At the center of Seoul, South Korea’s bustling capital, lies the ritzy Hannam district, one of the most popular residential areas for Korean celebrities, elite business executives, and high-ranking diplomats. In contrast to many other parts of Seoul, Hannam’s residents enjoy proximity to a concentration of new, trendy nightlife and retail offerings without the crowds.
And within Hannam—named for its location next to the Han River and Nam Mountain—is one of the country’s wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhoods: UN Village, a gated compound of luxury villas and large homes on steep hillsides boasting breathtaking views of the river and the mountains.
A major reason UN Village real estate is so desirable is because of good feng shui, according to Min Suh, director of international business development for Century 21 Korea. “A good property location must have mountains behind and a river in front, and the UN Village has both, so it is considered the best location,” she said.
Located on the east side of Hannam, UN Village’s gated entrance on its western boundary on Dokseodang Street is patrolled by security guards 24/7. Its eastern borders run along Seobinggo Street along the Nam River, and it is roughly bounded by Hannam Boulevard to the south, and Hallimmal Road to the north.
In UN Village, the average starting price of a luxury villa is KRW3 billion (US$2.65 million), and newly constructed homes can cost more than KRW10 billion (US$9 million). Even older villas at the lower end of the price range can go for KRW1.5 billion (US$1.3 million).
Another way of measuring real-estate value is chonse, a rental system unique to South Korea where the tenant pays a lump sum deposit upfront, typically between 50% to 80% of the market value. The money is returned after the end of a two-year lease, minus any interest the landlord earned investing that money elsewhere. “UN Village chonse runs between US$900,000 to US$2.7 million,” Ms. Suh said, but added that landlords prefer monthly rentals, which run between US$4,500 to $10,000 per month.
Ms. Suh noted that unlike the rest of Seoul, which has a lot of high-rise apartments, UN Village is very low density and composed solely of low-rise buildings and large homes. There are about 800 units in the neighborhood, and most are luxury villas with three bedrooms or more. Many are Western style, and come with private gardens, balconies, and patios.
What makes the neighborhood unique
Location, location, location. “The area is at the exact center of Seoul, so you can reach anywhere very easily,” Ms. Suh said.
Many foreign embassies are located within Hannam, and the US Army’s Yongsan Garrison base is a short drive away. Because of the large international community, amenities for foreigners abound, like Hannam Supermarket, where residents can find imported items they can’t find anywhere else in Seoul.
“UN Village is popular with families,” Ms. Suh said, partly because of its playgrounds and light traffic, along with security patrols and guards that offer a taxi-calling service for a minimal fee.
Several international schools are located in the vicinity, including the academically acclaimed Yongsan International School of Seoul (K-12 curriculum), Seoul Hannam Elementary School, The British International Kindergarten, and the German School Seoul International, which offers K-12 education.
Art-lovers can enjoy the D Project Space for experimental contemporary art, on the site of a former billiard hall; and the Samsung Museum of Art, featuring local artists along with famous Rothkos and Warhols. In addition, the expansive Hyundai Card Music Library houses an impressive collection of rare vinyl records and out-of-print music books, and doubles as a performance venue and practice space for local talent.
Christian Kober / Getty Images
For spa treatments, residents can head to the European-themed La Boutique Bleue, which bills itself as a “prestige beauty gallery” and is known for its rare imported perfumes and accepting fewer clients.
Hannam is also known for unique design boutiques like Yurt Studio, which crafts limited-edition leather goods, and NNN, which sells handmade and locally designed home goods and decor.
Notable dining options include Parc, a minimalist, family-owned restaurant offering a seasonal menu of authentic South Korean fare inspired by recipes passed down for several generations; and cafe Ma Non Troppo, featuring fresh pastries from a Le Cordon Bleu graduate. And if that isn’t enough, the neighborhood is a 20-minute drive to the expat-hotspot Itaewon, a popular district for tourists and foreigners full of upscale bars and restaurant concepts like Mozzie, which specializes in Kiwi and Aussie comfort food and features a sleek, 12-meter-long bar above which hangs a floating beer tap.
Who lives there
Many high-profile business people, politicians, and celebrities—both local and international—call UN Village home. Many chaebol, a term used to refer to the powerful families that run Korean conglomerates like Samsung and Hyundai, reside in the neighborhood as well.
“Almost all the famous families who run large companies in Korea have homes in UN Village,” Ms. Suh said. “They prefer to live there because of the security and privacy. The cost is really high, so only foreigners who work for embassies or are CEOs and executives of large businesses and international chains can afford to live there,” she added.
The list of UN Village’s rich and famous is a long one. Some of the best known on the international stage include PSY, the pop sensation behind “Gangnam Style;” Two members of the mega-hit idol group Big Bang (T.O.P. and Taeyang) also live there. In fact, T.O.P. made the news for his KRW$3.4 billion (US$3 million) four-bedroom, 3-bathroom villa next door to actor Jung Joon Ho.
Other celebrities who call UN Village home include Shin Min-A, Han Hyo-Joo, Han Chae-Young, Ha Ji-Won, Lee Young Ae, Park Ye Jin, Soo Ae, and Lee Hyori.
Ms. Suh also noted that many members of the famous business families (think Hyundai, LG, Hanjin, Keumho, and Doosan) own homes in UN Village. “Many second- and third-generation chaebol live here,” she said. At one time, Lee Kun-hee, Samsung’s chairman, made headlines for his home in UN Village, which in 2008, was the most expensive in all of Korea, priced at KRW9.6 billion (US$8.5 million).
According to Ms. Suh, UN Village will always be popular because the market is very exclusive, with most sales done through private networks. “We say that area is for the top 1% luxury villas, and it’s not really open to the public so it’s hard to say what the price range is exactly,” she said.
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