Chonsae – Our two-year rental contract for the Korean apartment is almost up.  Tom and I deliberated whether we wanted to buy it, move to another place or renew the lease. Housing here is similar to Manhattan in that the overcrowding and minimal land space compels people to live in high-rises and pay exorbitant housing prices. 

 Most foreigners that come here are provided with a place to stay for free by their sponsoring job. Samsung offers two choices to foreign workers.  We could take a 3-bedroom, furnished apartment for free for the duration of our stay or take a loan.  We didn’t accept the furnished apartment offer because we had a houseful of furniture and stuff from our own home in Arlington.  Putting it in storage for many years would be expensive. Also, Tom’s parents wanted to live with us and they have stuff from their apartment (in Korea) that they had collected over the years.  We needed at least a 5-bedroom, unfurnished apartment.  We opted for the second choice. 

Samsung paid for our things to be shipped to Korea (it took 7 weeks doorstep-to-windowsill) and loaned Tom $100,000 (interest-free to be repaid within 7 years) to put down as chonsae for an apartment.  Chonsae is the system of renting in Korea.  For example, our apartment is worth $450,000 (it’s a bubble housing market).  We can either buy it at that price from the owner (apartments are individually owned) or rent it by paying the asking chonsae price.  In this case our apartment cost $130,000 to rent.  We transfered the owner the money and signed a 2-year contract.  At the end of the contract (next month) we can decline to renew the lease and get our full $130,000 back (the owner keeps the interest and the Apt. value will have increased 50% in value).  We decided to continue living in the same place, mostly because moving is such a pain in the neck but also because of the convenient location.  Across the street is every conceivable business you can think of: English and Korean movie theaters, supermarkets, specialist clinics, countless restaurants, salons, pharmacies and banks.  You name it, they are housed within the 10-story wall of new buildings.   Yet, I’m still not completely satisfied with our place.  We have a lousy view (surrounded by 10 other 21-story apartment buildings just like ours) and hardly get any sunshine due to being on the fifth floor (you can see pics on myspace.com/maggiechoi). I long for the Panhandle’s horizons and clear, blue sunny skies (you can keep the tornados).  Well, we renewed the lease yesterday but had to pay another 20G because the value of the apt. increased.  We’ll get it back when we move out, though. 

   This system wouldn’t work well in America.  Many American renters have trouble saving money.  As a landlady, I would welcome this system.  Our house in Arlington has seen 3 tenant families thus far.  Collecting rent is like pulling teeth.  The first two families abandoned the place (taking along some of my belongings) after months of late payments and non-payments.  Repainting and repairing the damaged house after each lease cost more than the deposit. I have landlord friends who say that when they tried to evict their tenants the tenants got court protection for some 3 months while they “re-established” themselves before getting out, all the while staying for free while the landlords continued to make the $1,300 monthly mortgage payments. 

If we had chonsae in America the renters would take better care of the property (the landlord would be holding enough money to repair everything) and wouldn’t abandon the place (they’d be abandoning their money); but, I know chonsae isn’t going to happen in America.  So, I continue to believe in the goodness of people.  I trust that my present tenants will pay on time and take care of the house like I’m taking care of this one.  After all, it’s all God’s property and it’s my home while I’m here.