Finding Accommodations

Budongsans (부동산) are commonly known as Korean real estate agencies. Sometimes can be referred to as budongsan-junggyeso.

Given the small size of Korea and the competition for space among the 42 million Koreans living here, and not to mention that almost half of that population resides in Seoul and the surrounding area, the real estate market is a massive industry and with seemingly every Kim, Lee, and Park in the country opening up a budongsan agency to try to capture a sliver of the amount of brokering fees that come with real estate transactions. Living in Korea, you’ll see that Korean restaurants seem to be every second business, while walking down a street. And the 부동산 signs can almost seem to fill up the rest of frontage. Although that may be a touch of an exaggeration, once you know the Korean symbol for budongsan, you’ll start to notice it everywhere in your travels around the urban sprawls of Korea.

Budongsans cater almost exclusively to Korean clients and a budongsan license isn’t terribly difficult to get for someone with an educational background that didn’t see much english exposure, so with that in mind, don’t expect to come across a lot of english-speaking budongsans around Korea. And considering the stakes involved and the crookedness that the industry tends to have for itself, clear communication is key. So unless your Korean is spotless, make sure you have a bilingual speaker with you, when going over details and contract particulars.

English-speaking budongsans are quite common around US military bases, so if you’re looking for english help, try finding the nearest base and wandering around the streets surrounding it, which will be full of english-speaking business and services that cater to theGI and GS contractors who work on the base. And it doesn’t matter if your budongsan is on the other side of the city from where you are looking for accommodation. Or even if it’s in another city. As they make their money from commission and have contacts with other budongsans, they’ll get on the horn with another agency in the area that you are looking and they’ll act as an intermediary, for a share of the broker commission. Commissions can often revolve around 3% of the yearly rental amount. Unless agreed upon otherwise, payment of the commission is shared between the landlord and the tenant.

When you visit a budongsan, we recommend that you demand to see several apartments to ensure that they don’t try to pass off a worse deal on you.  Also, we advise you to visit multiple budongsans and to never sign a contract on the spot, no matter how much you are pressured to do so.  If you want to sign that day, you should still leave, have a cup of coffee, and come back an hour later.

Paying for Accommodations

a. Single Private Housing
This option is popular among teachers who are new to Korea. Schools usually provide their teachers with a single unit near the school, either within walking distance, or a short bus or subway ride. Teachers are often provided with a studio apartment, but may also be housed in an apartment of faculty residence or dormitory, a leased house, or other type of apartment. This varies by location and teaching situation. Schools will both select the apartment and take care of the lease. Teachers may be responsible to pay Key Money (deposit), usually 500,000 won, which would be returned at the end of the contract, minus the last month’s utilities. The school will provide furniture (such as a bed, table and chairs, a closet, a range, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a microwave, and a TV set) and some units, not all, have air-conditioning.

b. Housing Allowance 
Some contracts only provide their teachers with a housing allowance, especially if the contract is for a short term. If your school does not provide housing, you would have to find your own accommodation and receive a monthly housing allowance from the school. Other teachers opt to receive a housing allowance to be able to choose a living situation that better meets their desires and needs. The amount of housing allowance will vary according to the location of the school and is usually between 300,000 and 500,000 won.

Lease Agreement Types
Jeonsei System (전세)
Under the yearly key money system (called “Jeonsei” in Korean), tenants pay the house owner the equivalent of a year’s rent in advance and pay no monthly rent. The tenant’s money earns interest for the house owner during the contract period. At the end of the contract, tenants receive their entire deposits back, minus any fees for damages. Yearly key money can run from 20~30 million won for a single studio to 60~100 million won for a larger apartment in a more prestigious neighborhood.

Wolsei System (월세)
Wolsei is the monthly rent system. Tenants are required to pay rent each month, plus Key Money (deposit) which is returned when the tenant moves out. The amount of monthly rent paid can vary, depending on the amount of Key Money paid. If the amount of Key Money is large, tenants would pay a smaller amount monthly. Monthly rents can vary greatly according to the location of the unit, and can range between 0.3 and 1 million won. Key Money for Wolsei lease agreements can range between 3 and 20 million won. Very few schools will offer Key Money to help their teachers rent apartments.

C. Shared Housing
Although this is an option, teachers should be careful when choosing roommates. Each person’s financial responsibilities should be spelled out and agreed upon in advance. Sometimes, private language schools will have 2 or 3 teachers share one large apartment with a common bathroom and kitchen.

d. Dormitories
Yonsei, Ewha, Seoul, Hanyang and Konkuk universities and Hankook University of Foreign Studies all have dormitory accommodations available. The Korean Research Foundation also runs an International House for foreign students. These dormitories can sometimes accommodate foreign instructors, although they usually only accommodate their own faculty.

e. Lodging Houses (Hasuk: 하숙) and Homestays
These options are popular with university students or those just starting their professional careers. Single rooms can cost between 300,000 and 600,000 won a month and include meals and sometimes laundry service. Another option is to stay with a local family, which can be an excellent opportunity to experience Korean life and culture directly. With both of these options, one of the main disadvantages is a lack of privacy. Most instructors that begin their time in Korea at lodging houses or with homestays eventually move into more private accommodations.

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