous user’s unpaid bills. A good landlady/landlord will make sure all the calculations are done and either reimburse you or make sure the previous renter paid until the move out day.
Even if you may not speak a lot of Korean just being polite to the owner can take you very far and make your experience in your new home a very positive experience.
Koreans, in particular older people, will go over and beyond for you if they take you under their wings. You don’t have to give her gifts or invite her in for coffee but respecting the house rules and being friendly can make sure your stay in your new home in Korea is a pleasant and safe experience. Some landladies/landlords may seem a little curious or chat with you for minutes in Korean even if they know you don’t understand. But doesn’t that go for most older people? Take it as a sign of friendliness and just smile back!
If you bump into the other residents of the building they may ignore you because Korean people don’t engage with people they don’t know or have not been introduced to. You can be polite and friendly to them too but you are not obligated by the Korean rules of customs to have any interaction with them.
The following should not be read as a lifted finger but rather general advice that will make your stay in your new home pleasant and hopefully problem-free.
A good English speaking real estate agent will walk you through the contract before you sign it and have an English translation of the key points. If in doubt, ask questions and make sure you understand the terms and conditions. The Korean version of the contract will be the superseding document in case of a disagreement or legal dispute so you will be signing the Korean document.
Do not make cash payments as these are very difficult to track and document. Electronic transfers either by internet banking or automatic transfers from your bank account are the best. The same applies to your utility bill payments. Traceable or documentable payments eliminate all doubt about whether or not the payment was made and when it was done.
If you want to put stickers on cabinets or walls, drill holes for screws or hammer nails in the walls, make alterations to the interior or structure of the housing, do not do it without prior, written permission from the landlady/landlord. If you do it without consent from the owner the removal or costs of restructuring back to what it was like before can be deducted from your deposit.
Do not remove appliances or furniture that are included in the contract without communicating with the landlady/landlord about it. As the items are in the contract, it is your responsibility that these appliances or pieces of furniture are in the house when your contract period ends.
Do not try to sneak in pets if the contract stipulates that pets are not allowed. It will most likely be discovered and it is a breach of the contract.
Do not smoke inside if it is clearly stated in the contract that the building is non-smoking. Not only because of the smell and yellowing of the wallpaper but also to prevent fires that can spread to the rest of the building.
Do not knock on the door to neighbours if you find them too noisy and ask them to be quiet. This is illegal in Korea because this has resulted in fights in the past.
The way to handle noisy neighbours is by calling the police or enduring the noise.
Should you find yourself in the situation of overhearing domestic violence or disputes the safest is also calling the police. If you don’t want to report what you think is domestic violence you can call and complain about the noise.
Keep in mind that you will be living in the building with the person you reported for the rest of the contract period.