Househunters International** With MsCaroline

This is nothing like the properties MsCaroline has been looking at.

(Note:  This is the 3rd of what will probably be an annoying number of whiny, anxious posts about MsCaroline's search for a new apartment in Seoul.  If you really have nothing better to do you can read the first two posts here and here.  **MsCaroline should also note that this blog post is in no way associated with the real show House Hunters International, but it is an excellent show that you should watch if you get a chance.)

The last few days have been interesting, to say the least.

MsCaroline has had the entire week off, which, at another point in her life, would have meant hopping on a plane and going somewhere interesting.  However, the fact that Son#2 (who attends a different school than the one where MsC teaches) is in the middle of sitting the iGCSEs (a series of exams,) as well as the fact that the AsiaVus may soon be homeless, have kept her right here in Seoul, cleaning out closets, meeting with realtors, and trying to understand how she acquired so much household detritus in less than 2 years.

The good news is that things are looking up and MsCaroline has finally seen some apartments that she could imagine her family living in.

It looks like MsCaroline and her family will not be living in cardboard boxes in Seoul Station after all.

But the house hunt is not over yet.

If you have ever watched the show, House Hunters International (which MsCaroline used to enjoy oh-so-much before she actually started hunting for a house internationally,) you will be familiar with the basic premise, wherein a Western couple (usually American or Canadian) is seeking a dwelling/vacation home in some interesting and exotic location and allows the viewers to come along for the search.  The show typically includes a brief overview of the couple; (Glenda and Arthur are busy taxidermists who have vacationed for years in the South of France) the type of property they're looking for: (Now they're ready to invest in a rural farmhouse in the country where they can spend time expanding their collection of lifelike stuffed weasels) and a tantalizing cliffhanger (But will they be able to find their dream home in the competitive housing market of St-Guilham-le-desert? Stay tuned to find out on this episode of Househunters International!)

Viewers then watch the couple and their realtor make the rounds of 3 properties (which, MsCaroline now realizes, have been previously narrowed down via a maddening process that has certainly given Glenda a peptic ulcer.)  The cameras follow Glenda, Arthur, and their realtor through each property, recording their observations (This house is gorgeous, but it's near a busy highway;  It's smaller than we wanted, but the view is breathtaking; Charmingly rustic, but we'd hoped for something with plumbing.)  After touring the properties, Glenda and Arthur then mull over the pros and cons of each property, but coyly refuse to reveal which one they're leaning towards, and the viewer is challenged to guess which one they opted for after a brief visual recap:    Will it be:  #1) The perfect property near the highway;  #2) Smaller place with amazing view;  or  #3)Least expensive property that needs fixing up? Stay tuned to find out!

All this has been going through MsCaroline's mind this week as she's trudged from one place to the next (they are, by the way, getting better) opening closets, standing on patios, measuring walls, estimating distance to the train station and mentally calculating how many bicycle parts can fit in a given closet space.  On Wednesday, she saw at least 10 properties, all of which (finally) met all of her criteria and her budget.  It was the first time she'd gone looking that she came home hopeful instead of depressed.

Today, she, MrL, and Son#2 made the rounds of some 5 properties, debated their merits, narrowed their choices down to a final 3, and then made a unanimous decision to make an offer on one of them.

The offer is on the table (a stated in an earlier post, the apartment-hunting process in Seoul includes a certain amount of negotiation) and it will be Monday before anything is known one way or another.  In the meantime, MsCaroline has decided to entertain herself by writing her own personal version of Househunters International, and is inviting you, Gentle Reader, to play along.

MsCaroline has already (regretfully) ruled out many properties with fabulous views, high ceilings, and  closets the size of Westminster Abbey, due to picky things like no elevator (apartment on the 4th floor); distance from train station for MrL, who already spends more than an hour on the train each way anyway;   no indoor parking (significant in Seoul, where winter means months of snow,) no closets in her children's bedrooms, and no storage for MrL's bicycles.  As is almost always the case, she fell in love with many of them before going through the stages of grief and ending up at Acceptance, where she is now.  She and MrL have narrowed it down to 3 final candidates, all within 10 minutes' walk of the train station, and will be making an offer shortly.  See if you can guess which one they have gone with.

