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Saying so long to ‘true industry visionary and leader’, Jamie Johnston

After almost 50 years in the industry, Jamie Johnston, broker of record/owner of Re/Max Condos Plus Corp. in Toronto, is hanging up his real estate hat.

Over a long and storied career, Johnston has pioneered many concepts, including the use of the lawn sign-and-post program still in use today, and advertising listings on the internet. He also came up with the concept of real estate companies offering both franchises and company-owned offices.


Johnston’s background


Johnston was born in London, England, and came to Canada as a baby. “I grew up in Ottawa and left home for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario — never to return. I started in a real estate brokerage in 1975,” he says.

He played football for five years at Queen’s while earning honourary and master’s degrees in economics. Johnston was also a CFL third-round draft pick.

I was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders in 1968 in the third round. I was offered a $500 signing bonus and a $6,500 salary. UBC (University of British Columbia) offered me a $2,500 scholarship and a $1,800 research assistantship to do my MBA. Back then, tuition for an MBA was $750,” he says.

Johnston chose to attend UBC, where he completed his Master’s degree in real estate and finance.

Before owning his own brokerage, Johnston held a variety of positions in real estate operations, franchising, marketing and relocation, working in every position except sales, he says.


Landed executive role in 1975


While working with Marathon Realty as an assistant to the president and vice president of finance, Johnston says he was approached by a head-hunter. He interviewed and got an executive position at Canada Permanent Trust in 1975.

“It appealed to me,” Johnston says. “I’m an entrepreneurial person. It was a base salary, commission and profit-sharing, which I found appealing.”


Set up and advertised guaranteed sales plan


Johnston set up Canada Permanent Trust’s guaranteed sales plan — if a house didn’t sell in 30 days, the company would buy it. He says, “It was a winning strategy.”

He also advertised the program on television, which he says was a first for brokerages.


Sign-and-post program: A first in Canada


While at Canada Permanent, he brought the lawn sign-and-post program, originating from California, to Canada. Johnston says the signs changed industry advertising.

He knew Canada Permanent had to do something different to keep growing, so he decided the company would offer franchises alongside company-owned offices. “The regulators said we could not operate both, and I asked them where it said that in the Real Estate Act. (It didn’t.)”


Instant connection turned successful partnership


“I met Jamie in 1986,” says Roy St. John of Re/Max Condos Plus Corp. “He was VP of the Real Estate Franchise division of Canada Trust at the time. I was managing the Royal LePage office in Aurora. We took to each other instantly and it grew into the best partnership that I ever had.  We agreed early that he would be the brains and I would provide the entertainment (plus some sales).”


New opportunities


Johnston left Canada Trust in the early 1990s, ready to take advantage of the next opportunities, this time with Family Trust and relocation company Employee Relocation Services (ERS).

“Jamie’s first success for our partnership,” says St. John, “was to uncover an opportunity to submit a bid on behalf of ERS to secure the first relocation contract for the annual posting of soldiers employed by the Department of National Defence (DND) across all bases in Canada.

When we met with the heads of all of the major realty brands competing for the contract to learn who had won, a general representing the DND walked past everyone in the circle, straight over to Jamie, and shook his hand. We won the agreement.”


Buying a successful business


Family Trust was later bought out by Manulife, which was interested in the trust portion of the company, Johnston says, so he and St. John purchased the real estate and mortgage side of the business.

Johnston explains that Family Trust was the first organization in North America to advertise listings on the internet and provide agents with virtual email addresses.


More industry innovation


“Jamie has a unique ability to assess the past, present and future of our industry,” says St. John. “That’s why, as president of Family Realty, he had us beat the competition in placing our listings and agent profiles on the internet. We even hosted a reception for Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) members to learn about the power and applications of web pages and search engines.”

The event was attended by 1,000 TRREB members. Johnston and St. John showed them how to list a property and how to order a pizza online. “The audience was wowed when the pizza arrived right on time,” Johnston says.

“Were smoke and mirrors involved? We’ll take that to the grave,” St. John says.


Re/Max Condos Plus is born 


Johnston purchased Stinson Realty Corporation in October 1998 and changed the company name to Re/Max Condos Plus Corp., which he says has grown to become the largest resale condominium and loft broker in Toronto.

A handful of years ago, Johnston came up with another new concept that’s “ideal for those who want to own their own company but can’t operate a company,” as he describes it. Johnston explains, “We look after everything. Our admin officer even does Real Estate Council of Ontario audits. That leaves agents to do what they’re best at: sales. They pay all of the commission into the company and pay themselves a draw.”


Winding down


Last year, Johnston says he realized it was time to wind down. In June 2023, he merged his firm with Tim Syrianos of Re/Max Ultimate, with whom he has a working relationship of about a dozen years.

“The merger has been good. We were able to save all staff and our agents work well together,” Johnston says. “I’ve reached my best before date. I’m well in my 70s and have other things I want to do.” 

Although Johnston’s son Jeff is in the business, he’s not interested in taking over. “He said you work too hard and I don’t want to take a pay cut,” says Johnston, adding that some of his agents make over $1 million a year, and he’s thrilled when his agents make more than he does.

Jamie Johnston and son Jeff Johnston. Jamie says Jeff is one of the top agents in the company, they share season tickets for the Toronto Raptors and, about the trophy shown, “That is the championship trophy.”


What’s next?


Johnston will retire at the end of the year and spend more time at his Tampa, Florida condominium with his wife of 55 years, Sandy. A boat cruise from Boston to the Maritimes is also in the plans, and he wants to spend more time with their three children and seven grandchildren.

And, he says he and his eldest son will be writing a non-fiction book that has “nothing to do with real estate”.


Parting words of wisdom


After all of his time in the business, Johnston offers some advice for salespeople. Although he never found one, he recommends agents find a mentor. “And agents need to remember rich people are the ones who own companies.” He says that although he made “big bucks”, as an employee he “just got taxed to death. It’s hard to accumulate anything as an employee.”

Thinking back on his career, Johnston says, “It’s been really good. I’ve had a great career in real estate.”


This visionary leader will be missed


“Everyone who knows Jamie has benefited from his insights and personal counseling, me included,” says St. John. “His retirement is leaving a huge legacy.”

Nancy Sears, corporate business development at Re/Max Premiere Inc. in Vaughan, Ont. has known Johnston for about 30 years. She was Johnston’s number one franchisee for Family Trust, operating Family First Realty. “(Jamie) is one of the most innovative and visionary leaders in the real estate industry,” Sears says. “It has been my pleasure and honour to have known him and worked with him for so long.”

Syrianos agrees that Johnston is a visionary. “There are qualities about Jamie that are clear to everyone who meets him. To me, it has been his authenticity and that he’s a visionary. He has a talent for knowing how to differentiate himself in our industry,” Syrianos says.

“He’s made such a powerful impact in the industry and our Re/Max brand. I am grateful to have also become business partners and worked closely with him over the years.”