Meet Leslie Johnson, Side’s Managing Broker of Georgia

Leslie Johnson has loved cities since before he ever set foot in one. Growing up on a farm, he didn’t have many opportunities to test drive big-city living.

But that love persisted. It’s what pushed him toward a career in urban development, then real estate law, then residential real estate and eventually into management. Today, that love is stronger than ever — and it’s joined by a love of teaching and working with agents.

We chatted with Leslie about his career path, that time he almost quit law school, and his views on the trends impacting Georgia agents today.

What first brought you to real estate?

I had just finished my second year of law school and had gone to work at an insurance defense firm in Jackson, Mississippi. And I remember thinking: This cannot be my life. This is why lawyers jump out of windows.

I went straight to the university counseling center and announced I was dropping out of law school. And the woman working there said, very kindly: “Slow down. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”

She had me think about what I really enjoyed. And I explained that ever since I was young, I’d loved cities. My sixth grade term paper was about the plight of the American city, even though I’d never lived in one — I grew up on a farm.

The counselor helped me put together an externship at the City of Memphis Division of Housing & Community Development. The externship turned into a part-time position, and after I graduated from law school, I went on to work at Memphis Heritage, which was doing historic preservation and re-development work. I spent time partnering with developers to restore some of Memphis’ great buildings. It was a way better fit.

And how did you transition into residential real estate?

I ended up moving to Atlanta, where I took a job at a law firm representing homeowners associations and condo boards. That was a really neat experience for me.

A lot of people roll their eyes when they think about condo boards, but you have to remember that condo board members are volunteers who are offering their time to serve their community. It was the kind of job where I always got a good night’s sleep because I knew my work was helping people.

From there, I got into brokerage because that’s a lot of what I was already doing, and it felt like an opportunity to help even more people. For most people, their house is their biggest investment and their biggest source of debt. It’s where they experience the joys and sadness of life. It impacts their health dramatically. To me, being able to help people find the right home and make a good investment is literally one of the most impactful things that a person can do.

What made you decide to become a managing broker?

I’ve approached the real estate industry from a lot of different angles. But I think I landed on managing broker because I know what agents do — I’ve done it myself — and I appreciate their work so much.

It sounds rather grandiose, but I mean it sincerely: Agents have such a deep impact on so many people. Homeownership is the number one way people build generational wealth in this country.

So I realized that my favorite way of using my legal background is to help agents do their jobs. It’s very easy to get your real estate license, but it takes a lot of training to be a great REALTOR®. And I love to teach.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing right now in the Georgia market?

I never thought Georgia would see a market like we have today, with inventory so low and prices rising like they are.

For decades, Georgia’s economy has been driven by real estate development, primarily residential. But when the 2008 Great Recession hit, a lot of people left the industry, and we essentially had no building or development for several years. Now, Georgia was smart and brought in the film industry — so while we weren’t building homes, we were building sets. But you can’t live on a set.

Then, combine that with how many people are coming to Georgia. For decades, Georgia has been the number-one destination for people leaving New York who still have a job. (Retirees often go to Florida.) We’re getting influxes from California, too. And it’s caused a major affordability issue with recent home price appreciation of 20 to 23%. Even with recent price increases, Atlanta is still one of the most affordable large cities in the country.

What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for agents in Georgia right now?

Inventory. There’s just no inventory. If a house goes on the market at under $1.2 million — which for our market is very high — you could be looking at dozens of offers with very aggressive terms. On the plus side, I think this experience has honed agents’ negotiation skills; there are so many ways to make an offer look attractive besides just upping the price.

What are you excited about when it comes to working at Side?

As agents, we help our clients build wealth. Side does the same for our partners. These agents do an amazing job building their business, and we give them a way to actually realize that business’ value. I think that’s so interesting and exciting.

I’m so excited to help this unique model grow in Georgia. The success of this model in California has been amazing, and I love being part of the effort of bringing that model to agents in Georgia.

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