A quick note on the key money (security deposit) thing before I continue, since it's something that I myself didn't know, even after living in Korea for nearly 3 years. While living somewhere other than Gangnam might be cheaper in rent, areas outside of the main foreigner hot spots (Itaewon, Gangnam, Haebongcheon, etc.) or towards the outskirts of Seoul, tend to have higher key money. The real estate agent said this is partially because they aren't use to dealing with foreigners and don't really know/understand that we're use to lower deposit prices and are still used to the jeonse system, and mostly because while monthly rent is completely negotiable, it's the key money that's most important because they can make a decent amount off the interest that they keep when they give you the deposit back. Thus, while you can get a brand new, 3 bedroom apartment for maybe 1.2 million a month, key money could run you about 20 million won.
Anyway, so we looked at three apartments today in the Gunja area. At first I thought it would be far from work, it's actually not that bad. It's on the 7 line and only two stops from line 2 and Kondae, so I'm still technically in the same area. I walked it today, and it was maybe a 20-30 minute walk from one area to the other. And it was a nice walk. Clean sidewalks, a bit of construction, but altogether really pleasant. The main difference is the area is much nicer and mostly new. It's more families than college students and the air feels cleaner. Plus, it's near Children's Grand Park, which is a huge park that has tons of fun things to do. (I could see a ferris wheel from one of the apartments.)
It was definitely the biggest of the three, but it was also a bit older. The living room area/kitchen was spacious and there was a lot of counter space. Also, it had a good size enclosed balcony where we could put the washing machine and store things. The bathroom was also large, though we would probably replace the shower head. The down side was the wallpaper (which we would negotiate to replace) and the bedrooms. One bedroom was a decent size, but the other two were really small and even smaller. Both of us have queen-size beds, so we were really unsure about whether we could fit the bed in there. If we could, it would take up the entire room and we would have to turn the third bedroom into a study/closet.
Other than that, it wasn't bad. I would have to bring my stove over from my current apartment and we would have to purchase an air conditioner, but other than that, we have everything. They didn't tell us a price, but we assume it was within our perimeters. It had a car park for Mac's car and there was a key pad to get into the building which we both liked. And it was a 2-3 minute walk from the subway station.
Apartment #2 and #3:
The last two were actually in the same building, which was brand new and had just been completed. There were only 9 apartments in the building and so far about 5 of them have been filled. The building was really nice, had an underground car park, security pad for the entrance and was literally a 2-minute walk from the North Gate Entrance to Children's Grand Park. It was only about 4 stories high and the apartments were on floor 2 and 3, plus there was roof access. The roof was spacious and had a great view of the park and the area. It's perfect for having BBQs and cook outs and we were told we could use whenever we wanted. Plus it was a 5-6 minute walk from the subway station.
Apartment #2 had a decent sized living area and we liked the lay-out of the kitchen. Lots of counter space and plenty of room for a table. The decor was very Korean, but it still looked nice. I liked the light fixtures. The bathroom was small, but it had a waterfall shower head, and a fancy toilet with bidet and other options. There was a small laundry room and three bedrooms. But this one had the same problem as the first one. One bedroom was great, but the other two were matchboxes. Both were too small for a queen-sized bed. However, the price was great. They negotiated the key money down for us to 15 million won and the monthly rent was below what we initially asked for.
We really liked Apartment #3. The lay-out was similar to Apartment #2, but the second bedroom could fit a queen bed in it. It was a little weird though, because a sliding door separated it into two halves, and we didn't really understand why they did that. The local real estate agent said it was intended to be some sort of storage closet or dressing room, but it was almost the same size the the room in the front. We looked at it and we think you could fit a queen bed in the back room (which would basically fill the entire the room) and then put the closet and such in the front. If it's my room, there is plenty of space for my TV and closet, plus some drawers. And the agent said we could take the sliding doors out if we wanted, which would open up the room a bit more.
The kitchen lay-out was different and not so space efficient and the bathroom was a bit smaller (but had the same fixtures), however, what sold us was the laundry room and patio. The laundry room had full windows on two sides and was very spacious. We could definitely fit the washing machine and a table out there. I have to admit, it's a nice view to have when you're eating. And there was a small patio off the laundry room that could fit a small, 2-person chair. Again, the view was nice. And the third, pocket-sized bedroom could be turned into our study and had plenty of space for our desks. It was a little more expensive than Apartment #2, but still in our range.
We both really liked it, but wanted to think about it and maybe check out another area. I really wanted to just sign the lease today, but it's a good thing Mac was there, because she asks all the right questions and is a bit more level-headed than I am. I get caught up in liking some place, that I often don't stop and think about everything. For example, is living in that building worth giving up the kitchen layout that we want or a bigger bathroom or more evenly sized bedrooms? (At this point, I say yes, but I could change my mind after some careful thought.)
So that was our first day in apartment hunting. Hopefully we'll go out again next weekend and maybe decide on something soon. I don't want to lose Apartment #3 and get stuck with something that's not quite what we want...