Yesterday I went on my first house-hunting excursion in the area near my school, aided by Mrs. Suh, the mother of a friend from Japan. Mrs. Suh speaks some Japanese and, more importantly, has the ability to patiently repeat things in Korean in a way that is easy for me to understand.
We consulted two different real estate offices near the school gates. At each place, a woman spoke with us and then took us around to some apartments in the area. I was surprised that they took us to some places which were still occupied. Not only that, but the current tenants clearly had not been given any warning of our arrival. In two cases we walked in on women who had apparently been sleeping (although it was mid-afternoon). At other places, the tenants were not home but their personal items were strewn around for all the world to see. All this was a bit shocking to me; in Japan, I have gone house-hunting on several different occasions, and I can't remember ever being taken to a place that was not completely empty and clean. Needless to say, walking in on the current tenants made me reluctant to give the rooms a complete inspection as I normally would.
Most of the the places we looked at were too small for my needs. I told Mrs. Suh that I really won't consider anything less than 10 p'yong (a Korean unit of area similar to the Japanese jo, 1 p'yong = 3.3 square meters), but apparently this part didn't get communicated. I think they all figured that because I am just a student I must be on a shoestring budget.
The rents in Seoul are all very cheap, compared with Kyoto, but they charge a huge deposit which can run as high as W30,000,000 (about $30,000). In general, the higher the deposit, the better the deal you can get on monthly rent. This deposit is returned in full when the tenant moves out, so it makes sense to pay a high deposit if possible. However, I am still currently struggling to convince my U.S. and Japanese banks to allow me to transfer money to Korea (foreign banks seem to have a strong mistrust of Korean banks, and the feeling is mutual). So amassing that amount is going to take some doing.
I decided to hold off on moving for a few months, since I am in no rush. The big moving season in Seoul occurs in February and March, when the school year ends and a lot of students move out.