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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Thankgiving, 2020

 




No matter how many times you say it, to yourself or outloud, 2020 has been a crazy year.   Thanksgiving was spent on Zoom, with my 76 year old mother on the 3rd week after testing positive for covid.  She's fine, thank god.  But a week later, pre-symptomatic, she would have infected the whole family who was set to arrive for Thanksgiving Dinner -'whole' family much reduced since a bunch of us weren't coming due to virus best practices.

I do a family Shutterfly calendar each year and typically because of the sports and the get-togethers and the travel and the fun times, there are far too many pics for the allotted 12 months of picture slots.  Not this year - if there is one true measure of what a 'stay at home' year looks like, it's the lack of pictures I've taken.  How many pics can you take of your son gaming, or your dog looking cute lying on her back with her legs pointing skyward?

We remain busy, which sheds off some survivor's guilt, because me and my team are prospering.  But that type of over-self analysis is boring and as indulgent as feeling guilty in the first place since my company being busy has such an intense and wide-ranging economic impact on a huge number of families, that to assume the guilt as singularly, is silly and self-absorbed.  Catskill Farms dumps $1.5m a month into someone's pocketbooks and wallets, and that impact creates ripples and waves of ancillary impacts in community spending, retirements, consumption, but most of all - it creates economically stable families who can engage in predictable planning near-term and long-term  - benefiting communities - be it social, economic, health or spiritual. $1.5m a month rivals most SuCo town's annual budgets.

I'm without a doubt a free-market believer - not in the pure Ayn Rand where all gov't is bad, but I do believe without hesitation that I make good decisions more than bad, that I can navigate the micro-market I work in better than anyone for the benefit of more, that I reinvest my profits back into the community and people I work with, and that a lot of gov't rules that create the box from within I work are good.

I believe in gov't assisted healthcare - mostly because I see how destabilizing lack of healthcare is for families.  We just had a guy with a serious member of his family ill, and he was able to take off with pay for 3 months (and his wife under a separate program) to care for this family member, rather than having to make a choice of bankruptcy or caring for the family member.  That was a big deal, that none of us had ever even considered before when complaining about NY taxes, or Obamacare.  This was life saving for 7 people.

The idea that small business people reject any form of higher taxes when in the public good, especially when you can see the diret impact on persons you work with, underestimates the caring many employers have for their employees, and the intelligence and realism good managers use when deciding what is good and bad for them ('them' always defined as the whole corporate family, not the owner individually.

Near the year end, when tax planning is crystalized before Dec 31, charitable giving becomes front of mind.  And sometimes I look at my percentage of income given, and it seems paltry, but then I step back and have to acknowledge I give everyday, every week, to my employees, my vendors, my extended family - just giving everyone off Thursday and Friday costs $7000 not including the opportunity costs of not getting anything done, the illness in a team member's family was truly expensive indirectly - healthcare, 401k, time off, bonuses - all definitely not 'charity', but definitely an allocation of profits to others other than oneself.

So on this Thanksgiving, we feel blessed - as individuals, as an owner of a company, as a family - for the bounty of harvest and health we have here in 2020, even if we have to measure it a bit irregularly.









Saturday, November 21, 2020

Teams

 I'm a team guy.  I create teams, scout teams, mentor teams, respect teams, learn from teams.  Value teams.   Clearly, anyone who achieves anything of any size has an appreciation of teams.


I work daily with teams that work well, teams that are inefficient, teams that are unselfish, teams that execute well, teams that don't.  Just like I'm in this weird place politically where everyday I interact intensely from a broad selection of persons from all over the political spectrum, I also am at the center of literally hundreds of teams, and their individual players.

I mention it because, like all human nature, I tend to dwell on the shitty teams that give me heartburn, and overlook the dozens who kill it each and every day.  I don't really overlook them, but if something is going well, and time and attention is scare, you aren't going to go around fluffing all the teams that are performing well - you spend your time coaching, cajoling, convincing the teams that are underperforming, urging them to the goal-line.

Perspective is everything - you keep in the mind the many things that are going well, as you work through the ones that aren't - that really is the healthiest and most fun way to get along in business (and life).

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Sold - Farm 61 in Olivebridge NY

 We had the honor and pleasure of selling on of our new farmhouses today, a 3 bedroom 1.5 bath marvel, with a finished well-lit basement that added another 600 sq ft, and a bathroom.




The home sits on 4+ acres, and has plenty of porch and deck to enjoy.  We started this home as a spec home, meaning without a prearranged buyer - a type of 'if we build it, they will come' sort of thing.  Come they did, and the young couple who purchased it should be pretty comfy in their snazzy little home in Ulster County NY.  I mean, these homes are really neat, and you don't have to take my word for it since one could say I'm biased - the marketplace over and over says it when they come back onto the market - they sell quick, they sell for good money.  Over and over.  The amount of money - realtors, homeowners, contractors, pool guys, gardeners, landscapers, tax collectors - is really unfathomable in its immenseness.  

