A photo of the Hangang River (123rf)
Nicknamed “celebrity town,” Seoul Forest Trimage is a luxurious apartment complex in eastern Seoul’s Seongsu-dong, known to be the home of K-pop stars, actors, athletes and other public figures.
With a four-room unit measuring 152 square meters last quoted at 5.5 billion won ($4.59 million), the housing complex built in 2017 near Seoul Forest consists of two 47-story buildings that overlook the Han River, which bisects the capital.
High-rise apartments with views of Seoul landmarks across the vast river have become a symbol of wealth and success among Koreans, as a growing number of celebrities on reality TV shows have flaunted their lifestyles in pricey riverside homes.
On YouTube and social media, ordinary people share their own home’s view of the Han, even partial ones, fanning the desire to live along the river.
A screenshot of reality TV shows, whereby celebrities boast about their luxury apartments with the Hangang River view. (MBC, tvN, MBN)
The river premium
The desire for a serene waterfront view in the middle of the giant concrete jungle that is Seoul is well reflected in home prices.
Among the 30 most expensive apartment units measuring around 84 square meters -- the size of a typical three-bedroom home in Korea -- that changed hands during the June-December period last year, 23 were located within 1 kilometer of the Han, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
The most expensive unit sold was Banpo Jugong in Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, which fetched 6.5 billion won, followed by the same Banpo neighborhood’s Acro River Park (4.5 billion won), Raemian Firstige (3.83 billion won), the adjacent Apgujeong Hanyang in Gangnam-gu (3.8 billion won) and Acro River View in Seocho’s Jamwon area (3.75 billion won). All of these buildings stand facing the river.
The prices of riverside apartments continued their bullish run, bucking the broader Seoul market’s downturn in the past months.
According to data by the Korea Real Estate Board, a local property information provider, the number of Seoul apartment transactions came to 1,359 in November, down 38 percent from a year earlier, and has remained under 2,000 for the past three months straight.
Despite the dip in home buying sentiment amid the government’s measures to stabilize the property prices, a 196-square meter unit in the 1st Apgujeong Hyundai Apartment smashed the price record, fetching 8 billion won on Jan. 18, nearly 1.6 billion won higher than the price from the preceding transaction in March last year.
At another apartment known for its view of the Han, Banpo Hillstate, an 84-square-meter unit was sold for 3.4 billion won on Jan. 11, up sharply by 570 million won from March last year.
How good a unit’s view is also affects the price of a home in a same apartment complex. Higher floors with an unobstructed view of the river tend to be more expensive.
A four-room unit on the 41st floor of Seoul Forest Trimage, for instance, was traded at 4.59 billion won in November, but the same-size unit on the fifth floor cost 3.2 billion in July, industry data showed.
As Seoul is a city full of cookie-cutter apartment buildings, most homes have a boring view of other apartment buildings. Naturally, a view of open, green spaces carries extra value.
Of all home views, a waterfront view, particularly that of a vast river, is in limited supply, as riverside areas have long been under strict height regulations in Seoul.
“The Han River views’ scarcity value attracts both ordinary home buyers as well as real estate speculators. Not only day and night panoramic city views, but well-lit rooms drive up the value of riverside homes,” said Kim Mi-kyung, a senior researcher at the Korea Housing Institute.
Kim noted the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures added fuel to market demand for river view properties.
“The view has become one of the most important values of a home, as many have a pent-up desire to enjoy beautiful natural scenery outdoors. Living in a riverside apartment could be an alternative to spending time in natural environments,” she added.
Kim’s observation may offer a clue to understanding why some people tune in to video streams that just show a view of the river under a blue sky with puffy white clouds.
A YouTuber with a channel named Daily Seoul Live Camera, who has been live-streaming views of the Han River with soothing music since December 2020, said “it is not an official feed run by the Seoul city government. I hope people can enjoy natural scenery even indoors through my content.”
A screenshot of a live streaming video featuring a peaceful view of the Han River in Seoul. (Daily Seoul Live Camera)
Access to the city’s ample amenities along the river is another factor behind riverside apartments’ enduring popularity, another expert added.
“Residents of apartment complexes adjacent to the Han River can easily access various natural, cultural and leisure facilities, including forests and parks, on foot. Also, the transportation environment is excellent, especially with roads like the Olympic Highway and the Gangbyeon Expressway,” said a real estate agent surnamed Son who runs an office in Seodaemun-gu, Seoul.
The head of Bomnal Realtor expected the value of river view apartments to continue rising, as the city government hinted at easing regulations for redevelopment there.
“After Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon took office last year, the city government announced its plan to ease regulations on residential redevelopment projects near the river, which would allow construction of buildings as high as 35 floors above ground,” Son said.
Local geomancy experts also have their own theories to explain the phenomenon.
“An old proverb says, ‘To be rich, go to the sea or even a small ditch.’ In the pungsu jiri, water fountains symbolize flowing wealth. Locations that have a river behind them and a road in front are premium residential districts all across the world,” said Kim Du-gyu, a pungsu jiri expert and liberal arts professor at Woosuk University. In Seoul, Yongsan and Apgujeong are the examples, he added. Pungsu jiri is a Korean version of Chinese feng shui, which concerns the correlation between life-force “energy” and its surroundings.
His advice to those who can’t afford a riverside home is to go for somewhere with a view of a quiet road, as “roads bring unblocked flows of positive things like water.”
The river view premium is not unique to Korea. In major cities in the United States and Europe, high-end riverside homes also attract a premium.
Apartment complexes near the Hudson River in New York City are sought after by influential figures from all over the world. Medium-sized, 63-square-meter units there are traded at an average of around $1.5 million to $2 million.
By Choi Jae-hee (email@example.com