The Pocatello area might be a small housing market, but one local real estate agent is setting the bar high when it comes to closing transactions.
In fact, Greg Johnston with Keller Williams Realty East Idaho is blowing the competition out of the water.
On an annual list of the top 1,000 individual real estate agents and teams in the United States — called REAL Trends “The Thousand” — Johnston ranked 47th in the category of top 250 individual real estate agents based on number of transactions, an impressive feat considering there are about 1.4 million Realtors in the nation.
That makes him the top seller in Idaho in number of closed transactions with 184 in 2019. Only four other Idaho agents made the REAL Trends individual agents list, which is published annually in The Wall Street Journal. The next-closest agent in the state sold 170 homes in Meridian and ranked 60th in the nation. In East Idaho, the second-place agent behind Johnston ranks 11th in Idaho and sold 86 homes in the Idaho Falls area, according to Newsweek, which took the REAL Trends data and compiled more comprehensive lists for each state.
When ranked by volume — total dollar amount exchanged from all transactions — Johnston is ranked eighth in Idaho with nearly $38 million in transactions last year, according to the Newsweek data. The other real estate agents in the top 20 statewide were in more expensive markets than Pocatello — Coeur d'Alene, Boise, Meridian and Ketchum — and all sold significantly fewer properties than Johnston. The next-closest East Idaho agent, who works out of Idaho Falls, sold about $26 million in volume and was ranked 24th in the state.
Locally, Johnston greatly outpaced his competition last year. In the Pocatello and Chubbuck market, the second-best agents each sold 60 properties in 2019, according to information provided by Johnston. Third-best came in with 56 properties. He also outranked other agents in the Pocatello and Chubbuck area in total volume, selling about $20 million more than the next-closest agent.
According to data compiled by Johnston, there were 1,129 single-family and new-construction homes that were sold in Bannock County in 2019. Each transaction has two sides — the buyer and the seller — meaning there were a total of 2,258 transactions in the county last year. With Johnston’s 184 closed transactions, that means he was involved in about 8 percent of all real estate transactions that took place in 2019. There are 333 Realtors listed as part of the Greater Pocatello Association of Realtors.
In 2017, Johnston also ranked fourth internationally within his company — Keller Williams — and he has ranked as the top individual sales agent in the company’s five-state Northwest Region for the past five years. Keller Williams is the largest real estate company in the world based on the total number of agents, of which they have more than 180,000.
He’s a small-town success story, and Johnston wants to inspire people to believe that they can make it big, too — no matter where they live.
“To be No. 47 on the list is really a big, big deal,” he said. “The thing that’s cool is it’s just done out of Pocatello, Idaho — a small town. To be able to do that many home sales, that’s why I think it was pretty cool. Most people would say, ‘Someone who sells that much must be in California or somewhere where there’s so many people.’ But I thought this might be something that’s inspiring to other people to say, ‘Hey, look: You can do just as much business in Pocatello as you could somewhere else.’ I think a lot of people in the bigger markets, they sell bigger homes, they have bigger paychecks. (But) we sell a lot of homes and investment properties. Things are really good in Pocatello.”
Johnston said being in the top 50 real estate agents in the country is a huge honor. He ranked once before on the REAL Trends list, coming in 161st in 2015 with 153 closed transactions.
“I put in a lot of time and a lot of hours, so it is nice to see recognition, to be on the list of the top agents in the nation,” he said. “Real estate is so individual that you don’t know how you really rank or compare to other agents in the area or nationwide. So when you make it on a list like this, it is just incredible to see that you rank so high compared to everyone else in the nation. I’ve ranked No. 1 in Pocatello for all of the last 10 years or so. My dad was No. 1 in Pocatello forever and ever as well, so we’ve had a good business model that really helps us out. When you can see being No. 1 in state, No. 1 in the region, and then to be No. 47 in the nation is just really amazing, to be honest. It’s one of those statistics that you think, ‘How in the world do you get to be No. 47 compared to the 1.4 million other Realtors out there?’ It makes you realize that you do a lot of business and it is a big recognition. For me individually, I think it’s an incredible honor.”
There are a few things that set Johnston apart from the pack and have contributed to his success, he says.
One thing is that at the end of every month, every quarter and every year, he compiles data on the housing market. Those statistics include the number of sold and active single-family and new-construction listings and the average prices for those properties. Johnston said the data allow him to have a better sense of what’s going on in the market and give him the insight to advise people on whether it’s a good time to buy or sell and what prices will move quickly.
