This article explores the key issues affecting tenants regarding living in an international shared house in Seoul, Korea
Searching for housing, an apartment, or dorm is one of the hardest things for foreigners, students, and expats living in Korea.
It’s not just about rent, space, location, and amenities – although these are incredibly important. It’s also about comfort, trust, safety, community, and in the end, getting a long with your housemates.
This article will explain why you should consider shared housing as a living alternative when moving abroad. Keep in mind, these are opinions are from me as an operator’s standpoint as well as a tenant since I have lived in a few shared houses during the six years I have been in Asia.
- The Problem with Shared Housing in Seoul
- Why the Shared Housing Community Needs Change
- Why Shared Housing in Seoul?
- Types of Shared Housing
- How Share Houses Work
- What to Look For in Share Houses
- Shared Homies vs Independent Operators
The Problem with Shared Housing in Seoul
Both Andrew and I got started living in shared houses when we first moved to Korea. Andrew lived in a 12 person guesthouse while I got started with a 3-room shared house. In 2020, during the peak of the pandemic, Andrew and I started Shared Homies in the heart of Seoul, South Korea.
We recognized that so many foreigners in Korea had major issues related to finding housing – and it almost always came down to one thing:
Lack of Trust
If you’ve been living in Korea for any amount of time and not had your housing taken care of (e.g. hagwon teachers and students in dorms), then you know what’s wrong with the shared housing community.
- Fake listings
- Unrealistic photos
- High-pressure real estate (부동산) agents who only show you “leftover” houses they can’t sell
- Korean-only contracts
- Confusing registration process
Why the Shared Housing Community Needs Change
The goal for Shared Homies initially was simply to help foreign professionals and students find affordable housing in Seoul. To start, Andrew and I each got 3 apartments, fully furnished them, and got tenants – just like every other housing operator.
As we started to expand our shared houses, we realized that there was no English language platform in South Korea that catered to long-term housing such as shared houses, guesthouses, co-living spaces, and temporary stays for normal students, travelers, and young people.
What do these groups of people want? Low deposits, low rents trustworthy and verified operators, English language support, and lots of variety in move-in date, contract length, location, and housemates.
Other Korean housing sites that try to engage the foreigner community do not solve the main problems that most foreigner tenants have in Korea – recognizing, engaging, and satisfying young foreigners’ needs.
That leaves visitors and students in Korea scrambling to find houses on traditional platforms like Facebook groups and Craigslist. Here’s a common Craigslist title:
★★★★★AMAZING HONGDAE SINCHON ITAEWON SEOUL HOUSE★★★★★
Doesn’t inspire much confidence does it?
Whilst these platforms can provide the occasional diamond in the rough, they lack a four main factors:
- Tenant Focus
- Quality of Life
These four pillars are the base of what drives Shared Homies to help tenants find quality shared houses and, in reverse, help value-oriented operators find tenants.
Why Shared Housing in Seoul?
Why would anyone consider a shared house as an option when living abroad? Why wouldn’t they just get their own place versus sharing a place with someone else?
Living in three major cities in Asia for over 6 years, I have had many experiences – some good and some bad, but ALL of them have had to do with my environment and the community I was surrounded by.
My BEST experiences came from when I was living with other people, in which I gained long lasting friendships and developed some amazing stories with – most notably in Beijing and Seoul.
When I was living in Northern China, I had my own place and had a FANTASTIC experience, but that was due to the fact that our HR director focused on building a community among our foreign staff, so in a sense, we were family living in a foreign country.
So if you don’t know the culture, people, or food, or if you have zero friends, then shared housing is a great way to build that foundation when living abroad.
Types of Shared Housing
Here’s a quick rundown of the various terms you’ll see in the shared housing community:
An apartment-style house with private rooms; typically 3-4 rooms total. This is what most Westerners call “living with housemates” or “roommates” in an apartment or flat.
This type of housing is perfect for students in Korea because they are safer, quieter, offer more control, foster closer relationships, and are much cleaner because there are less people.
This is also the preferred type of house Shared Homies targets.
Think of this as a house version of a co-working space like WeWork.
These are typically very new, nice, and require you to overpay. They are typically Korean officetels converted to foster a community; typically 6+ rooms.
Co-living spaces in Korea usually provide some type of professional networking community, and their rent prices reflect that.
This is the most common temporary living housing type in Seoul. Pre-pandemic you could throw a stone and hit a guesthouse in areas such as Hongdae, Sinchon, Ewha, Jongno, and Gangnam.
The quality here can vary a lot as many guesthouses target SE Asian travelers who are budget-strapped.
These buildings are most often multi-story and can house more than one person in a single room (single-gender); typically 6+ rooms.
Guesthouses can be used for long- or short-term stays and feature communal spaces for living, cooking, etc.
How Share Houses Work
The way shared housing works is that operators re-rent houses and furnish them into affordable rooms that are visually pleasing and accommodating.
In other words, it is a form of subletting. These operators put their names on the contract with the Korean landlord or owner and pay a fixed rent as well as a deposit (usually 5 – 20 million KRW).
Operators by paying for the monthly rent is de facto the actual tenant, but is given the right by the Korean landlord to administer the property to other tenants (you) by marking up the rent at a profit.
This is an in-demand service among foreigners in Korea who are staying in Korea temporarily, cannot afford a large deposit, or simply don’t want to deal with or sign any Korean legal documents.