I think my friend Rob in one of my cottages call it the 'economic cross-multiplier' - which I'm sure is a common term for all you hoyti toyti business school grads (or actually grads that learned much in college) - but to me, it was a new phrase that encapsulated what I knew for a fact - that day to day, year to year, decade to decade - that the impact on the economic vibrancy of these towns we work in is, frankly, gigantic.

Congrats to the new owners.  Welcome to the 'hood.  Sold for the mid $500's, all in, including land, permitting, house construction and basement buildout.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

2020 Election, Part Deux




Let me get this argument straight for my own benefit.  The same vote that saw the Democrats get smashed country-wide in the House, and gain little in the Senate, and sustained many State and Local Republicans, that same vote, that same ballot, for the President was somehow fraudulently cast?  Is that the gist of the argument?   Seems weak and non-sensical, and logistically hard to pull off.

But the close races - jeez - Arizona by 10,000 (maybe Trump shouldn't have attacked John McCain), Georgia by 15,000 (maybe Trump shouldn't toned down his racist leanings), Wisconsin, PA.  While the overall popular vote was pretty large in Biden's favor, the State's that 'matter' weren't, other than Michigan.

It's a shame this criminal Trump can't celebrate the awesome feat of American Democracy, where 150,000,000 million people voted, and the voted smoothly and waited in lines for hours, and braved a pandemic, and participated in the process by volunteering - on both sides.

Although polling is being disparaged right now, It's actually fascinating to look back on how much good information these candidates had.  Trump knew mail-in ballots would raise turnout and that was bad for him (hence post office and legal shenanigans), Biden knew the Blue Wall states of Michigan, Wisconson and Minnesota were critical to his success and also knew Georgia was more likely than Florida.  Trump knew it was going to be close, and that the counts would take time, and that would be the period he could sow chaos - so he and his minions prevailed on Republican controlled state legislators in PA and others NOT to change their laws and start counting mail-in ballots early.  It's just amazing how these campaigns - Trumps especially - were gaming this out, saw the writing on the walls (suburban women), and used all their levers of power to disrupt it.  I mean, who messes with the Post Office?  Who actually knew the Post Office could be messed with?  There's a genius in that, but nothing to be respected or taught to our children.

It's ridiculous the way some on the right are claiming 'victimhood'.  Let's add this up - you have $1,000,000,000 war chest, you have the power of the incumbency which can't be overstated, you have right-wing radio more or less an arm of your campaign, you have Fox News and their commentators, you have all the levers of power to mess with the institutions that keep things straight, you have the bully pulpit and earned media (unpaid news coverage) from your daily press conferences, you have gigantic rallies, you have a motivated electorate, you have a large segment of first time voters coming out, you turn out the vote, and you still lose, and it's the other sides fault because it's rigged?

Because the polls were off.  Because the lamestream media didn't give you credit for anything (here's a tip - people you punch in the nose everyday aren't going to be friendly).  How sad.  It's very clear Trump turned off a fair amount of decent people who couldn't deal with his daily antics and insults, were embarrassed for their children, were tired of Trump being part of their daily lives with his tweets and fights.  Although good article in Today's Post about how White Evangelical Christians played a disproportionate part in his turnout - which is gross, since he is clearly the least Christian man who has held that office.

I'm looking forward to Boring Biden, who respects policy, surrounds himself with experts, and puts our Country's needs before his needs.  Mostly, I look forward to people like my mom, and there are millions of them, who aren't stressed each and everyday by the unacceptable behavior of their President, and allowing them to return to their lives, to live unburdened by the need to defend or attack on a daily basis behavior they would never accept from a teacher, a friend, a coach or a man of the cloth.




Wednesday, November 11, 2020

2020 Election

 Wow, that was quite the October in terms of political chaos, unexpected twists and turns (Philly shooting, protests, and looting, Pres gets covid, Pres does 18 events in 4 days), but we seem to be on the back side of it, regardless of the tactics of some of the politicians and their media mouthpieces on the right assert.

Took my son and a friend to Philly to see what democracy looks like.



I'm in a position where each and every day I interact with persons across the political spectrum, and what is interesting is I read a stat a week or two ago that claimed that 70%+ of people do not interact or even know someone who is not in their political silo.  I don't believe everything I read, and polls are under great scrutiny, but even if it was half that, I would still see it as an astonishing data piece and explains a lot.

I go out of my way to get information from a wide range of sources - magazines, newspapers, news, radio, random apps like tik tok and instagram.  Too much information lately, where by the time election rolled around my phone reported a daily use of screen time of 8+ hrs!!!!  I don't really know how they measure that - is listening to a podcast screen time?  Or a newscast, or call in radio show?  I hope so, though I admit I have a newbie energy level for tik tok - guiltfree too, since I think it's really fun, and lack of guilt makes it all the more dangerous.  Keep an eye out for my tik tok shuffle I'm working on.