“I do the monthly marketing statistics, and that’s something that helps set me apart as the expert in town because I know the market statistics and market trends a lot more than other people,” Johnston said. “A lot of people will contact me and say, ‘Hey, what’s happening in the market?’ Or even when the property tax assessments, when people need to appeal their assessments, they’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, what’s my house worth?’ A lot of people trust me as the source for all of Pocatello real estate information.”
Johnston said he has seen success selling new construction properties and with people wanting to invest in real estate.
“I have a little different business model than a lot of other agents,” he said. “Of course, we all focus on residential homes. If you wanted to sell your home and buy another one, we can all do that. But I have really done well with new construction and with real estate investors. Those are two areas of the market that I serve, representing multiple homebuilders and multiple real estate investors who like to purchase investment properties in our area.”
And Johnston goes out of his way to make people feel comfortable buying and selling homes.
He told about a recent experience in which a man moving to Pocatello from Texas called him, stressed out because he’d gotten a job transfer to the area and didn’t know anything about the Gate City.
“I spent about 20 minutes with him on the phone,” Johnston said. “I answered his questions. I told him about Pocatello. I told him about some houses. I just helped him to feel comfortable. After the phone call, he actually sent me a text and he said, ‘Greg, thanks so much for your time. I feel 100 percent comfortable moving to Pocatello now.’ As a Realtor, if we can help educate people about the community, about the real estate market, help them overcome their fears, that’s what sets people apart. If you have the market knowledge and the experience, then you can make people very comfortable working with you.”
He also puts a lot of the leg work into finding buyers houses.
"As Realtors, we try to be the source that can help people with everything," Johnston said. When you look at how many different pieces of the puzzle there are that come together to help someone buy a house, we try to help them with financing, home inspectors, appraisals, title work, repairs. They ask us about neighborhoods or schools or community events, and we need to know about all these things to be able to help people feel comfortable and find that perfect house for them.”
He continued, “I try to work as a consultant for people. There’s a lot of people who just want to go look at homes, but I always tell them, ‘Look, if we’ll just slow down, if you’ll let me find out what you’re looking for, I will find the right house for you instead of rushing out and randomly looking at houses that you found on your own at realtor.com. Let me find houses that I know will work for you and then we can go look at them, and it makes the process a lot easier.’”
Johnston said he also helps people put things in perspective. With the current market in Pocatello, people need to jump on houses that have most of what they want and all of what they need instead of waiting around for the perfect house, he said.
“That’s what a Realtor can do for people: Help them explore what’s out there, keep things in perspective, and then take care of them throughout the whole transaction,” he said.
All that leads to repeat, loyal customers, Johnston said.
Additionally, Johnston and his dad — Jim Johnston, who is also an agent with Keller Williams — have a combined 66 years of selling real estate in Pocatello and Chubbuck. Jim taught Greg a lot about selling real estate.
“We know Pocatello really well,” Greg Johnston said.
While he might be able to make more money in a bigger city, Johnston said he has no plans to leave the Gate City.
“If I moved to a big city where no one knew me, I’d have to try to find clientele, but here it’s like ‘Oh, Greg? We went to high school together,’ or “We go to church together,’ or ‘That’s Jim’s son,’ and so the name recognition really helps out a lot,” he said. “I never have any desire to leave Pocatello. This is a great community and a good business community. We have a lot to offer here. It’s a good place. I’m happy with Pocatello.”
Johnston said he is excited about all the real estate developments happening in Pocatello and Chubbuck.
“I’m really excited for the future of the real estate market,” he said. “There’s a lot of new subdivisions coming into town. People are moving here. There’s a demand for housing, and investors are looking at Pocatello. It’s been good for everyone who’s owned a home because they’ve gone up in value so much.”
So what’s the secret to his success?
“I think the secret to my success is just being very professional,” Johnston said. “I treat this like a business. I recognize how important buying or selling a home is to my clients, and I make sure that we treat it seriously. I try to help out with all the important details and make the transaction go as smooth as possible for them. With that being said, my clients love it when they know that they’re in good hands, and then they refer me out to their friends. I don’t do a lot of advertising because most of my business is from referrals. ... The old adage is true that if you give someone great service, you always get it back in many ways.”