MsCaroline and MrLogical are a middle-aged expatriate couple seeking a villa (low-rise apartment house) in the popular expatriate neighborhood of H**** in Seoul.  They want a 3-bedroom, 2-bath flat with ample storage for MrLogical's sports gear  that is located near the subway station.  After 2 years in a high-rise building, they would like to find a place with a patio or a small garden.  But in the space-hungry Seoul real estate market, is their dream of a little bit of Outdoors even a possibility?  

Property #1: 
As a person who's worked for 2 years in a small galley kitchen, MsCaroline was enchanted by this huge space.
  A spacious, but gloomy, 2nd-floor, 4br/2ba villa.  Large bay windows in dining area and living room provide an excellent view of the interplay of light and shadow on the walls of the blank, gray building directly opposite.  No balcony, patio, or deck.  Huge kitchen with 2 refrigerators (1 for food, 1 for kimchi,) separate dining area, two indoor parking spots (like gold in Seoul, and includes some extra storage space,) a study/fourth bedroom/storage room to hold bicycles and workout equipment for MrL.  Fireplace. Bonus extra gas cooktop(who knows why?) located in the meth lab laundry room. Medium Master Closet,  tired and dated Master Bath.  Children's bedroom windows face walls but have large closets.  Quite dark except in the front rooms. Upper end of price range.

Property # 2
Look! An outside!
 Smallest property; 4br/2ba ground-floor villa, also ideally located only 10 minutes from the station.  Very small closets, but 4th bedroom would provide extra space for MrL's bicycles/ice axe collection.  Bedrooms are small, but just workable.  Kitchen is smaller - and grimmer - than one in present apartment, but has Western-sized oven. One indoor parking space.  Newly remodeled master bath, MBR closet tolerable. Separate small dining room.  Ground-floor apartment, so no view to speak of and not very much light, although not as dark as #1.  Major attraction of this otherwise blah property:  half of the villa is surrounded by wrap-around  private decks flanked by built-in planters and trees.  Enough space for table, chairs, grill, and quite a few guests. Smack in the middle of the price range.

Property #3
Wrought iron balcony.  Looks like Paris, right?

Spacious villa on the 4th floor.. Older and rather tired, although newly wallpapered  and updated. Two indoor parking spaces and basement storage closet.  Huge rooms, all with big windows and lots of light.  Patios off almost all rooms, although very narrow - but feature charming, Europeanish balconies (or so MsCaroline tried to tell herself.)   4th floor means a little bit of a view, but mostly features the facades of other buildings, some of which also have wrought-iron balconies.  MsCaroline (who has been trying to put a positive spin on things) was cruelly mocked by MrL and #2 for comparing this apartment's view to one in Paris(well, it could be, if you squint your eyes a little and imagine it in the dark after a few glasses of wine.)  Kitchen is larger than MsCaroline has now, with more storage, but oven is typical miniscule Korean version.  Dining room.  Fireplace.  Big closets in every room, and extra 4th bedroom for holding MrL's assorted gear.  

Paris.  MsCaroline can totally see a resemblance. Sort of.  A little. Right?

So...which one did we choose?

Property #1: Spacious, but gloomy

Property #2:  Small, but with outdoor space

Property #3:  Big villa, with small patios.  Just like Paris.

Tune in on Monday (or Tuesday) to find out!

MsCaroline and MrL have contacted their realtor and are will probably hear back from her on Monday. They hope they are not jinxing their offer by writing this and would appreciate all forms of good mojo, juju, and general positive vibes being thrown their way.


