Seated in front of her bookcase filled with awards, it’s hard to imagine Tonya Jones as anything but successful. But her rise to top Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Realtor began only after she had experienced the lowest of lows. It’s a story she promised God she’d always be willing to tell.
Born and raised in Milner, a town still without a red light, Tonya married husband Shane and settled into a traditional life. With an accounting degree from Kennesaw State, she took a great job in corporate accounting. Shane was a builder, an industry that Tonya was familiar with since her grandfather, father and brother were also builders. The couple had three children, Emma Shane, Grant and Rhett. Although her job provided the family benefits, after their third child was born, with the cost of childcare, it no longer made sense for her to work. She quit her corporate job and went to work keeping books for her husband’s company, J&J Construction, which was thriving during a hot real estate market. Optimistic about their company’s future, they had even bought additional lots on which to build houses.
Then, what Tonya describes as “the mother of all storms” began in ‘06 when the housing bubble burst. It was a storm their company was not strong enough to endure. The couple liquidated their 401K and tried to sell the ‘dream home’ they had built in Brooks. When it didn’t sell, they patched every nail hole and moved out. They moved into what Tonya describes as a “shoebox” of a rental house. “We couldn’t see a way out,” she said, “but for God. We had never been at that place in our lives and we were like, ‘How do we feed our kids?’” When they attended church on Sundays at Fayetteville First Baptist, four generations of Tonya’s family all sat on the same pew, including her grandfather who has since passed away. “My grandfather would put $50 in my pocket every single Sunday, and that bought our groceries for a family of five for a whole week.” Out of the corporate world for a while, Tonya felt unmarketable and building houses was all Shane knew. “I just started praying, ‘What do I do now?’” Tonya said. After much fervent prayer, she felt God directing her toward a real estate career. Others weren’t so sure. “My family was like, ‘You’ve lost your blooming mind! Your whole life has changed because of the real estate market—you can’t do that.’” Shane, however, told her, “If the Lord’s called you to it, I’ve got your back. I’ll support you.” Tonya studied real estate on the side while working at the Starr’s Mill Chick-fil-A and substitute teaching. Shane laid tile and cut grass. “We just did what we could,” she said. Earning her license in 2008, Tonya went to work for Jan Trammell who told her, “Go get ’em sugah!” Initially, she was earning $50 per showing for houses and rentals. “I call it being in the trenches,” she said. Ironically, one of her first listings was with a bank that had financed lots their construction company had bought and then lost. The banker told them he’d never met anyone with more integrity. “We always did what we said we would do,” she said. From that connection, Tonya listed lots, which sold to a builder, and then sold houses for that builder. After she sold her first home, Tonya doubled her business every year for nine years. Eventually moving to Prudential, now Berkshire Hathaway, Tonya recalls attending an event for Master’s agents when she hadn’t sold enough to become one. Seated among these high-producing agents, she dreamed of being in the top ten in her office. Shane brought her to reality when he called during the event to tell her their septic tank was backed up. “We didn’t have the $300 to fix it,” she said.
Still, Tonya did become one of the top ten agents in her office and in 2019 she was the number one Berkshire Hathaway agent in Georgia and number six in the entire world. “From the minute I made the financial and emotional commitment it’s been a business, not a hobby,” she said. Optimistic about the real estate market in Fayette and Coweta counties, Tonya said, “We’re in a unique environment. People are coming from outside the city looking for this little bubble we have. We have a sweet little community here.” Brooks residents for more than 20 years, Tonya and Shane have seen their traditional lifestyle change dramatically. Shane now drives a school bus to provide the family’s health benefits and has learned to cook and wash clothes as a stay-at-home dad. “He does a doggone good job at it,” Tonya said.
Even though she’s now a high producer, Tonya doesn’t focus solely on the luxury market. And surviving hard times has equipped her to relate to anyone. “There were so many people who were experiencing financial hardships, selling homes they really didn’t want to sell and they could tell me their story, because I had been through it,” she said. “We’ve been through what I would consider one of the lowest of lows and now to have some financial security, I can relate to a broad spectrum of people. Early on, I remember sitting at kitchen tables and moms and dads crying about having to leave their dream home—we shed some tears together, they knew my story and it was easy to relate.” What she’s experienced has also helped her as she cares for her mother who is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor. “Everything you go through prepares you for the next thing and this is no exception to the rule.”
Through it all, Tonya remains thankful, humble and grounded. And she’s kept her promise to tell her story. “It’s a God story,” she said. “Because nobody writes that script except Him.”