Celebrating its 30th year, Duane Johnson Real Estate is a locally owned and globally connected real estate brokerage in Cannon Beach. Established in 1990 by Johnson with the intent of exclusively serving the real estate needs of the Cannon Beach and Arch Cape areas, this year saw the agency move to the next level with an infusion of venture capital and a new operating strategy.
Johnson remains the principal broker, as realtor Michael Henderson takes over the day-to-day operations. We spoke with Johnson and Henderson in their Cannon Beach office.
You grew up in Cannon Beach?
DUANE JOHNSON: No, in Portland. We moved down here in ’78. My wife, Cheryl, got the toy store, Geppetto’s, a couple of years after that.
How did you get started in real estate?
JOHNSON: I was working for a couple of guys who had it. We were on the corner of Second and Larch for about five, six years. One gentleman decided to retire and the other didn’t want to do it on his own, so we formed a partnership. When he decided to sell, we moved down the road to Midtown. I was there for five years with my partner in North Coast Properties when I decided to go on my own. I saw this building for sale from a Prineville realtor and we were very fortunate we could buy it.
What was it like when you started?
JOHNSON: I was probably here the first year by myself seven days a week. Chris Childress joined when she got her broker’s license. We started in 1989.
There was a recession at the time.
JOHNSON: We struggled at first, but by the end of January we had 30 listings, which is pretty good. People that knew us wanted to do business with us. We knew a lot of people in town. It took off.
Did you start with a philosophy?
JOHNSON: We started with the idea that we wanted to take care of each other. We help each other. We work as a team. In a small office like this, you can really do it.
How has the audience changed in terms of the people that you see looking for homes?
JOHNSON: Years ago, people were coming down and buying homes because they wanted to be here. It’s the same today, but there are people who have more money today. They come into town, they don’t want to fix a window, fix the floor, they just want everything to be turnkey. A lot of these clients work a lot of hours. The last thing they want to do is go furniture shopping. They just want the key.
Where does your territory stretch?
MICHAEL HENDERSON: Cannon Beach, Arch Cape, Falcon Cove, Cove Beach, that’s our focus. We want to have the highest level of knowledge and experience in that market.
Is there an influx of wealth as a result, and how has it affected quality of life?
JOHNSON: I don’t think a whole lot. There are some nicer restaurants, upscale boutique shops, but as far as the people living here, I don’t think so.
Where are your buyers from?
JOHNSON: They’re primarily from the Portland, Seattle area. Some from Canada, depending where their dollar is. A few from Idaho. Primarily the Northwest. Through the years, people said the California people are going to come up here, “They’re dumb and they’re going to buy all the real estate.” Well, first of all, California people aren’t that dumb. And second, they don’t like our weather here.
Michael, how did you become part of the team?
HENDERSON: I’ve always been in business marketing and management. My first interaction was when I was in action sports — skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing — as a brand manager. Myself, Duane and his son, David, sat on an ad hoc committee to the City Council to raise money and design for the new skatepark and basketball court. When it came down to the end of it and what we needed, Duane was the largest donor. Growing up in that world of skating, surfing and snowboarding, I thought the world of him for doing that. That was the first time I really got to know Duane and his family.
How long have you been here?
HENDERSON: I was 26 when I moved here in ’99. I was constantly coming here from Mount Hood to surf. And I was drawn more to the surf than the mountain. The first time I came here was when I moved from Colorado to Mount Hood. My friends and I threw on a wetsuit and went surfing at Short Sands, and I knew that this is where I wanted to be forever. I think that resonates for a lot of people. It’s such a magical here. When the economy went bad and people stopped buying action-related toys, I segued over to the beverplace. We eventually moved age industry and was district manager for a beverage company, beer and wine, which is very resilient for hard times. I had an injury in that industry, where I basically broke my back carrying product.
You made it through action sports …
HENDERSON: … but the beverage industry took me down.
How did you segue into the real estate market?
HENDERSON: I had been thinking about it. I had built my house in Arch Cape and then sold it. Through that process, I understood land development, general construction, marketing and selling. It had always been running around in my head (that) I might make a decent broker. I interviewed with most everybody in town, but the idea of being with an independent firm with Duane just resonated with me – the way he felt about community, business, about being independent. I felt in a small town like Cannon Beach, with the small-town boutiques, Duane’s retro feel and passion for antique cars, if we could move into the digital age and even the playing field with any of our franchise competition, people would feel really good about working with us.
