Innovating the Korean Real Estate Industry Means Getting the Best Outcomes for All Stakeholders
Jooch Nam is the Director of Sales and Partnerships at Dongnae, a real estate firm that is innovating the way in which the industry operates. He and Alex Jensen discuss the industry and the innovations that Dongnae is bringing.
With regards to helping expats new to Korea Jooch says, “We offer a full service from moving in to moving out. We kind of hold your hand, especially if you’re from overseas. It’s concierge system rather than a brokerage because really not to be don’t take any brokerage fee. Instead, we offer the support that you need with a very low deposit.”
But for Koreans as well looking to escape the wolsae trap, Dongnae provides its FLEX solution. As Jooch says, “What we do is we rent out a premium apartment, turn it around and we sublease it to tenants. We drop the key money required to something affordable for people in your 20s and 30s, we try to keep the monthly rent reasonable as well, somewhere between two and four million won, depending on the location. In this way people can start to save a deposit for their own place while living in a nice apartment.
This solution and others have been recently covered in the media including a recent article in techcrunch.
The Dongnae strategy is resonating not only with tenants, but with all stakeholders. This is evidenced in the support from a wide range of investors the firm attracted in its recent Series A fund raising. Dongnae raised 20 billion won in equity and loans from a group of investors including: NFX, Daol Investment, Hana-Magna, Hana Financial, MetaProp, Fursys, Han River Partners, Flybridge and Maple as well as WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey.
This episode is brought to you by Eastpoint Partners. Offering you and unparalleled Asia-wide network connecting you with corporates, governments and investors.
D-2 Korean Presidential Election: Merger, Major Pledges & Record Early Voting
Alex Jenson 0:08
You’re listening to koreabizcastwith the KBLA. I’m your host, Alex Jensen, and it’s Thursday, April 7. Let me thank Eastpointe Partners for making today’s episode possible and for offering an unparalleled Asia wide network of relationships with corporates, governments and investors. Now real estate issues were highly influential for all of the above, in the build up to the presidential election, but some of the fundamental challenges may still feel like they’re not going anywhere in a hurry, the difficulty and perhaps undesirability of a mortgage, the feeling like you might be pouring rent down the drain, Korea’s unique Jeonse system, whether we’re based here for business, or we’ve been here for a long time doing something else. Residential issues are always going to be a concern. And maybe they’re a concern for you if you’re thinking of moving to Korea, or maybe they’re concerned because you think it’s a great space to do business in like our next guest, who has solutions and a great story that’s taken him through the media, too. WeWork to the American Chamber of Commerce, to Dongnae, which means neighborhood in Korean, but is innovating the property market in today’s context, as a company, director of b2b sales and partnerships. Judge Nam, thank you for joining us.
Jooch Nam 1:18
Thanks so much, Alex. It’s a pleasure to be here. Finally.
Alex Jenson 1:22
Yeah, well, great to have you as well. And before we get to your story, which has a fair bit of overlap with the work that I’ve been doing in the media here, tell us about Dongnae. And the solution that you offer?
Jooch Nam 1:35
Well, as you mentioned, Dongnae actually means neighborhood here in Korea. You know, break it down into the simplest component of what Dongnae is and what we represent and how we came to existence. Now, I guess the easiest reference is let’s say a foreigner comes to Korea, right? I know you have experienced yourself, you know buying a home or renting out a home. It gets very tedious. And also it becomes very expensive because of this thing called Jeonse. NowJeonse is basically a housing lease, sort of a system that is somewhat unique to Korea, right. Although I did find that there are some countries that do sort of apply the system on a very limited basis, but it’s most ubiquitous here in Korea. It’s where tenants sort of pay a lump sum deposit instead of a monthly rent on a two year contract right. Now, do you know exactly how much like the percentage of lump sum you paid in reference to the price of the house, Alex?
