[WHY] What's in a name? For Korean apartments, an awful lot.
Raemian La Classy, The H Forecent and Acro River View.
These words might look like a game of Boggle gone very wrong, but they're actually the names of some of the nicest apartment complexes in Korea. And believe it or not, there is a method to this branding madness.
Take Raemian La Classy for example: "Raemian" is the name of the apartment brand under Samsung C&T, the construction company, "La" simply comes from the French definite article, adding a little bit of glitz and glamour to the whole thing, and "Classy" is a very on-the-nose attempt to show this isn't your run-of-the-mill apartment block.
Put it together and what have you got? A clearly high-end apartment complex designed by Samsung C&T.
This is a trend Korean apartment names tend to follow. They combine the construction company’s apartment brand and add an English or French word in an effort to make it sound fancy, more desirable and expensive.
The trend isn't exclusively for newer complexes either. Sometimes older apartment complexes, built at a time when things like location were still considered necessary parts of the name, get renovated and the residents come together to try and come up with a new, fancier name.
So, what has really happened over the last few decades to trigger this apartment naming linguistic free-for-all?
How did apartment names first emerge?
Apartment names were fairly simple in the past.
Mapo Apartment, Korea’s first apartment complex built in 1962, was given the name because it was located in Mapo District, western Seoul. Dongdaemun Apartment, built in 1967, was given the name because it was located in Dongdaemun District, central Seoul.
Names followed this pattern until the mid-1970s, when Hyundai Engineering & Construction decided it wanted some recognition for its hard work. In 1976, the company opted to name its latest complex Apgujeong Hyundai Apartment, incorporating the brand name for the first time.
That decision wasn't simply hubris on Hyundai's part, but the result of the changing construction landscape. The 1972 Housing Construction Promotion Act had opened the door for private companies to start leading construction projects, rather than the public companies that had been in charge in the past. Unsurprisingly, those private companies wanted to brand their newest products.
It also so happened that the Apgujeong Hyundai Apartment was one of the first apartment complexes built in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, when it started to become the affluent neighborhood it is today. This made it a symbol of luxury, and other companies started including the company name to convey a luxurious image, building SsangYong, Daewoo and Hanyang apartments in Seoul.
Naming conventions took another turn in the 2000s, after the end of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Korea was left with a society with a huge income gap, and the upper class wanted luxurious apartments to match their status. Construction companies started to create specific apartment brands and marketed them as new and prestigious.
Famous celebrities such as actress Lee Young-ae helped with that branding. Lee was the face of LG Engineering & Construction’s Xi, advertising the brand with the slogan “A dream for someone else, an everyday life at Xi.”
Xi remains one of the most well-known apartment complex brands in Korea today, alongside Daewoo Engineering & Construction's Prugio, Hyundai E&C's Hillstate and DL E&C's e-Pyeonhan Sesang brand.
Instead of having the company name, the neighborhood name is now often paired with the apartment brand name. An example is the Banpo Xi — Banpo for Banpo-dong in southern Seoul, and Xi for the apartment brand.
Naming conventions went through one last revolution in the late 2010s, bringing us to where we are now.
Brand names distinguished the new and expensive apartments from old ones when they were first implemented in the 2000s. But as time passed, people got used to seeing them in every neighborhood. The brands started to lose their charm, feeling less luxurious.
To satisfy demand for even more prestigious apartments, most construction companies now have two apartment brands — one for normal mid-tier apartments and another specifically for apartments in affluent neighborhoods.
DL E&C has its e-Pyeonhan Sesang brand, but select apartment complexes in southern Seoul and a few expensive neighborhoods in Busan are given the name Acro. Lotte Engineering & Construction has the Lotte Castle brand, but started giving the name LE-EL in 2019 for reconstructed apartments in southern Seoul. The H is Hyundai E&C's premium brand, launched in 2015.
The apartment name tends to be followed by an English or French word that aims to make the name sound fancier.
Acro River Park is an apartment complex in Seocho District, southern Seoul. Located close to the Han River, it was given the nickname River Park. Acro Lucentium is in Icheon-dong, central Seoul. Lucentium, a particularly ambitious attempt, combines the Latin word lucent, meaning glowing, with the Latin suffix -ium, used to signify a special building.
Why is a prestigious apartment so important to Koreans?
Owning a home is a lifetime goal for many. But for Koreans, apartments hold a bit more value than just being just a house to live in. The apartment’s location and brand symbolizes a person’s status, and living in a prestigious one is an easy indicator of success.
People tend to identify themselves as members of the upper class when buying items the wealthy would buy. This includes luxury bags, but also expensive apartments. Most Koreans live in apartment complexes — 58 percent of Seoulites and 51.1 percent nationwide as of 2020 — making it an easy thing to compare.
“What university you go to is most important when you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s about whether you work for a conglomerate or a small company,” said Lee Jae-kook, a professor teaching real estate studies at Korea Banking Institute. “Labels of your university and company still follow you in your 40s and 50s, but they can be offset with where you live.”
Gangnam and Seocho District are the two places Koreans immediately associate with success. Buying an apartment in those areas allows the person to feel like they are part of the upper class and makes other people think highly of them too.
