Metro-East Living

Want to go into business, Mom? Mother and son are sold on real estate

Joyce Johnston and son Gary Johnston have worked together for more than 20 years. They started their business, Johnston Realty Inc., in 1993. “For our Christmas party, we don’t buy gifts,” said Joyce of her six-person office. “We buy gifts for the needy and deliver on Christmas Eve.”
Joyce Johnston and son Gary Johnston have worked together for more than 20 years. They started their business, Johnston Realty Inc., in 1993. “For our Christmas party, we don’t buy gifts,” said Joyce of her six-person office. “We buy gifts for the needy and deliver on Christmas Eve.” News-Democrat

Gary Johnston talked his mom into going into the real estate business together in 1993.

“It was scary jumping into that,” said Joyce Johnston, of Belleville, an agent for 32 years.

He and Joyce were working for Tialdo Realty at the time. They would get leads from Johnston Towing, the business Gary “Buzz” Johnston, Joyce’s husband, ran with his brother, Bob.

“Anyone who knew my husband’s towing trusted him and knew I sold (real estate),” said Joyce. “When we went into business, I picked our colors — white with red and black — off his truck.”

“We started with one phone line and five or six listings,” said Gary, 45.

“We couldn’t find furniture so we used card tables, or snack tables, to get going,” said Joyce.

They are still going.

Johnston Realty Inc. now on West Boulevard in Belleville, lists and sells residential and commercial real estate. They have six on their staff, and no card tables. Home prices start at $14,000. Joyce had one closing for $2.4 million last year.

Sometimes, a small sale leads to something bigger. They talked about a $14,000 home near the Fairgrounds that they sold.

“The buyer ended up buying 14 other houses from me,” said Joyce. “You treat everyone equal.”

“In 2001, we were top producers (among Belleville Area Association of Realtors),” said Gary. “We had over $25 million that year in sales. When we started selling — I have a file — interest rates were 9 3/4. Back then, we didn’t know the interest rates were high.”

“When I started, they were 14 percent,” said Joyce.

Cell phones and the Internet changed the way they do business.

“When she started,” said Gary, “you would have to call each agent that had a listing and pick up each key, then return them all. The multi-listings books were like a JC Penney catalog. Now, you can get emails on the phone. I pull up information and send it to them while watching my son’s baseball game. Emails, the Internet, have made it a whole different deal.”

The mother-son team stood near the kitchen counter of a four-bedroom, three-bath Caseyville home on the market for $379,900. The inviting blue water of an inground pool was just beyond french doors. Beyond the pool, golfers on Far Oaks went on with their game.

So, how is it working with Mom?

“There are two ways to look at it,” said Gary. “The bad thing is you work every day with a family member and the good news is you work every day with a family member. I see Joyce five days a week minimum.”

“And on Saturday once in a while,” said Joyce, who lives in Belleville with husband Buzz, now retired.

“It’s challenging,” said Gary. “You feel free to say what you want, but you shouldn’t in a business enviroment.”

What makes it work? “We have similar goals,” he said. “We want to sell houses, do the right thing and treat customers correctly. We are similar when it comes to business traits.”

Even when not working, the topic of conversation is usually real estate. Joyce’s son Kenworth, of Waterloo, is an appraiser. She also has a daughter, Paula Klaustermeier, of Belleville, six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

“The boys, when they get upset with me, they call me ‘Joycee.’ My husband put that on our license plate.”

Gary and wife Denise live in Breese with their son Grant and daughter Emily. Gary goes to his teens’ sports events in his free time. Gary has also been to a sporting event or two with his mom.

“I love to go to the Cardinal ballgames as often as I can,” said Joyce.

“I took her to a World Series game because she was my top producer,” said Gary.

We asked them a few questions:

Best lesson learned from Mom? “To be persistent,” said Gary. “If you are persistent in sales, you will do fine.”

Best thing you taught Gary? “When you do contracts, make sure they are right,” said Joyce.

And have a good work ethic. “She works hard,” he said. “She used to detail cars. Buff them, the whole nine yards.”

“What happened is,” said Joyce, “I used to keep my car so clean that when I went to the body people, they asked, ‘Who keeps your car so clean?’ They asked, ‘Would you consider doing my wife’s car?’ He offered me a good amount. Kenworth was in grade school still. I could do it at my home. It worked out fine. Those people bought houses from me. They knew I worked hard at what I did.”

What Joyce learned from her son Gary: “To do computers better. I thnk we are both patient.”

“I am her IT person. I fix her computers, her phones.”

Hardest part of the job? “The recession,” said Gary. “That was more challenging than working with Mom for 20 years.” He also mentioned house inspections and the hours. “Last night, I showed a house in Millstadt at 5 and Troy at 7.

“I do a lot of paperwork at home,” said Joyce. “I can relax and do paperwork at night. I have a little doggie (a Shih Tzu named Tobby Girl), that sits on my lap.”

What Joyce likes about the job: “You meet so many people. You go in some places where you can tell people hate their jobs. I like to do this. You get people who come in after you sold them your house because they are family.”

Advice on the housing market: “If your house is priced fairly,” said Gary, “and it’s ready to sell, there are a lot of buyers out there.”

What are you doing for Mother’s Day? “We take her out to eat,” said Gary.

“I like Olive Garden,” said Joyce. “I can’t remember ever working on Mother’s Day.”