By: Claire Locking
If you had been in Hong Kong for more than two decades, you would expect to have done your fair share of vertical living. Surprisingly, Anne-Marie Sage, who arrived on these shores in 1987 and is regional director of residential leasing and relocation services at Jones Lang LaSalle, has never lived anywhere above the second floor. In fact, during her twenty years she has never lived in the city, never lived in a flat, never lived in a building with an elevator and never lived anywhere without green views and sea breezes.
Anne-Marie’s first role in Hong Kong was far removed from the world of luxury real estate. She came here as a nurse at the Matilda International Hospital on the Peak. Home was the army quarters out at Sheung Shui, 25km away; quite a commute for a young lady who spent her childhood in a quiet village near Salisbury in rural England.
“I remember my first sight of Hong Kong island was from the Star Ferry,” she says. “I immediately felt like I had come home. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I immediately fell in love with the place and I’ve never fallen out of love, even though so much has changed.”
A stint teaching English to Gurkha soldiers followed before Anne-Marie found her niche in the world of property almost by accident. “I had moved to Sai Kung with my young son in 1994 and was living in a 700-square-foot apartment. A friend owned the Town and Country Real Estate office in Sai Kung Town and I started working there as a junior negotiator on a salary of HK$7,000 a month.”
Twenty years on, Anne-Marie is now one of Hong Kong’s leading authorities on the city’s luxury residential rental market; and yet, despite knowing the ins and outs, pros and cons of every luxury residential building and expat enclave, she still happily calls Sai Kung home.
“My husband and I bought our first house out here in Clearwater Bay in 1997. We had to beg steal and borrow to buy it,” she recalls. “To be honest, we weren’t being smart in buying it for financial reasons, we just wanted a home and we loved the area. At that time there were very few expats living out here; it was very basic and we were something of a novelty for the neighbours.”
Anne-Marie and husband Malcolm, an architect, proved to be something of a design dream team. Her real estate knowledge and innate sense of how uninspiring village properties could be transformed, along with Malcolm’s practical experience and skills, have led to them successfully buy, renovate and sell four subsequent properties.
“We renovated our first house entirely by ourselves,” she remembers. “Malcolm destroyed the first floor of the building with a sledgehammer and I carried the bricks down the stairs in a drawer. We are now slightly more professional; we used to disagree a lot but now we’ve learnt to trust each other. He is involved in the spacial arrangements and I’m all about the interiors.”
Their current home, which they share with Duncan the chocolate Lab and their children Rose-Marie and Oliver when on holidays from boarding school and university, is a village house backing onto the greenery of the Country Park above Hebe Haven. The magic of the property is hidden from view behind a high wall and an entranceway created from a huge antique wooden door. “The door was originally in the master bedroom but I thought it would make a perfect entrance. That and the bougainvillea in the garden were almost the only two things I told the builder to keep during the renovations.”
Downstairs, they’ve created the perfect inside/outside living area with bi-fold doors opening out from the sand-and-dusky-pink-coloured living room to the patio area and pool. The original boundary wall adds rustic charm to the space.
The open-plan kitchen was designed by Malcolm to be functional and practical as they both love entertaining. The dining table and chairs are replicas of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh design and were custom made in Macau. The sofas were bought at Home Essentials and the coffee table from Dickson Furniture. The most striking feature of the room is the ripple-effect limestone wall, a perfect backdrop to the stunning wood-and-metal staircase designed by Malcolm.
Upstairs are three compact bedrooms and a stunning bathroom complete with freestanding bath with views out over the greenery of the country park behind.
Anne-Marie, like many Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay dwellers, couldn’t ever imagine living anywhere else. “Sai Kung is still pretty much the same; we love hiking, spending time on boats and over the past two years I’ve learnt to play golf; it’s very easy to jump on the ferry from here to Kau Sai Chau. For restaurants we go to the square in Sai Kung to Jaspas but our all time favourite place is the Shelter Cove Yacht Club where we go and throw a steak on the barbecue and enjoy a bottle of wine.”
Anne-Marie, after two decades here, seems to have found the perfect balance of work and play and leads a pretty idyllic life, but what advice does she give new expats to the city who may find it daunting? “Sadly, the dynamics of relocations are very different now,” she says. “Ten years ago, expats based their decisions on where they wanted to live; now they are tied to where they can find a school place. The key to the success of my relocation team is that they are all hugely passionate about Hong Kong and manage with a lot of hand-holding to allay people’s fears. Personally I find Hong Kong a very easy place to be; I’ve loved bringing my family up here and professionally I could never go anywhere else.”
Anne-Marie and her leasing and relocation teams:
Jones Lang LaSalle
6/F Three Pacific Place, 1 Queen’s Road East
2846 5638 | joneslanglasalle.com.hk
Jaspa’s, 13 Sha Tsui Path, Sai Kung
Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club
Shelter Cove Clubhouse, Sai Kung
2792 2744 | rhkyc.org.hk
The Matilda International Hospital
41 Mt Kellett Road, The Peak
2849 0111 matilda.org