Trish said…
I'm going for property number 2. The patio looks lovely and I think would make up for the small kitchen. Price sounds right too.
I do hope Glenda and Arthur found their ideal home too!
MsCaroline said…
Trish - the patio was lovely! I actually sat down and made a list of pros and cons, so difficult was the decision. We are still waiting to hear from our realtor, but will Reveal All once we know something.
Unknown said…
I vote for #3 - views of "Paris" :)
MsCaroline said…
Lori - I can't wait to tell MrL that you think it looks like Paris, too! I am still cringing from the amount of laughing that he and Son#2 did when I said I thought it looked like it. ; )
Unknown said…
It was Paris or New Orleans... :)
MsCaroline said…
New Orleans! I hadn't even thought of that! Wait til I tell them...
Unknown said…
It's neck and neck between #2 and #3, but I'm guessing the light and fireplace (cold Seoul winters, remember?) with the NO/Paris view means the third squeaks out a win. Love a post that makes me laugh 'Glenda and Arthur are busy taxidermists...'
MsCaroline said…
LAJ -More excellent logic from readers! I can't wait to 'reveal' our choice (if the realtor will ever call and confirm!) on Monday or Tuesday.
I'm glad you liked Glenda and Arthur - I probably should have included the fate of their lifelike weasels in my final paragraph... ; )
Hmmm... well thinking about how much time we've actually spent outdoors this year (between weather and pollution, practically nil other than walking to train stations), I'd probably go with #1 only because it is so spacious indoors. That kitchen is killer! But this isn't me, it's you. I'm guessing you picked Paris. Though if I really wanted outdoor space, the obvious choice is the one with the giant patio and glorious flowers! I have a "Househunters International" post languishing in the drafts from a year ago! At this point I figure I just better get a "house tour" post up instead! I am completely addicted to that show! Or I was when I lived in places where it aired. I met a casting director for the show and they mentioned that most times they cast people who already have signed contracts on a place! Cheaters!
MsCaroline said…
Heather - I had actually read that myself - that the show was filmed after-the-fact. But I still loved watching it and looking at all the different houses and apartments! I know what you mean about weather and pollution - they were definitely a factor! I'd love to see a house tour post - I think your place is very similar to where we've been living for the past 2 years. I will definitely miss the fabulous view that comes with a high-rise!
Donna said…
Lots of light, big closets, 2 parking spaces, and looks like Paris. Gotta be #3! Hope there's an elevator. But I'm sure that was on the list too. Your present apartment looks so nice. Not sure why you are leaving it behind, but I am sending lots of good juju your way. :)
MsCaroline said…
Donna - Well, thank you! We really do like our present apartment, but we will be required to pay a larger percentage of the costs after June (part of the decision-making matrix as we tried to decide whether to go or stay) which will be significantly higher. This is always an interesting discussion among expats - high-rise vs. villa. The place we live now is very luxurious - but quite small. Any of the villas we are looking at will give us at least 50% (or more) space for less money. They are also in a more international section of town,located near many embassies, so it's a more diverse area - and closer to my work. We'll give up some conveniences (and an incredible view) but overall, we're excited about making the change. Honestly - I'm just relieved that we've been able to make a decision! Thanks for stopping by and commenting - I'll post the answer once I hear back from our realtor!
Donna said…
I hate to see y'all stay (we want you back in Texas!), but kind of relieved that maybe I will have an eyes and ears in South Korea while my son and his wife are there. Looking forward to the "reveal"! ;)
MsCaroline said…
Well, trust me, it was not an easy decision. We have been anguishing for months over this. Part of it was #2 graduating from his school, part of it was MrL's career (this is a one-of-a-kind job,) and part of it was the fact that we have one kid in college and the next one heading there in 2 years - the financial incentives cannot be ignored, if you get my drift! I think the 4-year mark will probably be about right and head us back in time to get Cullen installed in his university - and actually be somewhere within a few hours' drive!
Stacy said…
At this point Son #2 has to have priority and we would have made the same decision. My husband accepted what was essentially a demotion to allow our #2 to graduate in KL. Without a single regret or second thought. I had to share this post on Facebook because I know too many of my friends would appreciate your househunting posts. Sending you good juju for the outcome you desire!
BavarianSojourn said…
I really don't know... I can see good points in all of them! I hope you get the one you want most! Flinging plenty of positive vibes your way! :)
The deck in #2 looks lovely (beautiful azaleas?) but I reckon you went for #3?

