Chat With Haute Residence Leaders, Episode 1: Debra Johnston

Debra Johnston

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Haute Residence launched its "Chat with Haute Residence Leaders" series with a conversation featuring Debra Johnston, representative of the Haute Residence Network in Atlanta, Georgia. She was hosted by Haute Media Group Cofounder Seth Semilof.

Watch their conversation below.

The topics included Johnston's illustrious career in the corporate world of New York City, later with Coca-Cola, and her eventual move and ascendancy in real estate almost two decades ago.

Originally from Michigan, she has lived in New York, Dallas, Minneapolis, and ended up in Atlanta when she joined Coca-Cola. With the latter, "I was in so many different positions. I was with the bottler for a while; operations at Coke North America, and then my last stint there was in corporate marketing. I supported our top 10 customers and it was a great experience and, especially to go into real estate, that marketing just was perfect," she says. "Honing in on project management skills, working with all different kinds of people, I think that just set me up. I've always wanted to be in business for myself, so learning those building blocks really helped me when I did eventually decide to get my real estate license and try it out."

Here are some of the questions and answers from the exclusive interview with Johnston.

Seth Semilof: Were you nervous about the change from the corporate world and having a paycheck and the 401k, to go into real estate?

Debra Johnston: I was very nervous. I did a little bit of both for a while to get my feet wet and get the basics together, figure out my marketing, and putting all the essential tools in place. The brokerage that I selected was a boutique Buckhead brokerage,e and I was one of the first agents. The broker at the time said, 'You've got to be full-time, Debra. You've got to do this.' I said I was going to do it and within four months, I did leave corporate life and went full-time and I have been full-time in real estate for that entire time, so about 17 years.

SS: Now that you're a Berkshire Hathaway,  tell us what makes going from doing flyers to this whole business being digital and social media. How has your marketing allowed you to evolve your business?

DJ: Every day, I think about how to differentiate against my competition. I also think about what is the latest technology or tools out there that I can take advantage of to expand my business. Probably four years ago, I started very heavily in videography. Doing property videos, starting out in the beginning, introducing myself, and then telling a little bit about the house and getting out of the way to let the videographer really show the best aspects of the house. That was game-changing for my business, as well as for my clients because of the exposure.

Debra Johnston

SS: How have you been able to be successful in such a competitive business and maintain such great integrity?

DJ: Again, I feel like differentiating against my competition. Trying to do the best for my clients and walking the walk. Not every deal is perfect, but I tried to always take the high road and be optimistic. Everybody's emotions run high, so just try to manage through that to get the deal done.

SS: If someone asked you about becoming getting into luxury real estate, what would you recommend for them to do to give have the best chance to be successful?

DJ: Start with building your brand. Figure out who you want to be, whom you want to market to, where you want to market to, and then focus on that.

SS: What are three predictions that you have for the real estate market over the next 12 to 21 months in Atlanta and on a nationwide basis?

DJ: This market is going to continue into next year. It's going to be very hot and I think pricing is going to go up because of the demand, and hopefully we'll get more inventory on the market.

SS: How important it is for you to always be innovative and always investing in your brand?

DJ: Number one. It is the most important thing to me, and that's why I really like partnering with you [at Haute Residence]. I just always felt that what you what you do digitally was so game-changing 10 years ago that I absolutely was going to invest with you guys.

For more information, please contact Debra Johnston at 404-312-1959 or

Debra Johnston is the exclusive agent representing the Atlanta, Georgia real estate market as a member of the Haute Residence Real Estate Network. View all of her listings here.


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