You’ve been developing your web presence, social media?
HENDERSON: Where are we getting the best return from a marketing standpoint? There’s a brand-new website. It also hosts our customer resource management system at the back end, where all of our past, and present leads for future clients, can be listed in a meaningful way. We’re looking at the way we do things operationally: moving from a paper environment, where all of our accounting is done from paper ledger to paper checks, to putting all that into an electronic format, embracing Quickbooks and managing that.
What’s your approach to clients?
HENDERSON: It’s all about point of contact. When a customer contacts me, what is it you’re trying to do? I let that be my guide. Operating within the highest level of fiduciary responsibility, being ethical and not pressing, not pushing. I think that’s boded well for me. Once I get to the point of understanding what their motivations are, I enlist lifelong standing relationships in this community and give my clients multiple resources. It’s really exciting to see someone going to build a commercial business or residential home, to bring that to fruition, and do that with as little anxiety as possible. We have already said the relationship never stops with the transaction. We’re always there for our clients. The buyer ends up being a seller, and vice versa. If you build that relationship and foster it, it’s always there.
Have you weighed into the workforce housing issue?
HENDERSON: We want to be involved in that. Duane wants to be involved.
JOHNSON: We are trying now to, with our new partners that come in here, to see if we can get some workforce housing. It’s going to be a lot of work, but we’d like to see that. These aren’t going to be big houses, they’re smaller homes. You don’t need 4,000-square-foot homes. We’ve seen some here that are really small, that are cute as can be and very livable. We’re really interested in putting that together so we can help people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to buy something.
What were your considerations in deciding to sell?
JOHNSON: It was really important to me, when I sold this, I didn’t sell to a franchise. I really wanted the name “Duane Johnson” to stick around and be more of a local real estate market. rather than run by somebody wherever they’re at, keep it smaller real estate and not have to deal with franchises.
HENDERSON: The venture capitalist is a silent partner. We are partnering with the best firm we could find in Portland that specifically has a branch that works with real estate. We want to make sure we are always acting within compliance, and then we want to reduce any liability for the firm and for our clients, And that we are in the very best hands that we can have in the entire state.
How is the Cannon Beach real estate market?
HENDERSON: It’s fun. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s resilient. And there’s only so much of it. The property values keep going up. I think we’ll always have people interested in having a home here. How could you not? I look at it as a very resilient market.
Do you warn customers about the tsunami?
HENDERSON: I say, if you’re going to live in fear, you probably shouldn’t live here.
JOHNSON: I don’t know where you go, if you’re going to live in fear, it seems everywhere you go. I’m way more scared of dying of cancer. Is it going to happen someday? It may, we don’t know. But to live in fear … I’d rather be here than in downtown Portland with buildings dropping down on top of you.
HENDERSON: But to answer your question, when a client comes in and if they do say they have a concern with flood issues or concerns with the tsunami, we immediately go to the county and city web maps. I show them the overlays, the low risk to the higher risk. We start pinpointing houses close to evacuation sites or not even in the tsunami zone. It’s a concern, for sure.
How many people in this building?
HENDERSON: There’s Duane, myself, Chris Childress, Jeff Etchison and Jeremy Youngquist, the newest addition to our team. We’re looking to possibly bring one more to our team within the next year. But for this market and this firm, that’s probably where we’ll leave it.
JOHNSON: I think one of the most important parts for me was that I wanted to try to continue this business the way it was as an independent office, because I’ve worked hard to get to the point it is now. It was important for me to see it grow. I did not want to sell it to a franchise. I was approached by three different franchises, two here in town, that wanted to buy the property and the business. I didn’t want to do that. We finally found the guy who wanted to come in and wanted to be an investor.
What do you see in the future?
JOHNSON: I think we have an opportunity here in Cannon Beach, a very strong market. We have so many buyers in the Hillsboro area, just an hour away. It’s Cannon Beach; everybody wants to be here.
HENDERSON: As far as the business is concerned, now we have an influx of capital to really take his legacy and be able to compete with what the franchises have to offer, which is only going to make us stronger. We love our clients, we hold them close. It never ends with the transaction. And we just want to give them confidence that what we’re doing is only going to make our relationship stronger, our business stronger, and we will never lose that sense of community.
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