[Don’t go house hunting in Korea without Hailey] Why are there so many types of housing options?

Don’t go house hunting in Korea without Hailey
Why are there so many types of housing in Korea?
Goshiwon, one-room, two-room, three-room, villa, apart, officetel, dandokjutaek…
Familiarizing yourself with all these terms is a challenge at first.  The reason there are so many different names is because each of them is governed by different law. This makes a whole lot of difference in pricing, housing condition, contract condition, renter protection, etc. Narrowing down the type of housing option you want will help you save time. Scroll through the list and see what you want to ask for at the realtor’s office. 
Disclaimer: I’m writing about the metropolitan Seoul area. Other areas may apply different concepts.
1. Officetel

Officetel is probably the fanciest option you will get as a single person living in Korea. Officetel is built in a commercial district by big developers and usually is close to the subway, located on a major road. Officetel is built to be a live-and-work place and often not protected by residential renter protection law. The concept of officetel is relatively new, so most buildings are less than 10-15 years old. Although many residents use it for residential purposes, you will find many businesses such as nail salon, massage shop, travel agency office operating on the same floor. Room conditions are usually the best among options for singles and definitely the priciest option. Most officetels are studio-style, some come in duplex-style while very rarely, in 2BR-style.

Fancy building, high-end, commercial area

Rent example
1) Hongik University Station vicinity
Deposit ₩10,000,000 / Monthly Rent ₩850,000 + Maintenance Fee ₩200,000
2) Gwanghwamun Station vicinity (near Gyeongbok Palace, main CBD area)
Deposit ₩10,000,000 / Monthly Rent ₩1,200,000 + Maintenance Fee ₩250,000

2. One-room
One-room is a studio, a housing unit that has no separate bedroom, in a small building. One-room buildings or villas are mostly built by individual owner on a small lot of land, not by developer companies, therefore, housing conditions are not as good. These buildings are typically built within 3 months by small local house builder compromises such as thinner walls or sewage pipes have been made. Typically comes with a kitchenette, stove, washing machine and many also include air conditioner, fridge, desk, even a bed. You must discuss which “options” (furnishing) are included in the contract before paying any kind of money.
Red brick buildings were in fashion during the 90s so realtors ask whether you are okay with “red brick buildings(빨간 벽돌집)” or “old buildings(구옥)”. I personally like older buildings that were built with care and have its own character rather than newly built buildings(신축) that omit VOC and chemicals. Depending on the age of the building and maintenance conditions, rent range is very big, so you should visit as many realtors as you can and look at as many offers as possible.

Small humble building, middle-end, local residential neighborhood

Rent example
Hongik University Station vicinity
Deposit ₩10,000,000 / Monthly Rent ₩600,000 + Maintenance Fee ₩50,000

3. Goshiwon
Goshiwon is a super tiny room dormitory room. Goshi means national exam to be civil servants.Goshiwon originally started out as a small room for students studying 16 hours a day for Goshi  to sleep in an environment with no distractions. Goshiwon rooms are not recognized as a housing unit so building conditions are the poorest. Some units come with individual shower booth/toilet while others come with shared bathrooms in the hall. The in-unit shower booth is usually so small that you need to sit over your toilet during shower. The walls between each unit are made with plywood so noise can be a problem. Air ventilation is also not very good. Some units may not even have a window.
Despite these drawbacks, many international students choose to live in goshiwon. It’s cheap and only requires one month’s rent as deposit. Unlike one-room, officetel, two-rooms which all usually require 1 or 2-year rental period and huge deposit, goshiwon is commitment-free. Also, it comes furnished with a bed, table, chair, fridge, tv, communal washing machine and usually free rice and kimchi as well.

Dorimitory style, cheap, no commitment

Rent example
Hongik University Station vicinity
Deposit ₩500,000 / Monthly Rent ₩500,000

4. Two-room, three-room 
Two-rooms and three-rooms are units that have 2 and 3 bedrooms, again, in a small building (villa). You won’t call a 3BR condominium unit a three-room because it’s in a big building. These are built by local homeowners which may live in the same building, usually on the top floor. From the 2000’s, one-room buildings became trendy, so most surviving two-rooms and three-rooms are older. 
Unlike one-rooms that come partially furnished, two-rooms and three-rooms do not come furnished. You need to bring your stove, closet, air conditioner, fridge, etc. However, if you invest the money to furnish and sublet the other rooms, your monthly rent expenditure will be much less than other options.

Small humble building, cheap, no furnishing

Rent example
Hongik University Station vicinity
Deposit ₩20,000,000 / Monthly Rent ₩700,000 + Maintenance Fee ₩0
5. Apt (아파트)

Apt(아파트) which comes from the English word “apartment” is used a little differently in Korea than from the States or elsewhere. Apt is residential multi-room housing in a big building and usually is built on a large plot of land, forming a closed residents-only complex. Apt is most close in definition to condominiums in the U.S. Living in a nice apt danji (condominium complex) is a symbol of success, so many young couples either delay their marriage until they can afford an apt or rely on their parents to rent/buy one. For apt rentals, monthly rental (wolse) is not as common as jeonse, paying about 60 – 80% of the sales price as the refundable deposit.

Big building in complex, high-end, most suitable for families

Rent example
Hongik University Station vicinity 2BR, 1BATH
Deposit ₩250,000,000 / Monthly Rent ₩0 + Maintenance Fee ₩0
5. Dandok jutaek

Dandok jutaek(단독주택)  is detached house. Since this option is a rarity in Seoul, I will skip this part.
What’s your favorite housing option?

Goshiwon, one-room, two-room, three-room, villa, apart, officetel, dandokjutaek…
Are you getting the hang of it? I have made generalizations for easier understanding so you will always be able to find outliers, such as a very fancy two-room in a villa. I have lived in all of these types and have been able to decide what works for me and not. I’m looking for a new place right now and when I give these conditions to the realtor, it becomes really easy to find the one for you.
– within 5 minutes walk from Exit 4 of Hongik University Station
– a two-room or three-room villa for a couple
– old building (I’m allergic to VOC emitted from newly renovated or built buildings)
– budget of deposit ₩20,000,000 / Monthly rent + maintenance fee ₩1,000,000
– parking space for two cars
– the landlord must be okay with me reporting the rent for tax filing(many prohibit this)
Again, don’t go house hunting in Korea without Hailey