In February 2020, a real estate listing piqued the interest of Anne and George Lawton. As the husband and wife Team Lawton of the Pillar Group, RE/MAX Advantage, the agents scan thousands of listings for their Birmingham area clients each week. But this one sparked their interest as their own investment property.

“We were not looking to purchase a lake house, but when this Arley Landing property at Smith Lake came across our inbox, it sounded intriguing,” recalls Anne. “One cold day in February, we went to look at it. It was incomplete new construction that had sat empty for two years. In fact, the back doors were wide open when we drove up from Birmingham. It’s at the end of a slough on a large lot with a beautiful view. We instantly fell in love with the privacy.”

Just a few weeks later, communities across the country shut down normal operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lawtons hit the pause button on the lakeside home while they focused on the needs of their three school-aged children, 11-year-old Caroline and 9-year-old twins Robert and William, and waited to see if their business would survive. Once restrictions began easing in late April and the couple realized the real estate market would emerge largely unscathed, they decided to make an offer.

“We closed the first week of June and quickly began finishing the construction that had already begun,” says Anne. “George’s background in construction allowed him to quickly come up with a budget and get to work. All of our regular contractors who we know and trust were willing to come up from Birmingham, which was really cool.”

With the cancellation of summer camp, baseball, swim team and other activities, the Lawtons took the opportunity to move to the lake for a month while they completed the repairs, sharing their adventures on social media with #flippinlakehouse.

“It was lifegiving for our work as a family to give us a change of scenery after the intense quarantine when we were home for so many weeks together,” says Anne. “It was a welcome change of pace to be on the go after the complete shutdown of our normal lives.”

The Lawtons are no strangers to the hard work that goes into rehabbing a fixer upper, having previously purchased nine other investment properties since they got married.  

“Every time we do this, we enjoy teaching the kids how to do things like covering electrical sockets with plates, laying tile, adding shiplap,” says George. “The den was exposed up to the attic, so shiplap was the best solution to get it framed in."

"We had a lot of finishing details to complete—purchasing appliances, measuring for lights and mirrors, selecting faucets. It was really a hybrid of us doing work and bringing in our Birmingham contractors.”

Anne readily admits that George bore the brunt of the labor, but the entire family was able to enjoy the fun and beauty of their surroundings. “We’d never had the opportunity to spend time at the lake,” she says. “The kids and I got to enjoy it more because George was often doing work while we were playing."

"We had a blast kayaking, swimming and playing on the lily pad. The kids loved taking friends up for sleepovers. George would head out before dinner and jump in the lake. We would hang out and grill out together or enjoy the Thursday night all-you-can-eat catfish and fried chicken at Chef Troy’s Talk of the Town. After dinner, we’d enjoy the sunset while the fish were jumping and play board games on the back porch, often spying deer and red foxes.”

In addition to the cosmetic finishes, the Lawtons rolled up their sleeves to tackle unexpected surprises—like a septic tank that wasn’t hooked up to the house—as well as major landscaping that required help from a local contractor.

“Since the house sat empty, there were many issues that became unexpected surprises,” says George. “We build in a margin for that and we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. There’s never not been a surprise, whether it’s a residential home in Homewood or a lake house in Arley, Alabama.”

The hard work the couple put into the property quickly paid off. After 30 days of upgrades, the Lawtons put the house on the market. They were delighted to receive multiple offers the first day and successfully listed the home under contract within one day.

“It was fun to experience a lake house,” says Anne. “We got to see how it would it work if we owned it long-term. It was a good taste of reality. The joys and the work of owning a second home became very real. We knew the house wouldn’t be ours forever, so we made the most of it as long as we could. In lieu of all summer activities, we got to go to work with Dad in the best place possible. I’m sure when it gets hot next summer, we’ll miss our summer of 2020 at the lake.”

Team Lawton ranks in the top 2% of 5,690 Birmingham agents in closed volume of sales and transactions closed for 2020. George’s background in construction, his understanding of how a home is built, and his expertise in remodeling homes is invaluable t clients as they trust him to lead them in buying and selling their home. Anne joined Team Lawton several years ago and is thrilled to have her real estate license. Her natural eye for design and attention to detail have been advantageous to their clients. Team Lawton’s experience with their own ten commercial and residential properties serves as a wealth of information for those that are looking to broaden their real estate investment portfolio.

Curious if now is a good time to consider purchasing an investment property, a new residential or vacation home? You can reach Team Lawton of the Pillar Group, RE/MAX Advantage by email at and