The status of an apartment complex is not only important to the people living in it, but to people who buy apartments as a financial asset.
These people tend to look for apartments that guarantee them a big return, and having a prestigious brand name is one factor that ensures the apartment is expensive.
According to real estate market tracker R114, branded apartments built by the top five construction companies — Samsung C&T, Hyundai E&C, GS Engineering & Construction, Posco Engineering & Construction and Daewoo E&C — between 2017 and 2021 sold for an average 32.6 million won ($26,600) per pyeong (3.3 square meter) in 2021.
That's 16.9 percent more expensive than the average 27.9 million won per pyeong. It is also higher than normal houses, priced at 20.4 million won per pyeong.
Does having a famous brand name really affect the price?
Based on data from real estate application Zigbang, 87.4 percent of 1,143 survey respondents said apartment brands affect apartment prices. And this widespread notion tends to be true.
According to Hyun Dong-woo, a professor teaching real estate studies at Dankook University, the average price of five apartment complexes that changed names between 2012 and 2019 rose 7.8 percent compared to nearby complexes that didn't rebrand.
Professor Lee says that apartments with premium brands and those that do not have a 10 to 15 percent price difference within the same neighborhood.
In July 2019, Sangdo Amco Town Central Park and Sangdo Amco Town Aston Park were rebranded from Hyundai E&C's Amco brand to its fancier Hillstate brand. They were given new names: Hillstate Sangdo Central Park and Hillstate Sangdo Prestige.
After the change, the price of a 84.88-square-meter apartment on the 17th floor of Hillstate Sangdo Prestige sold for 1.05 billion won in August 2019, up 16.7 percent from the 900 million won price for the same size apartment on the 15th floor in April of that year.
In the nearby Gwanak Hyundai apartment, which does not have an apartment brand name, a similarly sized apartment on the 28th floor sold for 628 million won in August 2019, up 4.7 percent from February of that year.
“Apartment brands come either first or second on the list of priorities for apartment buyers,” said a real estate agent in Dongjak District, southern Seoul. “They also look at whether it’s part of a large apartment complex, but people immediately know a well-known apartment brand means the complex won’t be small — there are a lot of things an apartment brand implies.”
This is because having a famous brand name implies a lot about the complex.
Rather than asking multiple questions — whether the apartment has good parking, if it has a good security system or if it’s comfortable to live in — checking if it’s a fancy brand satisfies all of those criteria at once.
Apartments that are given a famous brand name follow a set of standards to ensure they live up to the reputation. Xi apartments are known to have community facilities ranging from libraries and gyms to indoor golf simulators and extensive garden areas that span the complex.
“Where the apartment complex is located is one of the important factors [that determines the price], but in the same neighborhood, the value of the apartment brand can change the hierarchy,” said Professor Lee.
Prestigious brand names mean a higher price and more popularity, but a bad brand image means the opposite. After an Ipark development — a brand of Hyundai Development Company — collapsed in January, other Ipark apartment complexes have been working to remove the brand from their names in case prices take a hit.
If it’s that important, can you change the apartment name?
A photo of a list of potential new names that residents of Sinjeong New Town Lotte Castle, an apartment complex in Yangcheon District, western Seoul, were considering went viral in 2020. The options included Mokdong Lotte Castle Avenue, Mokdong Central Lotte Castle and Mokdong Sky Lotte Castle, making people online wonder if the extravagant names are really that important.
With many thinking apartment names matter for both their pride and house prices, some go to great lengths to attempt to change the name of the apartment complex they live in.
All of Hanwha Enginering & Construction’s apartments used to be given the brand name Dream & Green, but some are requesting an upgrade since the company created a premium brand called Forena in 2019.
A few of the Dream & Green apartments have successfully gone through name changes. Kintex Dream & Green in Ilsan, Gyeonggi, changed its name to Hanwha Forena Kintex in 2021 and Yeonsu Woongcheong Dream & Green in Yeosu, South Jeolla, changed the Dream & Green to Forena in 2021.
“We changed the brand name for 15 apartment complexes [since the creation of Forena],” said a spokesperson for Hanwha E&C. “The Hanwha Forena brand is popular and we are getting continuous requests for brand name changes, so there will be more apartments going through changes.”
These name changes aren’t easy, and sometimes take years to complete.
The first step is to agree on a new name, and 80 percent or more of apartment owners need to agree to the change.
If they aim to change the brand name, it has to be chosen within the range of brands owned by the construction company that built the apartment. This step is relatively easy because brand changes will occur for apartments with a low-tier brand name, and residents will all choose to upgrade to the high-end one.
If people want to change the nickname of the apartment and add fancy English or French words, they take submissions from residents and home owners and then vote on the final pick.
The potential new name then needs approval from the company that built the apartment.
Companies only allow upgrades for a certain number of apartment complexes a year, and this step may require a long wait. They also check to see if the apartments are in areas worthy of the high-end brand name.
The residents then need one last approval from the local government. The officials mainly check if the new name doesn’t overlap with nearby apartments to avoid confusion, then apply the new name in the public address system.
BY LEE TAE-HEE [email@example.com]