The Korean people are driven to continuously upgrade, relocate and rebuild. In this sense, it is never really difficult to find lodging in Seoul. Wherever you go, you’ll be constantly aware of the hum of machinery as new blocks of state of the art, high rise apartments are being built. So, if you’re looking for a nice apartment in Seoul, you can get what you want quite easily. If you’re looking for a house, however, you may be in for a more difficult search. Houses are virtually non-existent in any Korean city; that said, there are pockets of real houses available if you’re willing to pay much higher prices.
In Seoul you have three main housing options: an apartment in a high rise building, an apartment in a villa, which is an apartment building with five stories or less, or an officetel. Most high rise buildings are less than ten years old – a twenty year old high rise building is a rarity – and are generally well built and guarded. Villas can be brand new or shockingly old with poor safety standards.
The third option are studios called officetels, which are usually quite modern and often in a high rise building. They are called officetels because one third or more of the other rooms in your building will be offices for small businesses. Koreans live at home until they are married so it is extremely uncommon for a single Korean person to seek out a studio apartment. Still, they are rented out as apartments to students and foreigners on a regular basis and are a viable option if you are moving to Seoul alone.
Houses are available, although much less so than the other three options. Surprisingly, most houses are located within the central area of Seoul and you will find less and less as you move towards the outskirts of the city. Still, if you are keen to live in a house, you may have to search with more intensity, but eventually, you should prevail.
Paying for accommodation in Seoul likely differs from what you are used to in your home country. You have the option of putting down a large deposit and paying a monthly rent (the Korean equivalent of leasing), or pay a much larger deposit and no monthly rent at all. Both of these deposit forms are returned to you after the expiration of your lease agreement. This is often the biggest surprise to foreigners coming to Korea as sometimes these deposits can range from $5,000 to $20,000 or much more depending on the size of the accommodation. When it comes to real estate in Seoul, you really get what you pay for, so keep that in mind when you are determining your budget for housing.
It is advisable to contact a real estate agent to assist you with all of these decisions. There are plenty of English speaking agents in Seoul with most of them in the Yongsan-gu area (where the foreigner population is the most concentrated). You will need to pay a small realtor fee, but it will be well worth it in the end.