There was a similar TV program in the UK called "A Place in the Sun". Usually involved people looking for bargain villas in dubious countries like Bulgaria. I wonder if it has survived the recession?
Nance said…
I would choose #2 because #3 is just too much building upon building upon building for me.

I'd feel industrialized. But that is moi.

I've had a small kitchen my whole life. As long as we don't have to eat in it, it's not always a dealbreaker.

It's so nice to have an outdoors space, even when you don't always use it every day.
MsCaroline said…
Stacy - yes, that was a huge driver for the decision, and he knew that we'd be moving if we stayed. He is really happy (as are we) in this school, and we were willing to make quite a few compromises (moving house and a lengthy commute for MrL.) We have come to find out that creativity in living situations is far from unusual around here. In fact, one of #2's friends is actually living on his own for his senior year next year because his father was reassigned and he (the friend) desperately wanted to graduate here. Another one of #2's friends also lives on her own as her parents work in a city some 3 hours south of Seoul and there's no closer international school (at least not one as good.) I'm sure that many of us expats face this sort of dilemma all the time! Another aspect of the expat life (for me at least) that people truly aren't aware of until they live it...
MsCaroline said…
Emma - Yes, they do all have their good points, which was what made the choice so challenging - how to weigh one against the other? We still don't know if we got the one we wanted, but we hope to hear soon!
MsCaroline said…
NVG- Yes, they are azaleas- good eye! "Househunters' has a lot of vacation-home buyers, but I should have mentioned that they do have the occasional expat looking for a home as well, which was always interesting to me.
MsCaroline said…
Nance - Well, there's a reason that people in Seoul will pay a lot of money for even a small scrap of a garden - it's hard to come by! Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the view in every direction from that deck (when you're not focusing on the bushes) is of buildings as well, so you'd have to focus carefully to avoid the 'industrialized' feeling. Of course, we've lived in a high-rise for 2 years, and what I see when I look out my window (besides the Seoul Tower) is - buildings. So at this point I would say I'm used to it - but I would have it in any of the 3 apartments anyway.
Barbara said…
I vote #2 because of the patio! House hunting in Tanzania was really hard, too. I wrote a few posts about that misadventure. Then, after I came back to the US, I saw an episode of "Househunters International" in which a couple with a young son moved from New York City to Dar es Salaam Tanzania. Mom worked for the U.N. and Dad worked as an international scuba diver. I guess the UN was paying their rent, because it turned out the key to finding a great apartment was to pay $5000 US/month in rent--which in Tanzania means paying $60,000 up front since landlords demand a year's rent in advance!
MsCaroline said…
Barbara - I'm cringing to say it, but that's a pretty common amount for housing allowances in Seoul - and that would be considered a more 'middle class' rent! The rents also vacillate depending on how desperate the landlord is and what he assumes the client can afford - we were shown apartments that listed for anywhere from $3000 to $7500/month, depending on what the landlord hoped we could afford and what our realtor thought she could negotiate for. And the rent situation is also the same here - you (or, in our case, our company does) pay the full year's rent in advance. I don't know of any expats who don't either have their housing provided, paid for, or heavily subsidized. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to live here! I suppose that's why almost all Koreans live with their parents until they get married (usually in early/mid 30s)- to save up the money to buy an apartment!
Oooo! This is quite fun (from a distance!). I see the pros and cons of each. Looking forward to the next installment...
Barbara said…
Yes, my mistake was that I was just hanging around on my own with no associated job, so I was trying to live more on the level of a middle- to upper-class local. I couldn't keep up with the UN crowd!
MsCaroline said…
Barbara - Well, my hat is definitely off to you! I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to try and make a go of it in a foreign country without a prearranged job to do all the organizing for me. Must be the reason I enjoy reading your blog so much - the sense of adventure! Makes our situation seem a bit tame..; )
MsCaroline said…
Michelle - Yes, as I said, I enjoyed the show much more than the reality! Waiting for the slow wheels of the real estate process to grind their way to an agreement - it's killing me!

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