Apartment Hunting

We arrived and moved into The Prau straight away, as it was the recommended building, and, well, the thought of having a nice warm flat to move into upon arrival was far more enticing than staying in a hotel until we were ready to move again. It is about 20 minutes walk from The GCF and a good starting point. Most of the people I have spoken to seem to have stayed here for at least a month, depending how long their permanent home search took.  The apartments are fully furnished (a rare find here in South Korea) and with basic cookware and bedding – although you have to request these to be included in the apartment. They are also pretty flexible about timelines – we started off booking for one month but as I right, our second month in the apartment is coming to an end and we are extending for one more week. The ultimate luxury is that the wifi is up and running and there is a smart TV (remember the Apple TV post – this is where it comes in handy) set up and ready to use.

We contacted all the real estate agents that were suggested to us, but only one replied – Mr. Juny Park (juneland@naver.com/  +82 10-4366-3515). He speaks English well and communicates via whatsapp so whilst you are using your home phone, it is still easy enough to set up appointments with him. I had shared our preferences for apartment (size, bedrooms, area etc) with Juny prior to arriving in Songdo and he lined up several options for us to look at straight away. You cannot overestimate how useful it is having someone who speaks the language in your corner and renting in Korea is a very peculiar beast.

Edit: A further agent that people have used more recently and really like is Mr B Cho at Songdo Homes (songdohomes@gmail.com). Always nice to have another contact just in case! Whilst I was perfectly happy with Juny, newer arrivals have preferred Mr Cho – the choice is yours! 

Key Money vs Monthly Rent

The strangest thing about renting here is the upfront deposit that everyone is required to put down. To be completely straight up about it – monthly rents pay the landlord’s mortgage (or the Korean equivalent) and they make money by investing the deposits that they require all tenants to pay. The deposits can vary from $10,000 USD to $50,000 and the general rule is, the lower the deposit, the higher the monthly rent.  However, it is always worth seeing an apartment even if the deposit seems outrageous. On the way over to our new place (Central Park 1..more on that below) I mentioned to Juny that the requested deposit was way too high, even though the rent seemed reasonable. By the time Raj and I had look in the first cupboard, he has got the landlady to agree to reduce the deposit to a figure within our budget – all is well that ends well.

Contracts

Make sure that you request the contracts in both English and Korean and if possible, ask a Korean-speaking colleague to check that the contract written in Korean matches the English one. A typical GCF clause is the ‘diplomatic clause.’ This allows the tenant to give 2 months notice to the Landlord – usually contracts are set for 1 or 2 years with no break clause. Our landlady wasn’t keen on the clause and we were happy to have it removed, but in return asked for a reduction in rent, or that some of the white goods that we were hoping to avoid buying were left behind. In the end, the clause remained and we got a treadmill out of it – no excuses for sitting around now!

Central Park

Most of the apartments in the Central Park complex are unfurnished. If you are lucky, you can get a landlord to leave behind a fridge and/or washing machine, unfortunately we didn’t get anything (except the aforementioned treadmill.) There are three mini-complexes within the overall complex – Central Park 1, Central Park 2 and Central Park 3. Each building has different sized apartments and different benefits, so it is worth going to visit one apartment in each building to decide what suits you the best. Some have gyms included, some don’t. You need to apply for parking in each one. All are very close to the GCF so expect some lunchtime visits from the spouse… What each one has in common is that utilities will be payable on top of the rent – make sure you ask about these. Whilst they are largely based on usage (eletricity, water and gas) there are some fixed costs – maintenance, service charge etc.

Household Items

Key places to get your shopping done include, Homeplus, Lotte, Emart, Ikea and Costco.

The most important tip in the first three is ALWAYS ASK FOR THE REAL PRICE. We were lucky and Juny took us to buy a fridge and TV and we learnt that the prices on display are never the ones that you will actually pay. So ask and ask and ask until you find someone with enough English to confirm the actual cost for you – you’ll be presently surprised.Whenever you buy something large from these stores, they will deliver and install as well. Ikea offers a delivery service (at an additional cost) and at a further cost, will also build your furniture for you and Costco offers a delivery service (and installation for items like washing machines).  Speaking of washing machines, if you are able to ship your own from home, I’d recommend it. If, like us, there are just the two of you, the washing machines available here are all HUGE (14kg and above) and I am really struggling to find something smaller – so much so I am seriously considering asking our landlord at The Prau if he’ll sell us the washing machine from here!

So moving day is actually tomorrow and I’ll fill you in as to how the move itself goes, as well as how we managed the language barrier when getting deliveries into the building (Language classes really could not start any sooner!)

 

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Itaewon

Just a quick one today about the joys of Itaewon.

Itaewon is on line 6 of the Seoul subway and a major hub for all foreigners in and around Seoul. There are lots of international restaurants – with an emphasis on Turkish (ed. meaning lots and lots of Baklava) – for when you need a dose of home and plenty of English speaking tourists around. Just wandering through the streets Raj and I were given advice on restaurants by passers-by and it was nice to hear another English accent.

