(SAVANNAH) – A year ago, Helen Williams Johnson started a new career – in real estate. Some might question her timing, but not her results. Despite the odds, she’s succeeding in perhaps the most challenging time ever in real estate.
“I started when the market had already bottomed out and I don’t know any different,” Johnson said. “I think this is to my advantage because I don’t know anything other than to work for the business. I was not around for the boom when agents were turning calls away.”
Since December 2008, Johnson has had five closings and has one more in the works. She’s had a busy Fall, with eight listings ranging from $190,000 to $950,000.
She credits her success to hard work, professional education, support from her agency, tenacity, and becoming close to her clients. She’s also found an unexpected networking benefit from her longstanding commitment to volunteerism – she’s chairing the Telfair Art Fair in November and serves on boards of several nonprofits.
For years many friends and family members, including her aunt, Celia Dunn, kept telling her she would be great at real estate and love it. Johnson is now a real estate sales associate at Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty. In addition to being successful, Johnson’s found she loves the career as much as everyone thought she would.
“I really enjoy meeting new people that are moving to town and trying to help them get acclimated,” Johnson explained. “I also enjoy helping old friends find the perfect home and neighborhood that best suits their needs and wants. You learn a lot about person’s tastes and personality when you are helping them search for a home.”
Kesha Gibson Carter and her husband recently closed on a home thanks to Johnson, who explained that the family had received “horrible” mortgage advice that tripped them up in the purchasing process. Carter appreciates that Johnson went above and beyond to make sure they got everything ironed out and could buy their new home.
“Persistent, tenacious and relentless are all words that come to mind when I think of Helen Williams Johnson and the experience we had with Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty,” Carter said. “She showed herself friendly, expressed genuine concern, and supported us as we worked to attain our goal. What we imagined would be a typical traditional real estate transaction, through no fault of our own, turned out to be ‘mortgage misery.’ However, because of the belief Helen had in our family and our ability, she did not shy away from working with us and continued her commitment to help get us through the crisis we found ourselves in.”
Johnson definitely goes way out of her way to make things work for her clients.
“It’s not about the sale – it’s about getting to know the client, their family, their goals in life. Some may think it is getting too close to the client, but I just want to make sure they are taken care of and that in the end we are all on the same page and trying to achieve the same goal.”
“The only other advice I would have for new agents is education,” Johnson said. The more courses you can take the better, she said, whether on marketing, networking, how to use MLS, contracts, or anything else. “You’ll be better off the more educated you are, and the more proactive you are about the market and its daily changes.”
“Celia’s office is also very special – the more I talk to agents at other offices, the more I realize how lucky we are,” Johnson said. “We have a wonderful support in the staff and the agents, and everyone just gets along, which is not always the case.”
Once Johnson’s youngest was old enough to start pre-school, she took the real estate class for new agents. With small children it was tough to be gone two nights out of the week from 6 to 10 p.m. for four months, she admits, but says it was well worth it.
Many people think real estate is a great career for mothers because you can make your own hours, but Johnson explains that’s not really the case. Many times you are working around the schedules of clients and customers.
“It is nice to have my parents in town, because my mother is great about keeping the kids for an hour here and there,” Johnson said. “Childcare of course is always tough in the summer time, but it’s been easier now that school is back in session.”
Johnson is chairing the Telfair Art Fair this year. She sits on the Savannah Technical College Community Council Board, helps with the tour of Homes every year and was a day chair for the Saturday tour last year. She is on the flower Altar Guild for Christ Church and teaches Sunday School. She is a member of the William Jay Society at the Telfair and the 13th colony society at HSF. She’s about to join the board of another local nonprofit as well.
“It can be tough juggling work, volunteer work, and children, but it somehow always seems to work itself out,” Johnson said. “My mother is great, and my husband is very supportive, as well as a very hands-on dad. Between the three of us, the kids always get to after-school programs and sports on time. And the great thing about all of the volunteer activities is that you can be as active as you want in all of them, so when you’re super busy in one you can slack off a little in another. It just works that way, which is nice.”
“Volunteering is just something I believe in,” Johnson said. “My mother has always been so involved my entire life in so many different things that I don’t really know any different. I can’t imagine not giving back to the community.”
“I am from Savannah and have a lot of contacts anyway, but there are so many neat people out there that do so much for the community that you would never know unless you volunteer,” she said. “I just believe so strongly in giving back to one’s community.”
Known for its tradition of integrity, Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty specializes in residential and commercial properties in Savannah and the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina. Founded in 1981, Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty is noted for outstanding service to its clients, thorough knowledge of Savannah and the South Carolina Low Country, and excellent staff, in addition to having one of the region’s top property management departments. The owners are natives of Savannah who have more than 60 years’ combined experience in real estate. The offices are located at 9, 13, and 17 West Charlton Street on Madison Square in Savannah and 6 Bruin Street in Bluffton, S.C.
For more information, call Celia Dunn Sotheby’s International Realty at (912) 234-3323 or visit www.celiadunnsir.com. To contact the Bluffton office, call (843) 836-3900.