This article appears in the October issue of 400 Life Magazine
The mortgage industry does not have the best reputation. Many professionals in the industry are known to be “takers” who are only in the business for commission checks, with little to no regard for their clients. And when the financial crisis of 2008 happened, most of America pointed fingers at mortgage lenders as the reason.
So when local resident Sonja Bullard decided to open her own branch of Acopia Home Loans in Cumming, she wanted to make taking out a home loan — or mortgage lending — feel different. She didn’t want mortgage lending to be painted with such a broad, negatively-viewed brush. She wanted her community to see the people aspect behind her profession.
“Mortgage lending often has a dynamic where it’s selling and closing the deal, making a bunch of money and not really caring about who you’re doing business with. That’s the way most loan officers do their job; it’s just churn and burn because the more you close, the more money you make,” Bullard said. “We’re 180 degrees different. We listen to people, we ask questions and we help our clients understand each of the steps we have to take to get them their loans.”
This passion for people is why Bullard chose to open a branch through Acopia Home Loans to begin with in 2017. Acopia is an acronym, which stands for A Company Of People In Action.
Bullard said she calls her branch Acopia on Main, because she wants to be “the Main Street lender” that the community knows and loves, rather than the mortgage lender of a bigger bank.
“On my team, we all live here, our kids go to school here, we’re going to church here — we’re a local-based lender,” said Bullard, who is the branch manager.. “We’re not a bank, we don’t look to make a ton of money, get you a checking account and try to get all of your banking business … We only do direct mortgage lending.”
While mortgage lenders at some of the larger corporations may ignore the people side of the profession, Bullard and her team do not. They show up to every home closing, they take the time to explain each step of the loan process and, most importantly, they listen to their clients.
“People usually buy and sell at different mile markers in life. The first time you get a job; for the first baby you have; for the third baby you have; for the first time all your children have left your house; for a divorce,” Bullard said. “My whole team goes to their closings. People move at really important milestones of their lives and we’re a part of it, and more importantly we want to be a part of it.”
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In addition to attending all their home closings, Bullard and her team also prioritize giving back to the community they serve. Being involved in the community is an integral part of the job, Bullard said. In fact, it’s intrinsic to even being hired onto her team.
Each of Bullard’s team members, including herself, is required to adopt a nonprofit to support and serve for one year in a high-level capacity, such as serving on the board of directors or a selection committee. This idea all started from Bullard’s experience in the Leadership Forsyth program in 2007, when she heard about the challenges of the county from local nonprofits at the program’s Nonprofit Day.
“I had no idea that Forsyth County had children who didn’t have electricity, or children who didn’t have food to eat, or homeless people that live in and around the county behind stores,” Bullard said. “If you live in some suburban neighborhood and play Bunco and tennis, you’re never going to know that there’s kids without running water in North Forsyth. My eyes were opened at that point so when we opened Acopia here, I wanted us to be involved and give back.”
Bullard and her team have since worked with CASA of Forsyth County, Rotary Club of South Forsyth County, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations to help fundraise and get the word out about each of the nonprofit’s missions. They also work closely with local schools, sponsoring school programs and providing free luncheons for teachers, students and staff.
“One of my teammates came to me and said, ‘I’ve never volunteered before.’ After she started doing it, she was like, ‘I had no idea. I didn’t know there were needs out there and I didn’t know it can make you feel so good just to give back,” Bullard said. “That’s what it’s all about. The more you give, you receive it tenfold back. And I’m not just talking about money; I’m talking about helping people around you.”
Acopia Home Loans is located at 410 Peachtree Pkwy., Suite 372, Cumming, GA 30041. For more information, call 770-654-1022 or visit acopiahomeloans.com/ga-cumming.
Story by Kara McIntyre, Sponsored content