Suzanne Watkinson of Ambiente Properties is, without a doubt, one of the most prominent expatriate figures in Macau. A long-time Macau resident and active member of the British Business Association of Macao, Suzanne is known for running one of the best real estate agencies in the city. Suzanne is a property specialist, and she probably knows more about realty in Macau than any. With her guidance, Ambiente Properties has come to be recognized by Forbes as the Best Real Estate Agency (single office) in Macau, an accolade given to the company this year at the Asia Pacific International Property Awards.
We here at Macau Lifestyle got the chance to chat to Suzanne at her Ambiente Properties office, a tastefully decorated space located right in the heart of Macau’s hustle and bustle. Suzanne welcomed us with an open heart and talked about how courage and gratitude can lead to success and happiness. This is her captivating Macau life story.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your relationship to Macau?
I was born in Malaysia to a British military father and raised in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. My connection with Macau started with my parents. When they married in 1955, they had their honeymoon in Macau. So there is a strong connection.
When the gaming concessions opened up, there was a trickle of friends in Hong Kong that were coming over to Macau buying properties. And I thought, let’s have a look at Macau. A couple of good friends successfully acquired some property so I came over and, after some time, followed suit. I bought one property on the lake (Sai Van Lake). This was just at the time when all the new expats and gaming specialists were arriving, around 2004-2005. Initially, I bought the home as a weekend retreat and I did it up beautifully. Since there was an acute shortage of nice properties in the city I rented it out to my first client, who was one of the newly arrived gaming executives. When another property came up for sale on an upper floor I bought that too, and then another, and soon after one more – I was on a roll.
Buying and renovating properties in Macau almost became a weekend hobby. I would come and take these neglected properties and breathe fresh life into them. This was new to me, as back in Hong Kong I had been working in hospitality and held a position as a club manager for over 20 years. Taipa was not nearly as developed as it is now and there was a lot of fresh new talent coming to settle in the city. This was the genesis of my business. Naturally, it didn’t take me long to move to Macau permanently.
You’ve been doing business in Macau for 15 years, what do you think about the business and entrepreneurial environment here?
Well, it’s very easy to open a company here. It’s quick and efficient to set something up, but to find the right people, it can be challenging. I was thrilled to team up with my business partner Alex Cheng over six years ago. The entrepreneurial environment is very welcoming but can be difficult without some Portuguese or Chinese help. I strongly believe that English, as an international language, is crucial for Macau’s development.
What is the best deal of your life – or is there any work you are proud of?
To me, a deal is not necessarily about money, but about the challenges we’ve faced. I am really proud we’ve adopted an American practice of an “open house”. If there is a challenging property we go out on the street with branded balloons and posters and have an Ambiente Open Day. When we did it for the first time, with this property that was a four-floor walk up, we got our first offer in just 30 minutes. It was very successful. Now we do Facebook Live, which is hugely popular – I get stopped on the streets by people asking if I’m from Ambiente.
Macau has faced a lot of development in the last two decades – what changes have you witnessed?
More English is definitely spoken by the locals. But with all the development you have to look at the good and the bad. There is more traffic now in the city and many many more buildings – it is not as idyllic as it used to be.
‘Macau Made Easy’ is the tagline of Ambiente – what does this mean?
When expats started coming to Macau, there was very little information so I started helping out with other things – helping wives to settle, help with schools, with pets – Ambiente became a one-stop-shop in a way. Many clients have become lifelong friends.
How has the global feminist and #MeToo movement been reflected in Macau?
To be honest, I’ve never had too much problem in Macau as I’ve never considered there to be a glass ceiling. I was the first female general manager of recreational clubs in Hong Kong and Singapore. Maybe now, looking back and comparing salaries I can see there was a difference, but nothing would have ever stopped me. I had a great education and brilliant parents who always had my back. It was very empowering.
You seem to be on top of technology!
I am a tech-dinosaur to be fair, but I always come up with ideas that are later implemented by our team. We have to be on top of our game to be able to sell a property worth 20 million in a few days! We are very proud of our work.
Congratulations on being awarded the Best Real Estate Agency in Macau. What does this mean for you?
It’s international recognition before all. Even now, not everyone around the world knows where Macau is. But this award really puts Macau on the map of the property world. Ambiente agency is different and this award is a recognition of our team’s efforts.
How is your life in Macau, what are your favorite Macau experiences?
Naturally, I sometimes wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. But then I look at my lifestyle in Macau and I love it. I love my sports – I swim a lot in the Olympic swimming pool, I jog along Ocean Gardens Park, which is beautiful. I love the food and ease of life. Henry’s Gallery on Sai Van Lake is one of my favorites or La Gondola in Coloane. A Petisqueira or Military Club. And of course the Macau people, I dearly love the Macau people, and my Macau family. And I feel loved back – I am a lucky lady.
Suzanne Watkinson is also a regular contributor to Macau Lifestyle on real estate matters, home, and lifestyle – you can read some of Suzanne’s articles here.