Park Taek Sik
Korea has a peculiar system of housing which is really hard to find in other countries. A man, whichever country he may live in, wants to buy a beautiful house and live there. The first choice for living in a house is to buy a house if possible and the second choice, if not possible, is then to rent a house. In most countries, people choose to rent a house and pay for the monthly rent fee. This is the most usual way all over the world. But strangely, the second choice in Korea is something quite different from the choice in other countries. Besides this main difference concerning the rent fee payment system, there are also other differences concerning the house structure.
First, most residents in America, for example, who cannot afford to buy a house, live in a rented house while paying the monthly rent fee. On the other hand, in Korea, most people who cannot afford to buy a house live in a leased house after depositing a certain amount of money to the lessor. For example, the representative leasing of an apartment building house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms usually asks for the deposit of about $140,000 in Korea. If this deposit is satisfied, the tenant does not have to pay any further expense while living in the leased house. But this is not a small amount of money at all. So people make a loan from the bank to prepare this money. But in America, people do not need much money when making a house rent contract compared with Koreans who need much money at the beginning. And for a long time, Koreans must bear the burden of paying the money back along with the interest to the bank. In this respect, the American system seems to be more attractive. But there is another point to consider here. The Korean government allows people who need money for this purpose to borrow money from the bank on a long term with a low interest rate. And furthermore when they want to move to a better house or buy their own house, the lessor must give the money back to them at the point of the contract expiration.
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They get the whole money back as a tenant. This system may be something that does not make sense at all to people outside Korea. But, anyway, for most people who do not have much money, this is a wonderful system letting them secure a living space. And Korean system seems better than America’s in this respect. But the truth is that now many scholars in Korea worry about the present Korean housing system. For example, a person who owns a house leases his house, and then with the lease money, he buys another house after borrowing some money from the bank. This system has made it easier for a house owner to increase his wealth because the price of houses has been soaring up steadily. But after the rise in prices of houses reached its limit and became stagnant, the tension between a house owner and a tenant became serious. The American system of paying the rent fee seems not favorable to each tenant when compared to the Korean system. But on the contrary, the system that requires people to pay for whatever they get is the very basis for the righteous economic justice. The problems caused by this kind of economic unbalance are somehow more serious in Korea than in America. The two systems should not be compared simply by the superficial aspects only, accordingly.
Second, the inner structure of a house is quite different from each other. In most Korean houses, all the rooms, including the living room, have a wooden floor with no carpet while American house rooms and halls are all covered with a carpet, allowing people walk with their shoes on. And in Korea, the floor has many heating pipelines laid at regular intervals below it. This has to do with the air-conditioning system. That is, Korean houses have a system that controls the temperature of the water inside the pipelines under the floor while American houses have an air-conditioning system that controls the air temperature. The former one seems to be more effective in winter while the latter one seems to be more effective in summer. Another difference is that America’s big land allows people to live in a house with a big yard of green grass while most Koreans are living in a high apartment building. Americans have a large private space between houses while Koreans are living quite close to each other. Many Koreans dream of the day when they can buy a small land where they can build their house and raise some plants and animals. But it’s not easy at all in such a small land country. The difference in the structure of the house and the surrounding condition seems to have much to do with the scale of the land.
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The Korean housing system is born out of its own particular economic and geographic conditions. And in the same way the American housing system is also born out of its own particular conditions. Therefore it is not easy to compare them with one criterion. But still comparing each other’s housing system will be quite useful letting us consider the present housing system and condition once again.