Tips for Finding a House in Korea

Category : Korean Cultures / Surviving in Korea
Nov 28, 2014

Walking into a budongsan /부동산 (real estate agency) in Korea can be an intimidating experience. I remember my first time house hunting near Sadang and then in Itaewon, and it wasn’t pretty. I was a nervous wreck, paranoid that I would be lied to or tricked or manipulated into signing a lease I wasn’t comfortable with. Furthermore, I was worried about the language barrier and having a major miscommunication problem. Images of horrendous houses—sweltering in summer, icy in winter, no washing machine, cockroaches infesting my bed, no bed!—flashed through my brain the entire time. Thankfully, my nightmares did not become a reality and although house hunting isn’t my favorite thing to do, it certainly wasn’t as nerve-racking as I thought it would be. With that said, you do need your wits about you when you’re browsing neighborhoods for houses. Picking a home is no time to be a push-over, although you may want to make compromises in the end.


To make house shopping easier, the Korean government has designated certain realtors as reputable. The designation means that the realtors don’t work with landlords who have bad credit. It also means they are a registered budongsan with the municipal government, and in the past they haven’t treated customers badly. Most importantly, you don’t want to be working with people you can’t trust and you want to get a suitable lodging. Check this list of Designated Budongsans in Korea.


Contracts can be tricky to follow, even in your own language. If you work with an English realtor, the contract should be prepared in both English and Korean. Check out this wolse sample contract and this sale sample contract (note the important parts highlighted). You want to make sure you understand how much you are paying and what is expected of you as a tenant.

à See the article on Types of Housing Contracts in Korea.


Finally, there is so much to remember and as I mentioned, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Regard these tips before heading out and for the most part, it should go smoothly.


Obvious Tips

  1. Write down what you require for your living conditions before you hit the streets and bring that list with you to the realtor’s office. Consider the following:
  • Maximum price
  • Contract type
  • Neighborhood
  • Size
  • Furnished/not furnished/partially furnished
  • Type of apartment (see the article on Types of Housing in Korea)
  1. When you arrive at the budongsan, state your requirements before you start viewing. If the realtor brings you to a place that doesn’t match your criteria, show the list to them again and explain how that house won’t work for you.
  2. Be persistent if they are trying to convince that you won’t be able to get what you want, or leave and go to another budongsan.
  3. Remember you can always find a place that suits you. This is your house where you spend the majority of your time. It’s important that your needs are met.
  4. Discuss what you want to include in the contract before it’s written.
  5. Review the contract thoroughly and insist that changes be made if need be.
  6. Remember, once you have signed the lease and moved in, you won’t be able to easily change your mind. Contracts should be binding on both ends.
  7. It’s important to stick to your guns, but also remember that you are in a new country and the housing situation will be different. You may have to make compromises and you need to approach the hunt with an open mind.
  8. Check the house thoroughly as you view it. Make sure the house meets safety requirements (a fire extinguisher, proper alternative exits, sealed gas pipes, a fire alarm). As well, ensure that the lights, taps, the stove and other appliances all work properly.
  9. Find out exactly what is included in the rent price.
    • Example: Can you use the garden or rooftop patio? Is there a parking space?
  10. Make sure the lease clearly states what the landlord is responsible for in terms of making repairs, keeping the property and house clean, and replacing appliances.


Not-so-Obvious Tips

  1. Visit more than one place and even check listings with more than one realtor. Realtors will show a house they are struggling to rent first.
  2. Only work with a certified budongsan. In turn, they only work with reputable landlords who have strong credit. The realtor should have a proper certification mounted on the wall. If they don’t, leave. You can also double check with your local municipal office (deunggiso /등기소). The real-estate company will be registered with them as well.
  3. Register your contract and new address. Once you have sorted out all the bumps and signed the lease, take it to your local deunggiso and get it verified. The verification procedure is called hwack-jeong-il-ja /확정일자. This will ensure that you can hold the realtor and landlord accountable if something goes wrong.
  4. In the lease, include clear reasons for possible termination. You don’t want to get dinged your key money for skipping town early and as an expat, you are more likely to cancel the lease part-way through than a Korean person. Bear in mind:
  • Contracts generally require 60 to 90 days notice for early cancelation. You may want to make it less if you think there is a possibility that you will need to go home suddenly.
  • If you cancel mid-contract, you will incur a penalty. You will not always get the deposit back and you may have to continue paying the monthly rent until a new tenant is found. When a new tenant does move in, you may also have to pay the owner back for any costs they have paid to the real estate agency.
  1. Discuss how the apartment utilities are calculated and paid before you sign the lease. In some buildings, utilities are shared. Some have a maintenance fee. Some utilities may be paid directly to the landlord while others are paid to the utility company. Figure that out beforehand.
  2. You can usually negotiate key money (as explained in Types of Housing Contracts in Korea). If you don’t have enough key money, offer to pay a higher monthly rent. Landlords are generally very flexible.
  3. You can set up automatic rent payments at your bank, so you never have to worry about making rent on time. You need to go to the bank with your bank passbook, and the landlord’s account information to set up the transfer.
  4. It is common in Korea that the landlord changes the wallpaper, washes the floors or carpets and fixes anything broken before a new tenant moves in. Make sure you request this be done. Sometimes landlords will try not to do it assuming foreigners don’t know it is common practice.
  5. Register your new address at the local municipal office (deunggiso /등기소) within two weeks of moving in. Your Alien Registration Card (ARC) will need to be updated with the change.
  6. Take photographs of your new house before it’s cluttered with your stuff. These pictures can prove the condition of the house for future reference in case the landlord blames you for damage you did not do. As well, take pictures of the house when you move out for comparison.
  7. Budongsans take a commission for finding you the house- it’s the way they get paid to do their job. The commission is taken from a formula based on the price you are paying to rent the place. There is a commission cap of 200,000KRW for transaction prices below 50 milllion KRW and a cap of 300,000KRW for transaction prices between 50 and 100 million KRW. Simply put, you’re probably going to pay between 200,000KRW and 300,000KRW for budongsan services.



Tags : House. Korea.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.