As a builder, in the niche I occupy, I interact with a wide range of persons, as I said above.  I sell homes in upstate (rural and red) to the coastal elite (families from NYC and mostly blue), I work everyday with a range of subcontractors and employees (red) and I also work with surveyors, engineers, lawyers, accountants who are educated, many times male and a tad older and harder to pigeon hole into a political generalization (purple).



It's a fascinating vantage point - with a ton of information and preferences and actions coming from all sides.  What is true today, if you turn off the news, most people I'm interacting with have moved on, accepted the results, and are now in the process of putting politics back where it always was - white noise in the background, instead of a daily test of how loud can you support your candidate.

Late last week, as the counts were drip drip dripping in, and cable news was doing a great job of narrating the drama when nothing much was happening, I attempted to go news free for a day.  When that didn't happen, I tried for a couple of hours.  When that didn't happen, I tried for an hour.  Waking up in the middle of the night, refreshing my phone, praying for a non-trump headline.  Back in 2016, I went to sleep only to wake up, check the results, and was as shocked as the next guy, and not in a good way.  Anyways, I finally on Monday started to create some distance between me and the news, and now I'm trying to check in at the end of the day for the Arizona counts, and other stuff.  Nothing much changes hour to hour, so for me at least, checking in less is better, and actually just as informative.   Not easy though.  Everyone has their TV on to the news.

You have to wonder how long Arizona is going to be at 98% counted?  They've been stuck there for a week, and you have really get a kick out of Fox News' premature call of that state, since now it is down to 14,000 votes.  What a stake through the heart of Trump's election night momentum.

It's like the Trump Show is truly afraid of what comes next for it.  How can you make an argument with a straight face of stopping the count in Georgia and PA, continuing to count in Arizona, claiming that the tight races they are losing are fraudulent but not a word about the close races they won, no introspection into last election, just as tight, with voting done with the same rules, but turned in their favor?

You can make the argument because you know your support is wide, and 2 subsets of that support are the following - people with something political at stake, and non-college educated voters, many of whom are drowning in their chosen sources of information, echoing and repeating a small and selected slice of the day's news.

And let's admit it - education matters.  Education gives you empathy, perspective, hope, a baseline of comparing today with other days/times.  

Also, from what I saw, Trump turned out the vote.  I don't have the data, but I wouldn't be highly surprised if first time voters and 'low propensity' voter counts were large and unprecendented.  Trump motivated people to vote who don't regularly participate in the political process.  I think the trouble there, however, is these people won't continue to vote, won't be regular voters, and will go back to not participating.  Their enthusiasm for Trump is not easily transferable to just any state or national candidate.  In fact, just the opposite.

Friday, November 6, 2020

More Drone pics.

 New drone pics in late fall.  Great work of the new zone with these new perspectives.  









Thursday, October 22, 2020

Got A Drone



Some of the best shots of real estate is from the air, so the the new drone has been a fun addition to my marketing bag of tricks.  Pretty simple to operate, with lots of safety features if you don't get the cheapest one, like collision avoidance, a 'home' button that brings it back home when you push the limits, range et... too far, and a bunch of other stuff.  Should also help get better perspective on land and such as I'm buying it.

Bought it right in time for the peak foilage season up here the Catskills.  The thing about the 'peak', is you get several false peaks, thinking it can't get better than this, but it does, and then there is that one day, or collection of days, where it really is the peak, and then it quickly fades into the avalanche of falling leaves, and then bare trees before you know it.

My first trial run, besides at my house in Milford PA, was up at our project in Kerhonkson NY we just built out. It was 4 homes, sold quick, and the families are loving them now that the world has changed.

Here's a pic of the famous hotel in Milford named the Fauchere.




This is a shot of a farmhouse, looking east towards the Gunks and New Paltz.


A Ranch.






Shot of a barn going up in Cochecton, NY.




The Delaware River.


Another Ranch in Kerhonkson.



And my All-Star Team of cross-disciplinarians.  When you stay as busy as we stay, it's a constant crush of real responsibility across everyone's desktop.  


 

All the problems of yesterday are receding, 4 months into solving them.  I can tell by my need to write about them, a process I have always found to help me untangle the issue, and identify ways forward.   Now I'm left to solve the 100 regular problems that arise each day.  The bottom-line solution is always the same - dig in, sacrifice everything else, work hard and harder, and solve one layer of the issue at the same - the ol' 'a journey starts with a single step'.  The sacrifice is always real - in this case, waking before 4am, not coaching, keeping my son out of travel leagues, having little energy left over for life other than work.  Each morning I wake now, I slowly can see the extreme nature of the last 4 months, with business doubling, and black swan issues diving from the sky out of nowhere.