Alex Jenson 2:35
Well, in my case, I’ve been stuck on the Wolse system for years. And I suspect a lot of expats here have like either, I’ve done what I’ve done as someone who’s done it privately on their own, and they’re just paying a big deposit, which is bigger than the normal rental deposit, you pay abroad, at least in London in my experience. And then on top of that you pay your monthly rent, but you get the deposit back, obviously, all things being well, or the other option for people coming in with corporations is sometimes to have a company pay a whole year in advance. But still, that’s like the monthly rent thing. Jeonse is a bit different isn’t it’s a huge payment. And you’re basically looking in a bank account,
Jooch Nam 3:14
it’s based on the percentage of somewhere between 50% to about 80% of the actual price of the house. So if the price of the house, like in Korea, let’s say is about 800,000 to a million USD, for example, you’d be paying literally well over half a million dollars. Like just on Jeonse and that’s cash we’re talking about. It’s not like you’re making like, you know, monthly payments. So I don’t know about you, but you know, people like like us are commoners. You know, we don’t have that kind of cash lying around. And lock it away for two years. Right? So um, so what do we end up doing? Especially the young people in their 20s and 30s, they end up going to the bank and getting a Jeonse loan. And that loan, actually, I have a Jeonse loan right now, because I bought my house. I actually have a mortgage but I mean it was I had a similar system where the interest rate is actually very high. In the long run, it was like 3%, that’s actually pretty high. So look at you know, 10-20 years down the line, right? Anyway, these Jeonse loans are getting out of control, the country’s going into a huge debt. Banks are loving it, because they’re making interest of all these Jeonse loans. But, you know, the common citizens like you and me, you know, we’re actually struggling because of this. So what we did was we convinced Hana Bank, we addressed this issue and said, look, let’s try to revolutionize this Jeonse system and make it affordable for young people especially, and also corporations to save taxes are going to I’m going to get into that in a little bit. But basically Dongnae system, especially this thing called Dongnae Flex. Well, we offer three particular things, low, very low interest deposit. What we do is we rent out a nice apartment unit premium apartment unit as of now. And we turn it around and we sublease it to future tenants. Right? And we dropped the key money that the lump sum deposit to somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000. Now that makes it very affordable for people in your 20s and 30s. Especially because the rent is somewhere between 2 million and 4 million won, depending on the location, depending on the apartment. I presume that somewhere around where a year. It’s like, what were your kind of around your category? Right? Is that right?
Alex Jenson 5:47
Yeah, unnecessarily. So because we’ve got a need for multiple bedrooms with a kid. So I know that it’s a big pain point for my wife, for instance, she’s viewing this as very much a case of just pouring money down the drain, and she dreams of either be I’ll have a Jeonse mortgage, but for the reasons that you’ve already kind of hinted at, that’s very challenging.
Jooch Nam 6:09
Right, exactly. So if you look at just the interest rate that you’ll be paying in the long run, it’s somewhere close to the the monthly rent that you’re actually paying. So especially if you’re a corporation, your housing, your staff, your overseas staff executives, it’s fully tax deductible, that something was this is something we actually learned just recently, and we’re actually offering this to a lot of US corporations who are paying huge lump sums for the key money, where you can actually save tens of thousands of dollars through our own Dongnae Flex system. So it’s not just low initial deposit that we offer, we actually provide integrated service that’s multilingual. We have Chinese speakers as their staff and French speakers and other languages. It’s a full service from moving to move out that we kind of hold your hand, it’s especially from overseas. So it’s kind of like this concierge system that we have. Also, we have this thing called Dongnae Plus, where if you want to fully furnished place, or you need certain appliances, be at refrigerators, you know, washers dish, a dishwasher, dryer, blinds, what have you, coffee table sofa, we have all those things, you know, that you can rent out at a very, very affordable rate. So it’s a full on system that we have. We don’t like to call ourselves a broker because really not to be don’t take any brokerage fee. But it’s a, it’s a fully functioning sort of helping support that you need at a very low deposit.
Alex Jenson 7:48
So you’re offering this potentially for individuals like myself, who have to do it on their own, but also potentially to companies who’d be using you for all of their employees based over here in Korea, especially those coming from abroad.
Jooch Nam 8:01
Exactly at that aspect actually has been on the rise in the past couple of years where a lot of these multinational corporations are bringing in foreign talents, and they need to help them. So that’s one of the key things that we’re actually focusing on. In my role as a b2b director.
Alex Jenson 8:19
Real Estate, though locally is absolutely furious, isn’t it as an issue, and we’ve just touched on it briefly. But compared with the issues that we’ve been talking about, it becomes much more of an investor issue, for example, and and we’re swinging from one administration to the next, does it make a huge, huge difference in your mind going from the Moon Jae In administration to Yoon Suk Yeol, for example?
Jooch Nam 8:44
Well, presidential candidates make a lot of big promises. And Moon Jae In. I mean, just generally speaking, he hasn’t been too friendly, especially for the real estate industry. And I think he kind of admitted like, there were there were some mistakes that he did make. And he’s asking for the next gen next president is sort of men did a lot of the things that were sort of unfair, the new president, we’re actually waiting to see exactly how things will unfold. I don’t think he made absolute promises that are that were like, they’re going to be like game changers, if you will, have to look more into that. But um, from what I understand, it’s pretty much up in the air exactly what he will fully implement. So like, we’re actually we just had a discussion internally as to like, you know, how things will sort of unfold how much it will affect us internally. Also, across the board in the real estate industry.
