Real Estate Notes on Seoul

real estate development

Seoul Searching

My holidays aren’t just for fun. They are also my “TIME OUT” from the hustle of work, and my rest from what could seem routinary when done too often, even while you once aspired for doing them. Even humans need a REFRESH or a RESET.

I took my wife and daughter to Seoul as it was their wish to once again be in the land of their “idols”.  They now happen to be K-Pop fans! The last time we were there, it was all about K-Dramas. Seoul is the Mecca of K-culture; and we were there to be at the heart and home of it all. While I can’t say I’ve learned to share their K-Pop longings, I’ll just be a supportive husband and father.

Anyway, I can enjoy on my own, pursue my own interests, and have my solo “Seoul searching”. They’re about the two things I love or am passionate about——food and real estate development learning.

Korean cuisine is Kimchi, Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Japchae, Odeng, Korean BBQ or Gogigui and Korean Fried Chicken or KFC—-just to mention my “top-of-mind” fares. These and many other uncited dishes are reasons enough to join them. The mere mention of them excited me.

Not as salivating, but desirable no less to me is learning. I am a real estate development advisor by profession, but will never claim to be the authority. In this channel, I’ve always professed to be the forever student, constantly in search of lessons to learn and share. So, in this holiday, learning does not take a break.

While Seoul could be a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to land development, I’ll limit my list to ten. Here are noteworthy projects we can learn a lot from. By the way, they are not in order of importance or preference.


It signifies Water Cycle as I never knew it, once a stream that led to a river, became a busy highway that led to everywhere, and now back as a stream, flowing and being just a wonder to the most of whoever.

Cheonggyecheon has provided the following benefits:

  • The stream cooled the environment or reduced the “urban heat effect” by about 5 ºC
  • Cheonggyecheon decreased air pollution by about 5%
  • It increased pedestrian activity by 76%
  • They introduce dozens of species, fish and birds
  • Planting strips lined the more than 5 km stretch
  • Cheonggyecheon became a tourist attraction as a waterfront park and an oasis in the concrete jungle that is Seoul, drawing in about 25 million visitors a year
  • It improved traffic even while removing a road artery. Have you heard of Braess’ Paradox?
  • Yes, it decreased private vehicle volume by about 10%; while improving public transport ridership: subway ridership gained 3.3% and bus ridership gained 15.1%

Trivia: the proponent mayor later became Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak

It was a project that is heavily opposed at the onset. Can you think of negatives for such an undertaking? Comment below. I wrote down my references which you can also read or view clips from down below this video.


It was the 2nd world’s tallest building in the world when it was completed. In 2020, it’s 6th at 555 meters in height and 123 above ground floors. As a civil engineer-developer, I marvel at some of these numbers:

  • The mat foundation was poured on with concrete in 32 hours straight, using 5,300 ready-mix concrete trucks
  • Its foundation carries 750,000 tons of vertical load
  • The tower is green in design, following the LEED Gold Standard
  • It has a built-up area of 50 hectares
  • 20,000 sheets of curtain wall envelop the tower
  • The tower’s elevator can carry 54 passengers from the basement up in less than a minute or 600 meters per min.
  • It cost $2.5B to build
  • Lotte World Tower is mixed use to the core with offices, luxury hotel, office-tels, museum, retail, entertainment and parking
  • It was a marvel from afar, but being at the top of it gives you, literally, a higher and wider perspective


I walked its streets, from the here and now, through time and history, along centuries’ old homes of the Joseon noble families. It remains alive within as homes, wanting privacy or some as shops, restaurants or cultural hubs satiating the curiosities, hunger and desires of wanderers. It’s close to both the Gyeongbokgung Palace and Changdeokgung Palace. It was a day long trekking for me, but with a lot of stops for photos, food, appreciating, learning and marveling.

Together with the palaces and many shrines and monuments, they embody Korean identity as a unique people, rich in art, culture and heritage.

It is sad to note, however, that much of what can be seen are newer structures. I researched and learned that the preservation laws were loosely implemented causing the demolition of many old houses.

What’s your take on Architectural Heritage Conservation?


It is an oddity that’s an object of debatablebeauty, whose place in history and current culture has yet to fully grow on many. Is it pleasing, exquisite and stunning because it is expensively built or is it because it was designed by Zaha Hadid?

It sits on a notable and momentously-remarkable place, meaning, structures of historic and socio-cultural significance once sat where it is. It displaced a popular market and sports venue. Its design is extra-terrestrial and the artist is non-Korean. It’s not efficient in use and exorbitant to design and develop. Hadid said the DDP wants to “make people think.” For that, she succeeded, and many minds are boggled by it.

In the Instagram age, though, it has found its stage. For foreigners like me, I was awed and breath taken, like ogling at a sculptural piece in a gallery or a signature fashion piece. Korea has risen in wealth and perhaps, this it’s statement of its arrival to the world of the chic and cosmopolitan.

DDP is government-funded or from tax-payer’s money; hence the internal gripes. Its objective is well-meaning—to rejuvenate the dilapidated, shabby and deteriorating structures and edifices. If you were part of the urban redevelopment team, what would you have suggested?