Of course, there is another way to - make excuses, fall behind, disappoint vendors/bankers/clients alike, sidetrack your business and lose the momentum which is extremely hard to recapture.  We have been on a forward momentum train for 20 years - some times slower than others, but always moving forward.  It's way too dangerous for survival to be sitting in one place.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Employee Retainage at Catskill Farms

 As most small employers can attest, recruiting and keeping employees is at the heart of any level of success.  We see it among our own team, and we see it among all the teams that support us.  Those who find a way to maintain and retain employees are those companies that grow with us, instead of us outgrowing them.

This little mini-barn just got over 500 reactions on Instagram, which was nearly a record.  I don't think this was the exact photo - the other one had fog - but for some reason really captured the attention of some of  our 6200 followers.


At Catskill Farms, back in 2012, I undertook several initiatives to try and retain employees, and for the most part they've worked well, in whole or part.   It's funny how a small self-made business person like myself would be caricatured to be against government programs of any sort - an Ann Rand "I can do it myself' mantra - but I actually have seen the benefit of some of these programs, both State and Federal.

One of the most recent was a testament to the safety net NY State offers with its layers of taxes on everything we do.  An employee had a serious and disruptive illness in the family and both his wife and he were able to use the Family Leave Act to take 8+ weeks off at a large percentage of their salary being paid.  A real life saver.

While healthcare remains a real mess, I was all for Obamacare though I, as a small business person, was supposed to be the main opposition to the cost and administrative burden, but having lived without healthcare for years, and seeing what a lack of it does to the safety and security of individual families, to me it was a no-brainer, even if it meant more hassle for me.

And 3rd, the 401k Safe Harbor plan for small employers, where we can offer a company match retirement plan has been a huge boon to those who have taken advantage of it (and most everyone does).  I think we as a company have stuffed away over $750,000 in direct contributions from our employees, and the associated match from me.  In an industry where benefits are few and far between, this type of retirement plan is unheard of, and several of my long term employees are approaching 6 figure accounts.

Vacation, holidays, sick leave, raises, retirement, etc... all work together to create an environment where my valued employees think twice before jumping ship and chasing a few extra short term dollars per hour.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

New Homes for Sale In Saugerties

 This weekend we are opening the gates again to new clients, which we stopped doing for a while just to ensure an orderly onboarding of a pretty heavy queue of new clients in late spring and early summer.   One of the advantages of being in business a while, is you can accurately gauge your capacity, and not wear rose-colored glasses in what you can realistically produce.  In fact, with the subcontractor and product supply chain stretched thin, you can expect to produce less, or at least have more trouble and hurdles producing the same, and real trouble producing more.

I remember when I started in businesses in 2002, it was just beginning to be the boom times that ultimately lead to the housing crash of 2007/08.  It was tough to assemble a team because everyone was busy, so you had to use the C team (if you are lucky) (and deal with all those scheduling and quality issues inherent in C team product) and pay A team prices.  It's frankly easier to start a business in a recession where employment isn't full and vendors have capacity and interest in new clients.

Kacy, my right arm marketing machine, developed a marketing brochure for my weekend land and house pairings/showings.  Turned out good.

Our new website has been passing all of our content uploading tests with flying colors, and proved adaptable to most every request and tweak we come up with, so that's a real victory.

https://www.thecatskillfarms.com/for-sale

Amazing moon this morning at 6am.  It was one of those mornings that had a bit of everything - crispness in the air, leaves beginning to turn, sun only faintly stirring, and a gigantic big full moon straight-ahead - 





Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Wealth We Create

 I'm astounded at the wealth Catskill Farms generates, near and far.  Real estate commissions on our resales, return on investment for our clients, wages to our employees, traffic for our local businesses in a 90 minute radius, tax for schools and towns, interest to banks, premiums to insurance companies, $1m a month to assorted businesses.  This might not be a big deal in the scheme of things, but in our little pond, it's more than a ripple of impact.

It's even more pronounced now, in this pandemic era, with more liquidity and sales in the marketplace.  Money being made all over the place from our homes, our resales, our marketing.  It's eye-popping actually, even for someone like myself who was aware of the fact beforehand.

What causes me to comment is the relisting of one of my homes that I sold for under $460k now being priced at $850k.  Sure, there is a pool, some stonework, etc...  It's a nice abode for sure, but it's shocking to me on how slim our margins are/were  - it's a tough marketplace and navigated it carefully, but now for it's easy for a broad range of real estate related businesses, and frankly, it's a little disorienting.

But not hard to understand for anyone with a basic understanding of economics - stick 500,000+ new people in a marketplace that only had 100 good homes to begin with, and really the real question is, where will prices plateau, since the imbalance is so extreme, and the buyers so motivated.


Farmhouse 12.