Alex Jenson 9:42
Certainly wise to watch and wait on that front. But I think there is an expectation of landlord friendly policies or more friendly policies and the direction of landlords and obviously, at the same time, there’s this pressure to raise interest rates with inflation going out of control and issue that we covered earlier. This week, those combination factors could make it quite interesting for you if you had a situation where landlords have been more difficult, for instance. And if you have a situation where interest rates have risen, how do you expect that to affect your business model?
Jooch Nam 10:16
Well, I’ve been a model will be very sensitive to that, obviously, depending on how the interest rates will rise or fall, we will have to sort of adjust accordingly and build stronger relationships with our landlords, because everything is still pretty much dependent upon how the landlord sort of applies the new new set of legalities, if you will, what we realize from our relationship with with realtors as well as landlords is the fact that ultimately, the landlord is king. We’re literally at the mercy of how they will give us a great deal, how they will, they will accommodate us, as much as we’ll be, we are great business for them. You know, there’s this expression in Korean called Gabjil, right? They always have the upper hand, they will always sort of play the dominant role. So it’s a very fluid relationship. But it’s also a malleable relationship, where as long as we bring it, as you know, good customers that are very friendly to the landlord. At the same time, they need to be really good to us because we’re bringing the customers to them. But in the context of your question of how the interest rates and how the laws will actually affect us. The landlords are simply at the mercy of the government to a larger extent. It’s literally a waiting game at this point, we’re hoping that things will sort of the new administration will be very friendly towards the real estate systems, real estate industry, because of this increasing debt that’s been piling up over the past five, six years.
Alex Jenson 11:57
Yeah, I mean, some of these issues have just continued to persist from administration to administration. And we’ll be watching closely, as we said before, maybe best right now not to prejudge too much. But as far as your own story is concerned, you’ve seen all this as someone who’s rented out in the past and now got on the property ladder yourself. How did you step into this Dongnae role, though, with what expertise if you like I presume you are bringing to the table? The business experiences that you’d had at Amcham, and we work for instance? And if so, can you just elaborate?
Jooch Nam 12:32
Well, let me take back what take the take that a little bit step further back into my history. I first came to Korea in 2005. And I was actually the vast majority of my experiences here were in media. I was in I was doing a news program, a culture program, I had my own talk show. And I mentioned like, broadcasting station names. It’s just like, This is not government radio, right.
Alex Jenson 13:00
You can mention any brand name you like, I mean, it’s that they rise or fall based on their reputation, but there’s no rule against mentioned.
Jooch Nam 13:10
Well, I first started EBS radio, and then I went on to Arirang radios juggling both at the same time, but I was also doing a lot of government, like GTG business, uh, while I was doing media. So all these I have my own business travel business, as well. And one thing led to another I met Matthew, Matthew Shampine was actually supposed to be in my place today, but he just got tied up. So he and I hit it off. We actually started working together at WeWork. And I was one of the WeWork Labs managers. And Labs is basically a startup accelerator program that’s particular to WeWork. And I just built up a lot of network, met great people out of them became great friends. And when WeWork Labs pretty much ended a few years ago, I got called to the American Chamber of Commerce. So the head of American Chamber of Commerce, Chairman Kim, James Kim, he kind of asked me to join this team to be as executive director. So as you all know, all Chambers of Commerce in Korea, their sole purpose of existence is to properly network companies from from the country, right. So US being the largest Chamber of Commerce in Korea, because US is such a huge country. Yeah, I built a great network of corporate leaders, to SMEs and even startups. So I was in charge of membership for the most part, at AmCham. And based on the great network that I built with an AmCham I met the Shampine. He called me a few months ago and said, hey, we our business model is focusing on b2c up till now, but I’d like to focus on b2b going forward, and just utilizing all the network that I’d garnered at AmCham, he asked me to sort of connect Dongnae to all these great corporations that need the great housing for their employees and executives. So that yeah, so I’m just working everyday making making calls. But I’m also kind of helping out with the b2c aspect. But my main focus is b2b, and I think Dongnae to major corporations embassies, great and small, it’s fun.
