Forest marketing spreads as fine dust concerns soar in South Korea

|     Yoon Yeun-jung     |

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) – Concerns over ultrafine dust and the overall air quality in South Korea draws real estate buyers to apartments near forests, called Supsegwon.

Soaring concerns over ultrafine dust and the overall air quality in South Korea have brought immense changes to the way people now perceive things that were previously taken for granted.

“I have worried about tap water contamination or noise coming from construction sites, but having to worry about the actual air that my children breathe is truly terrifying. There is nowhere to escape,” said Park Min-jeong, a mother of three living in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province.

That is why a 55-year-old woman, who wished to be identified only as Lim, said she had bought an apartment in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, where she believes the nearby mountains offer some protection.

“I was thinking of leaving Korea because of the fine dust problem. To be honest no matter where I go in Korea, it seems difficult to avoid fine dust. And in Seoul, it’s hard to find a reasonably priced apartment that is close to a forest or a mountain,” Lim said.

Around 83.5 per cent of urban dwellers said they were concerned with fine dust, among other environmental problems, according to a report released by Statistics Korea on November 16.

As the fine dust problem started to gain attention as a major social issue in 2017, new trends have emerged in various industries, from face masks claiming to filter out all fine dust particles to enhanced high-tech air purifiers.

The real estate market has been no exception.

In recent years, construction firms have increasingly been promoting new apartment lot sales with the phrase supsegwon – meaning a location adjacent to forests, a geographical feature seemingly helpful in mitigating the damage caused by fine dust.

But such claims, for the time being, come without a specific valuation basis.

Supsegwon is only used for commercial advertisement. The definition is ambiguous. If it is to be used properly, there needs to be guidelines or consensus regarding the standard distance accessibility between the residential site and the forest, as well as the scale of the nearby forest,” said a researcher at KB Kookmin Bank Park Won-gap.

Construction company officials contacted by The Korea Herald also admitted to using the phrase supsegwon loosely, in the same vein as the more widely used yeoksegwon, meaning a site located nearby a transport hub.

But in the case of yeoksegwon, which is among the most crucial price markers for real estate, there are regulations set by the city of Seoul that stipulate the property be within 500 metres of a subway or train station.