As strong stench pervades Saigon air, homebuyers now use their noses

By VnExpress   October 3, 2016 | 11:54 pm PT
As strong stench pervades Saigon air, homebuyers now use their noses
Residents living in the southern districts of Ho Chi Minh City, including the affluent residential area Phu My Hung, have been living with an intense odor for many years. But this year they say the odor has become unbearable. Photo by VGP
Properties in some of the most affluent neighborhoods become less desirable due to a pungent odor that has plagued southern districts.

For the housing market in Ho Chi Minh City, looking good is no longer as important as smelling good.

A prolonged stench problem has made many buyers think twice about buying a home in some southern areas that once were among the most sought after neighborhoods of the city.

Over the past few months, a large number of residents in District 7 have woken up praying the wind blows the other way. If it doesn’t, they start putting on their face masks.

The city government has managed to pinpoint the source of the unbearable smell: the 138-hectare Da Phuoc landfill, about 20 kilometers south of the city center.

Locals in the southern districts are worried that whatever is causing the smell may be bad for their health.

“I'm thinking of leaving,” said a dweller in Phu Hoang Gia residential area. “The smell is making us sick”.

While affected residents find it difficult to put up with the smell day in, day out, prospective buyers have a choice of simply walking away.

Sometimes one sniff was enough.

“In the past, overseas Vietnamese like myself had to buy houses in our relatives’ names. As the law has changed, we are now entitled to our own home in Vietnam,” said Richard Nguyen, a 50-year-old American citizen, who has been in the country for months to look for a house in Phu My Hung residential area.

“The property in Phu My Hung is quite desirable. But as many residents there have lately complained about the foul smell, I decided to drop the plan,” the man said.

Henry Nguyen, 42, a businessman from Canada, was similarly cautious about District 7.

“I am looking around for a house in this area. Everything is good. But then I heard my friends talk about the smell,” Henry said.

Real estate agents say the problem, if not resolved quickly, will cause property values in the area to drop.

"About 20 percent of our prospective buyers have expressed their concern over the smell in the southern districts," said a vice president of a real estate company in District 7.

But he said now that the city is working toward a solution, "some people have come to believe that it will be fixed and they are interested again in buying."

The stench is not the only thing driving homebuyers away from the southern districts. Flooding, which has held back about 15 percent of prospective buyers, is also affecting home sales in the area, the executive added.

Flooding, an infrastructure factor, plays a major part in real estate investment, said Regina Lim, Advisory & Research, Capital Markets at Jones Lang LaSalle Property Consultants.

She said the flooding issue can only be resolved when it is included in masterplans and broader efforts to improve the city’s infrastructure.

Inundation is a long-standing problem in Ho Chi Minh City so it is not affecting property values as badly as the smell from Da Phuoc landfill, said a president of a real estate company in District 1.

He said some buyers have put off payments for several months, while others have just walked away to search for a house as far away from the landfill as possible.

Certainly the flooding and the stench problems are both affecting sales in the affected areas, but technically, he said, it could be easier to combat flooding than to fight a bad smell.

Any delay in fixing these two problems is likely to ravage the property market in the southern districts as homebuyers will flock to other areas, said Tran Khanh Quang, president of Viet An Hoa Real Estate.

“Such things will hurt the city’s competitiveness and send ripples across the whole property market,” Quang emphasized.

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