Alex Jenson 15:37
Can you talk a little bit about harnessing tech in a business like this, because it also we work in the past, people used to think of WeWork as an innovator in that space, fusing together some of the physical world with the, with the innovations that were available. And now every year, we’re seeing more advances, whether it be playing with a data that you have access to, or even artificial intelligence, for instance, is there anything that you could share with us that’s helping Dongnae at the moment,
Jooch Nam 16:05
Technology I can talk about perhaps, in two particular ways. Number one, if you look at I noticed, you’re familiar with the WeWork system. People who just know WeWork on the surface, they just think of, Oh, you just rent out desks and offices, it’s much deeper than that. It’s actually data driven based on your background based on your need. Our tech application basically determines what your best location is what you know, and how to best help you network within your industry. So there’s a lot of data driven sort of aspect and tech aspect within we work there really helps optimize your needs within we work. So based on that technology, we also do the same thing, you know, real estate is very data driven, as well. So, you know, we input all your needs, in terms of housing needs, be it personal or be Corporation. And then we literally tried to optimize using our technology to find the best location, you know, best environments, best apartment, and those things. But an added element to that is there’s a company called Matterport. And it’s, it’s a camera technology that basically takes 360 degrees of photos of every single crevice and corner of room of your apartment. And it’s a fully integrated system, where once we take a photo of the entire apartment complex, you can actually fully immerse yourself into these photos that were arranged by this technology. And you can actually tour the entire apartment without actually going there. So we have fully implemented this from the beginning. So if Alex Jensen is interested in Yongsan, let’s say Park Tower, and we have several units available, instead of physically going there, you can come into our website and check out the Matterport photos, you can literally just take a guided tour yourself and see what room is where how big it is what the view is like. So it’s an amazing technology that these prop tech people are enjoying and it’s our way.
Alex Jenson 18:12
Really sounds great, by the way, and I want to check it out in more detail. If anyone wants to join me in doing so just search Dongnae online or is there an application that’s better to use?
Jooch Nam 18:21
If you actually go to Dongnae.com. It’s Dong and nae.com and flash E and it’s there’s an English version. But you can just go into Dongnae.com and there’s a Korean version and English version. We just click the language button. And it gives you all the all of our units availabilities. And each location. And it’s actually more serious about actually renting out an apartment. Literally, just give me a call. And I’ll just, you know, guide you deeper and further into what’s available and which areas popular and what’s in the surrounding areas.
Alex Jenson 19:01
Well, you can also find Jooch on LinkedIn just like us and the rest of the world seems to be on there now. Jooch and then Nam. Jooch, I’d like to finish with a personal question, which is just to leave a bit of advice. So you’ve been here the best part of a couple of decades. You’ve jumped from one career to another seemingly without too many difficulties. You’ve built up this incredible network. What would you advise to be so just someone coming in from abroad? Who wants to kind of follow in those footsteps?
Jooch Nam 19:34
Well, my footsteps through a little bit unique because I think this kind of rings true for most Korean Americans who come here, they want to check out the motherland and you know, get some experience and go back to their home country via us or otherwise. But then I kind of got stuck here because I fell in love. I met my wife here, I have two lovely daughters. But my career actually began in media. I actually worked at KBS News when I first came, like a political news kind of correspondent. And then I moved into the English education industry. And then I bounced around. And then I got introduced to the media. So EBS, Arirang, I did a brief stint on TBS FM, as well. And I did TBS television. So I did all kinds of, you know, voice work of voice acting work. So the reason I was able to bounce around successfully is because I met a lot of people I met great friends. I wasn’t as sociable back in the States. When I came to Korea. I think something just kind of an ticked in me or clicked in me like, Man, I love this country. I love the peoples everything is so new to me. So this curiosity led me you know, one place to another and I just met a lot of people, I befriended a lot of people. I think the best part of networking, be it personal or professional begins with you. Just personally meeting a lot of people and then opportunities sort of naturally came my way.
Alex Jenson 21:02
I think that would natural is operative as well. It sounds very organic.
Jooch Nam 21:08
Yeah, it is. But I mean, with meeting one friend, you meet their friends and their friends. And then I didn’t network for the sake of networking. But I actually genuinely enjoyed meeting people. And just getting to know the diverse array of people that existed in Korea. So that was my initial introduction to like meeting the right people at the right time led me to media and I just found my passion and media.
Alex Jenson 21:37
Sounds absolutely fantastic. Jooch, we wish you all the best on your ongoing journey with Dongnae, I hope to see you in a literal neighborhood as well sometime.
Jooch Nam 21:46
Yeah, please let me know if you have any housing needs. I’ll be at your beck and call.
Alex Jenson 21:52
Thank you very much. And also thank you again to Eastpoint Partners for sponsoring today’s episode. We’ll be back with another one tomorrow.