One of the best thing about Itaewon is the foreign food markets – Mexican, Indian, Italian, Turkish … all kinds of yum. The three markets that we went to are around the corner from each other and I’ve plotted them on the below map. It is a bit of a trek from Songdo into Seoul just to buy one or two items, so plan ahead and get a little shopping trolley on wheels (or use a backpack, which is what we did). It is worth checking out prices for the same items in each of the markets – it can save you a few thousand won which all adds up when it comes to food shopping. Itaewon is also a good place to buy souvenirs but I’m told there are better markets with less of a marked up price – will let you know when I find them.

I’d recommend getting into Seoul early on in the day for any sightseeing/exploring that you want to do, and making Itaewon your last stop on the way back to Songdo – do your shopping, have a bite to eat and have a little snooze on the bus home.

I’m away for the next couple of weeks but when I come back I’ll have updates on Incheon – where you can find the fruit and vegetable market – and the fun that is apartment hunting to share! Happy Seollal (Korean lunar New Year) in the meantime!

International Food Shopping

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Raj’s office gave every employee a HUGE box of sweets to celebrate the new year with.. yummy!

 

Bus Routes

Bit of a functional post today with a couple of bus routes that have come in handy but as I’m finding more and more common in SoKo, a lost in translation moment will always feature.

Once you have your T-Money pass all set up and good to go, the bus is a great lifeline in Songdo.

I’ve tried to plot the bus stops that we used on the below map, but I’ll get Raj to check the maps when he is back from work – I was directionally challenged even when I understood and could pronounce the street names! (ed. Raj has had a look and says that the bus stops are roughly in the right place, so yay me!)

Bus Route M6724 – Towards Hongik University

I’ve marked this as the red cross on the below map. It is around the corner from HomePlus Express and down the road from BMW. We took the M6724 all the way from Songdo into Seoul and it took just over an hour. The bus does stop nearer to The Prau, but we were advised to try and get as close to the start of the route as possible, to ensure a seat for the duration. (ed. This isn’t such an issue on a Sunday, but the bus does get busy.)

When you get on the bus, try and head towards the back of the bus – that way, if any elderly people / people more in need of seats than you get on the bus, you don’t find yourself seatless. The buses here are REALLY REALLY hot – as soon as we got on, all the layers came off. Make sure you have water and, if you are like me, a snack (cheese and cucumber sandwiches!) to keep you going.

From Songdo we went to Hapjeong – also known as the first stop once you have crossed over the river – and after a brief wander through Hongdae (head right from the bus stop) we took line 6 on the metro to Itaewon.

Once you are in Seoul, the subway is definitely the quickest way to get around, so download the Seoul Subway App before you go exploring and it is fairly easy to figure things out from there.

Sidebar: don’t be surprised or (too) afraid if the bus driver starts doing strange things. On our way back to Songdo, Raj and I were the last two passengers on the bus after the local university stop. At the traffic lights, which granted, are paticularly long, the driver got up and started clearing rubbish, putting the seats upright and got back to the wheel just in time to move the bus. Then he decided to pull over and have a chat with us to figure out where we wanted to get off the bus. I think it was just Sunday night and he wanted to floor it to the depot and get home but we were not helping with his plan by not leaving but it was all very funny and of course, I got the giggles which didn’t really help!

Bus Route 908

From the bus route directly outside Homeplus Express (on the same side of the road) you can get the 908 to a couple of places – see the blue cross on the map.

Again, there is a bus stop nearer to The Prau, but using Homeplus Express as a landmark isn’t a bad way to go.

(1) If you get down at Dong Mak Station, you can get the subway into Incheon or take a 10 minute walk and you’ll be at Square 1 – Songdo’s Mall complete with 2 supermarkets, a cinema and a range of shops that will be familar to you, such as H&M, Zara and Mango.

(2) You can also stay on the 908 all the way to Incheon – get down at Incheon Bus Terminal and you’ll be directly outside the Fruit and Vegetable market. Whilst not everything is cheaper here, it certainly makes you feel as though you can afford to eat fruit in South Korea – but that’s for another day and another post.

If you walk through the Bus Terminal you’ll be at the Shinsagae department store, Lotte department store and a load of fun back streets that I am yet to explore, so we’ll talk about Incheon another day.

Bus Route 6405

I haven’t tried this route yet but I believe that you can take the 6405 into Gangnam. Will update once I know for sure!

Happy Exploring… and don’t forget to touch IN and OUT when getting on and off the buses!

Bus Route 6707b – Kal Limousine Bus

So the easiest way to get to the airport from Songdo is to take the Kal Limousine Bus. It costs KWR7,000 one way and when leaving Songdo, you buy your ticket directly from the bus driver. The bus to the airport stops across the road from Dominos on Convensia-Dareo and takes about 20 minutes and you can check the schedule here: https://www.kallimousine.com/eng/guide01_en.html

On the way back from the airport, the easiest thing to do is exit through exit 4 and directly on your left hand side is the ticket office. The stop for The Prau is Korean Coast Guard and it stops outside Dominos – first stop after the bridge.

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