Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 19, 2021

Johnson finds what he’s been looking for in Chattanooga

Dave Johnson is a Realtor with Century 21 Prestige in Chattanooga. He operates mostly on Lookout Mountain, where he and his wife live when they aren’t traveling the U.S. in their RV. - Photograph provided

If Realtor Dave Johnson had a theme song, it would be “I’ve Been Everywhere” – a hit for Hank Snow, Johnny Cash and others – because, well, he’s been everywhere, man.

Johnson, 77, could change the lyrics to catalog the places he’s lived or visited. For example, he could replace the first string of locales with “I’ve been to Grosse Pointe, Jackson, Muskegon, Michigan, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and back again, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, so much to see” – and that would cover just his early years.

“I’ve lived in quite a few states,” Johnson laughs. “I feel like I’m in a witness protection program.”

Along the way, Johnson has held a few jobs that were off the map. After studying international marketing at Northern Michigan University, for instance, he went to a Red Adair school and then taught oil riggers how to extinguish fires.

“We would dig a 40-by-40-foot trench, fill it with oil and then light it up,” he recalls. “I didn’t necessarily like that job.”

Johnson does, however, enjoy real estate. Contrary to his wandering ways, he does business mostly in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where he and his wife, Rebecca, live in a post-and-beam house overlooking McLemore Cove.

“I don’t go into Chattanooga,” Johnson notes. “There are 950 homes for sale and 2,500 agents to sell them. There’s no reason for me to be down there.”

Instead, Johnson spends his days welcoming people from California, Florida and elsewhere to Lookout Mountain and introducing them to life on the brow.

“A variety of people are moving here, and I really enjoy learning about their lives,” he says. “That’s my favorite thing about real estate – the people I get to know.”

Since joining Century 21 Prestige in Chattanooga in 2016, Johnson has sold 30 homes in Lookout Mountain. He knows this number falls well below the sales figures of the busiest agents and teams in the city, but he says it suits him and the pace of life he prefers.

It also gives Johnson time to pursue the other things he enjoys such as restoring his home and traveling far and wide with his wife.

“We just returned from seven weeks out west in our RV,” he beams, sounding like he’s about to launch into a chorus of Snow’s song. “We went to Sun Valley, Santa Fe, San Antonio and Marfa, a weird little town in Texas that’s close to nothing.”

Although Johnson calls himself a nomad, he is capable of sticking with one employer. After leaving the oil fire gig, he landed at IBM, where he spent 28 years selling the company’s talent to clients for projects.

At 55, Johnson took an early out from IBM and retired. To celebrate, he and his wife spent two years chugging through the waters off East Coast of the U.S. in a trawler.

“One of my bucket list items was to live on a boat for two years,” he explains. “Trawlers are really slow, so you have to be retired to own one.”

As the months passed, Johnson and his wife put in at various cities in a search for a new place to live but found nothing that felt like it could become their home. Then Johnson remembered visiting Chattanooga while working for IBM and made a suggestion.

“One of my biggest accounts was Shaw Industries,” he recalls. “I really liked Chattanooga, so I suggested we check it out and see what we thought.”

A brief visit was all the couple needed to be convinced they had found a new base of operations.

Johnson was working in guest services at the Tennessee Aquarium when he caught the real estate bug.

“I was spending most of my time answering questions about Chattanooga from people who were from out of town. I liked telling them about the city and figured real estate would be good thing for me to do.”

Johnson launched his business at Keller Williams in 2009. Since then, his most memorable sale was his first one.

“Sen. Corker had bought a house on Lookout Mountain but never moved into it – and I was able to sell it for him. The fellow who bought it said the only way he’d buy it is if Corker was at the signing. He was a fan.

“Fortunately, Corker agreed to be there.”

At 77, Johnson admits he could retire, but he says he enjoys being active. This offers a glimpse into his nomadic nature, which partially stems from his drive to be productive.

When Johnson isn’t crossing items off his bucket list, he’s swearing off golf (he says he plays only to make his opponents feel good about themselves), or tinkering with an old car (he once owned two Morgans), or puttering around his house (he’s poured untold hours of renovation work into his current residence).

Johnson is out of projects on his Lookout Mountain home, though, so it’s time for him and wife to sell it and move on. Although he doesn’t know where they’ll plant their flag next, he expects it to be in the Chattanooga area.

“Chattanooga is a hub of warm people, and because there are so many nice folks here, it attracts nice folks, so it’s a wonderful place to live and work.”

To scratch his nomadic itch, Johnson could always revisit the Appalachian Trail (which he’s fully hiked), sneak into Cuba a second time (he says he loves the people there), or return to Europe (which he’s visited several times).

Then there are at least a few towns in the continental U.S. where Cash has sole bragging rights in the competition to travel everywhere.

Wherever Johnson goes, he says he’ll enjoy getting to know the people there. It’s not just his favorite part of real estate, he adds, it’s also one of his favorite parts of life.