We stayed in a hotel within Myeongdong. In between visits to the Seoul’s more popular tourist spots, one has to rest.  My travel companions’

idea of rest is to shop or for the most part, window shop. There is no better place to do that than in the heart of commercial Seoul–Myeongdong. It’s not a cheap place, street food included; but it’s a tourist trap that’s hard to resist.

Korea knows retail drives tourism, and tourism drives retail. Both drive real estate values, and true enough, Myeongdong has the most expensive commercial real estate properties in South Korea.

I noted that beauty and cosmetics shops compete with cafes in terms of number per given area in South Korea. It’s probably unique to them as convenience stores and vendo machines densely populate Japan.

Supply of such real estate type of products is driven by the market’s demand for them, which is reflective of the people’s way of living.

In your country, what uniquely notably dominates the real estate horizon?


Glitz and glamor have become synonymous with Gangnam. Thanksto that once Uber-popular song by Psy, the world has come to know of it. Gangnam has come to represent Seoul’s rich and famous, the elite and powerful, and the chic and classy.

Porsches, Maseratis, Teslas and Ferraris reign on the road. Luxury fashion brand shops line the avenues. Around 500 plastic surgery clinics augment the cosmetic shops for their clienteles’ beauty needs. K-pop and other Korean entertainment stars add glimmer and glitter to the swanky town.

What has real estate development got to do with these?

Gangnam was a place for agriculture; but with the growing economy of South Korea, the froth of the wealth had to overflow somewhere. Seoul was filling to the brim; disorder came with increasing density of the populace. So, in the 70’s the government had to look across the river Han, down south to Gangnam for alleviation. They planned for the new district to have more roads, green spaces, parks, and overall an improved living environment.

Bridges and roads were built, together with the many apartment buildings. Population grew fast and in the 80’s commercial, social, cultural, academic and other institutions became the new migrants to cross the Han. Prime examples of these are: the Seoul Arts Center, the National Library of Korea, the COEX Convention & Exhibition Center, and the Korean World Trade Center. They acted as catalysts to the further development of Gangnam.

Gangnam Residential Real Estate

Gangnam residential real estate values are at its highest here. It’s astounding to note that “the deposit to rent a home costs 10 years of salary for the average Korean.” The price per square meter of living space is around $12,000. Actual demand and mere speculation continue to push prices up despite cooling mechanisms of the government in the form of taxes and pre-selling price caps. A Gangnam address is a status symbol.

Global and Korean finance, commerce, I.T. and even entertainment companies choose Gangnam to be their office base. Such has made land in Gangnam to be the most expensive in Korea. It was estimated that the Greater Gangnam Area, which include Seocho and Songpa, accounts for 10% of the land value of Korea.

Gangnam proved that newer and better planned towns hold exceeding promise.

What was once intended as the peripheral overflow area evolved to become the new center of prosperity.


Seoul’s progress was swift to a fault. It has congested its surface with traffic and out spurts of structures, in the early days, in disarray.
Seoul has become one of the world’s most densely populated cities. The clamor for order and more green space pressed urban planners to look deeper into other options.

The sub ground development of Seoul was the answer, and it was primarily done to give way to pedestrian, rail and road development. This was intended to further the interconnection of communities. The foot traffic generated, of course, made feasible the opening up of markets and shopping centers. As of 2010, more than 30 million cubic meters of underground space has been dug up to augment above ground developments. Real estate is also treasure that needs some digging up.


It’s another innovative reuse of flyovers or overpass roads. As Seoul overdeveloped to highly congested levels, sub ground mass transit became the logical alternative. Thus, the old structures were either torn down or in this case, repurpose as well. Seoul Sky Garden became an overhead
green walkway, a park for leisure and socializing, and a pathway to interconnect key city hubs. It is a kilometer long and is lined with 24,000 plants. Shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants were located to generate revenue in this enhanced piece of real estate common and utilitarian space.

Would you rather have torn this old elevated highway, rather than spend more
on its redevelopment?


It’s clearly one of the world’s best airports, having officially accorded the title multiple times by the Airports Council International and Skytrax. Its real estate use is not limited to providing runways for airplane take-off and landing. It provides travelers with opportunities to shop, stay and
have fun. It has gardens, theaters, spas, sleeping quarters, a golf course, a casino, ice skating rink, video game arcade, retail and dining outlets.

Why do you think most airports are built on reclaimed land, and why are they often
at a significant distance from the populated city centers? Do you believe in the


Major cities around the world has made use of TV-radio and telecoms towers as tourist attractions. N-Tower is no different. Its proximity to Seoul’s commercial district makes it accessible in minutes. Shops, galleries, entertainment centers and dining facilities provide income for this precious elevated real estate.

Can you name a few of such towers?

What do you think makes them viable despite the costs of erecting them? What challenges do developers usually take on for such undertakings?

Travels are opportunities for learning. Do go over the references I suggested I made available in and below this video, and learn more about these projects. Not everything is applicable where you are, not every decision made by the developers and planners here prove to be the best, many are debatable.

I, however, hope by watching the videos and reading through the notes, you were prodded to ask questions and to think.

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