If you’re planning to purchase a home in Seoul as opposed to leasing, you may want to reconsider. There have been accounts of expats being charged far more than a Korean would be subject to pay, many Koreans will not even sell to expats and the majority of English speaking real estate agents have a bad reputation among the foreign community.
In addition, the language barrier is often a problem for expats who do not speak Korean and this is the language in which all of your real estate deals will be closed. This can be extremely frustrating and confusing, and one never really knows if they’re getting a raw deal or not (which is unfortunate). As a result, foreigners do not generally buy properties in Seoul – it is far, far easier to lease a home.
Seemingly, the only way one can purchase a home is by making a huge deposit (and in Seoul, this deposit could be up to $1,000,000.00 USD). As it is very difficult to even find proper information on how to purchase in Seoul and real estate agents are reluctant to talk about it, it is recommended that you seriously consider other living options.
If you speak fluent Korean, have a pile of money set aside for your future home and find an excellent real estate agent in Seoul, however, it is possible for you to purchase a home. In the end, as many expats put it, you simply need to trust your real estate agent. While there is no specific type of housing that foreigners are banned from purchasing, it is often the will of the seller not to sell to a foreigner. Purchasing a home in Seoul will probably be a different experience for each individual expat – some may have an extremely easy time finding their dream home, while others will walk away empty handed.
If you have enough cash to pay for a down payment, you are able to get a mortgage to pay the rest off. There are many different reviews from expats who have/had a mortgage in Korea, but they all say that the system is extremely strange and liable to change at any time. While some have had an easy time with this (particularly if their spouse is Korean) other have had worse experiences. Interest rates are extremely high and seem to fluctuate.
As there is a real lack of information on obtaining a mortgage and the monthly rates, it is advisable to contact the HSBC Premier Centre. They will be able to give you the accurate and up-to-date information on getting a mortgage in Seoul. Check out this website: http://www.hsbc.co.kr/1/2/hsbcpremier/worldwide-assistance/buying-properties-inkorea
If you plan to purchase a home in Seoul (which, despite everything, is entirely possible) remember these important facts:
1. Have your paperwork in order – this means, anything you think may be relevant. Don’t always trust your real estate agent to help you with this process. It is advisable to get a lawyer to help you. If you want to sell the property someday and move back to your home country, you need every piece of paperwork to receive payment overseas.
2. Have a huge amount of money in your bank account. Some expats say that many foreigners in Seoul are unable to get a loan and need to pay 100% at the time of deal closure. It is much easier to purchase property outside Seoul, so if you don’t mind commuting to work, perhaps you might consider some of Seoul’s satellite cities (Yongin, Suwon, Ujeong-bu, Incheon) if you aren’t prepared to pay for your home up front (which, in Seoul, could be more than $1,000,000.00 USD).
3. Try to find an honest and reliable Korean friend to help you with the process. Many expats who own properties in Seoul have Korean business partners or spouses and everything goes in their name, making the process much easier. Apparently, even if you speak Korean, if you are purchasing an older piece of property there is a chance that the original deeds are in Chinese characters – which means you still may be out of luck!
There is always an element of risk involved with purchasing property in any country. Seoul is no different, and indeed, it seems to have more risks than anything else. It has been said that if you have a lump sum of money and are determined to live in Seoul, within the city limits, why not lease a gorgeous home with $100,000.00+ USD, and use this amount for key money? For more information on leasing, please look to the next section.
If you would prefer the opinion of a Korean real estate agent, here are a few English speaking agents around Seoul:
In Hannam-dong, you can find Best Real Estate. This real estate company employs four agents who speak English, Japanese and French as well as Korean (http://www.bestreco.com). English telephone service can be given at 795-6622 and French can be given at 313-6803.
In Itaewon-dong, ACE Realty offers English relocation and real estate services for areas throughout Seoul (http://www.acerealty.co.kr). You can reach them by telephone at this number: 797-0330.
If you are already living in Seoul and wish to find a real estate agent to help you with your search, you will be pleased to know that realtors have businesses in every neighbourhood in Seoul (known as budongsan junggaesa in Korean). The bad news? Most of them only speak Korean. The best way to find out about a good, independent, English speaking real estate agent is by word of mouth, so ask around the expat community.