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 (firstname.lastname@example.org/ +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 (email@example.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.
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!
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.
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!)