What to Look For in Share Houses
Sense of community
A sense of community is key – after all, you will be living alongside these people, sharing a bathroom, and hanging out. If you’ve never been in a situation where you’re not friendly with housemates, then trust us, it’s not fun!
Virtual meetings & tours
If a share house operator is not willing to put in the extra effort to make you feel comfortable, then that shows what kind of operator and businessperson they are in the long-run.
At Shared Homies, we visit every house we list or recommend in-person so we can verify it. You wouldn’t buy shoes you’ve never tried on – so we won’t recommend a place unless we’ve seen it. That’s our service guarantee to the shared housing community.
So if you get some pushback that “photos should be good enough”, then ask yourself if you want someone dictating to you what is “enough” for you the individual.
Transparency & Helpfulness
So many foreigners, students, and travelers who want to live in a shared apartment or house in Korea need more than just a place to live – they need support and help in moving in, getting set up, and signing contrats.
Operators who are not transparent and who try to obfuscate the onboarding process are not very trustworthy when things get serious. Be sure to ask specific questions to the operator – follow-up and run through different scenarios. Observe how patient they are and whether they’re pushing you in one direction.
Better yet, request an online meeting with Shared Homies if you got any questions about shared housing in South Korea.
Trustworthy photos & videos
Many housing listings end up having misleading photos – this is a huge issue affecting the housing market in Korea.
Be strict and ask for photos and videos to be confirmed – Shared Homies visits every property in person and takes our own photos and many videos for each listing.
Safety & Security
The shared and co-living community is majority female tenants, and thus safety, privacy, and reliability are huge concerns.
Does the operator take these issues seriously? Or does he/she play it off as if you are the problem and you shouldn’t be worried?
As a shared housing operator, my duty is to cater to our tenants’ needs and give them all the necessary tools they will need in order to make the best of their experience abroad. One of the ways to do that as an operator is to understand the area that you are in and be able to help newcomers navigate through the area by giving them suggestions for nice cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Going above and beyond, an operator would host meetups or small events like a nature hike, pizza night or yoga at the top of Namsan mountain.
If you are interested in joining a community here in Seoul, you can join our Kakao Group Chat called “Seoul Homies” where we host meetups and can answer Q&A’s collectively.
Rent prices are one of the most important concerns for shared housing tenants. Here are a couple of rules:
- There is SO much variety based on location, age, and accessibility – so it might seem like some apartments are unfairly priced but in reality, they really are that expensive.
- Rent is much higher on buildings that are on a main street or next to a subway station. So the rent on these units (usually called officetels) will reflect that.
|Room Size||Price Range||Deposit|
|Small (3<||350,000-515,000 KRW||One months rent|
|Medium (5<||515,000-650,000 KRW||One months rent|
|Large (10<||600,000-850,000 KRW||One months rent|
Remember that prices are generally negotiable, and operators are sometimes keen on a higher deposit.
Another important issue is that operators should have electric locks at entrances of their shared houses PLUS locks on all of the individual rooms. Period.
Theft is an issue that rarely happens in Korea but it does happen, and your operator should take all of the necessary steps to avoid this or something worse from happening.
Any operator who tries to excuse this will not be reliable when and if something happens in the house.
Another key component is a proper vetting process with tenants, which is the responsibility of your operator. He or She should be conducting thorough interviews and focus on finding the right tenants that will make great fits in the house, so the environment can flourish and everyone can live happy.
During the interview process, operators should conduct multiple interviews with potential tenants – operators are the gatekeepers and once tenants pass the first round.
New potential tenants should also be introduced to existing tenants, and a mutual decision should be made.
This is to prevent dissatisfied guests from not knowing who they will be living with – not doing so could potentially backfire with tenants not getting along.
From the start, when operators advertise their listings they need to focus on who the tenants are and what prospective tenants they are looking to live in the shared house with them.
The tenants or ‘homies’ as we like to call them are what makes the experience and the room is just the cherry on top.
Shared Homies vs Independent Operators
Our partner operators or “Operator Homies” are vetted, and they are using the Shared Homies platform which means that the booking process is secure. We encourage our Operator Homies to follow our interview guidelines so that there is transparency in the process of finding the ‘right fit’.
Lastly, homie operators can introduce their tenants into the shared homies network so members can have a smoother introduction into new communities.
While independent operators have their own systems and their own rules that are the foundation of their successes – they fail to provide the security aspect of securing deposits and providing a community for their tenants to flourish in.
Scams run rampant in Seoul. and internationals are easy targets. One piece of advice is to ALWAYS ask for a Korean and English contract, along with their business registration number and a copy of their identification card – sign the lease and then send them the deposit.
When living in a shared house the most important rule is RESPECT.
Rules are determined by the operators so that nothing is damaged, but here is a list of rules you should be aware of before moving into a shared house:
- Clean up after yourself
- No loud parties after 12P M
- Re-arranging furniture is ok, but painting or making holes in the wall should be checked first with the manager.
- Pets are usually not allowed, but in some cases, if all of the tenants are ok with it, then it shouldn’t be a problem
- If you have guests or a ‘friend’ sleepover, just give your roommates a heads up.
When planning your relocation to Korea, shared housing as a start would be a great place to build that foundation. Depending on the kind of person you are, shared houses have different vibes that suit each personality and doing your due diligence is extremely important.
If you are considering taking the next steps to find a shared house in Seoul, check out SharedHomies – we work with vetted operators and also offer a community platform that allows for engagement with other homies in the network!