Err On the Side of Paranoia

Soon after posting the last blog – the worry set in. An extreme worry of getting ripped off, cheated, lied to, and generally screwed over by a new apartment/landlord. By about 1:30 am I still wasn’t asleep but I was resolved that a new apartment was generally a bad idea.

The worry became worse as I researched apartments in Korea. About 10 minutes in I was completely scared away from all of it. So many things can and had gone wrong for foreigners renting apartments.

There were sleazy landlords that took the “key money” (the large deposit) and would run…. landlords that weren’t even real landlords but were subletting the apartment with wildly changing rent … there were people who would move in and would be expected to replace everything the last folks broke … key money that was used to pay off outstanding debts – then when the tenants moved out, if someone wasn’t moving in, then there was no other key money to give them. There were some pretty bad stories.

Of course, for everyone complaining about getting screwed (usually in Seoul or the outskirts) there are loads of people who successfully rent apartments and have nothing to say about it on the internet.

Generally we learned we can drastically reduce our risk if we do two things:

  • Get a proof of ownership from the landlord (is he or she some psycho subletting it?)
  • Basically get a credit check on the landlord – is he or she in debt? If the answer is yes, then you probably shouldn’t hand over your key money. You may not get it back.

Fortunately, these are common things realtors can arrange for if you ask.

Right after or just before signing the contract you can add your own information about broken or leaky things. If you move in and only then realize how messed up things are (and the landlord won’t fix it for you) you can formally threaten him or her with some nifty notarized mail.

As for key money

  • we can get it insured through a realtor
  • we can put our names on a special list with the government. If for some crazy reason the building is condemned or sold, we will be on the list to receive our share after the government sells it.
  • we should also heavily document any problems with the apartment so we don’t lose money moving out. This one is obvious.

This all had us pretty paranoid. The more we thought about a balcony and large kitchen the more we realized how small our kitchen was (grass is always greener, right?). But the “what ifs” were so great that we were scared to take any risks. Finally we asked if we could tour the apartment again – we would check things out for ourselves and be able to make a more informed decision.

We told Andrew he didn’t have to come – we felt bad dragging him around and it seemed the realtor could speak some English.

So the realtor met us and immediately started chatting with us about her son who is living and studying in Boston. She actually could speak perfect English. For the rest of the hour she continually asked us questions about us – where did we work, what kinds of Korean foods did we like, etc.

In the apartment she showed us some pictures on her phone -come to find out, she had lived in the very same apartment for 3 months over the summer. She showed us all kinds of things only someone who had lived there for a while could have known about. I don’t think she was just making up an elaborate lie.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 5.52.15 PM

We checked everything for ourselves including signs of vermin or bedbugs. They weren’t perfect checks but the place wasn’t as bad as my 1:30 am brain thought. There was a dead cricket in the shower and the sink could have a really minor leak. The washer is so new there is still tape and packaging on it. Really, everything seemed fine. The realtor was excited to chat with us and she ended up taking us on a very grand tour of everything in the building.

There’s a lovely walking area on the roof, a “driving range” aka a small room to hit golf balls into a net. An exercise room with 3 treadmills and some free weights (also a ping pong table). The bottom floors have about 6 different restaurants as well as a coffee shop and a convenience store. Then there’s a doctor’s office and an employee cafeteria -which we would be welcome to use if we wanted.

I’ve never heard of apartments in America that have this kind of stuff. Of course I’ve never been in the market for an apartment other than a university apartment. Seeing the apartment and talking to the realtor gave us a better sense of security.

As scary as it can be we’ve started the process of landlord debt reports and proof of ownership. From there, small deposits will be made and we’ll probably be moving in on the first week of February.


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