Birmingham’s LAH Real Estate Inc., a high-profile firm with more than 150 agents, has new owners.
Tom Carruthers III, Charles Robinson Jr. and Mike Graham have purchased ownership stakes from founders Jim Lawrence and Keith Arendall — the “L” and the “A” in the company’s name. Maurice Humphries remains a partner and takes over as president. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Lawrence, 70, will become a consultant for the company, while Arendall plans to remain as a commercial broker.
Lawrence said 3½ years ago he gathered the LAH brokers together and told them a recession had started and home sales would likely suffer for six or nine months. Obviously, it has lasted longer than that.
“We reached a point where we felt like, in the company’s best interest, we should consider our options,” Lawrence said Wednesday.
Around the same time, Lawrence read a profile of Red Rock Realty in The Birmingham News and thought owners Carruthers and Robinson might make good owners for LAH. As talks progressed, Mike Graham, an owner of the Graham & Co. commercial real estate firm, became another potential investor.
“Mike and Tom and Charles will bring new energy, new vitality and new vision for the company,” Lawrence said.
LAH officials told the firm’s agents of the new owners Wednesday morning, and the principals sat down with The Birmingham News for an exclusive interview that afternoon.
Carruthers said he was floored when Arendall called him and presented the opportunity.
“I was blown away by the call,” Carruthers said. “I’ve always thought of LAH as the premiere real estate company in Birmingham. They may not be the biggest, but they are the best.”
Carruthers said when he met LAH sales managers and executives Dot Mash, Coke Williams Jr. and Jimbo Moore he and the other investors were even more determined to make a deal happen.
“That really made it super, super exciting,” Carruthers said. “Add to that Jim staying on as a consultant, Keith staying on on the commercial side and Maurice running things, it was a perfect opportunity.”
While the new ownership may seem like a big change, Humphries said he expects few changes.
“There won’t be much change,” he said. “My job will be to stay in the background and keep this machine running smoothly.”
Lawrence, Arendall and Humphries came together 19 years ago to form the company, building it into one of the largest residential and commercial real estate firms in the state.
Lawrence said the new owners’ willingness to keep the company’s name, logo, brokers, offices, staff and middle management in place made them the right choice.
“There were other suitors who would have changed too much of that,” Lawrence said. “We went with the right ones.”
Williams said the reaction from agents Wednesday morning was positive. He said the executives at the company want to see the company grow.
“There is a sense of excitement,” Williams said. “The job Dot, Jimbo and myself have is to grow this company. That’s the kind of change we envision.”
Lawrence said having fresh ownership and leadership in place positions the company for the moment when the housing market climbs out of the doldrums.
“This very positive move comes at a perfect time, as we are experiencing the recovery of the Birmingham real estate market,” he said. “For example, LAH is approximately 300 percent better in both unit sales and total dollar volume for the past three months than the same period of time a year ago.”
Red Rock will continue handling commercial and multifamily properties. Graham & Co. remains one of the metro area’s leading office and industrial real estate firms and is unaffected by Graham’s investment.
Mash said even as Lawrence and Arendall give up ownership, their legacy will continue at LAH.
“Our character has been defined for 19 years,” she said. “We don’t need to change our character. We just need to enhance it.”
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