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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fortunate Ones

I mean, what are you going to do? Hide under the covers until this pretty ugly business cycle turns around, just like the ones in 1907, 1940, 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1993 did eventually. Possibly that's a good solution - spend no money, wear socks with holes in them, scrimp at Christmas and at all your nephews' and nieces' birthdays. Not me, and not our customers. Granted, maybe the exuberant cock-sureness of that every decision made is pure and unadulterated genius - the past decade made everyone look smart, every business venture prescient and bold. Well, that's over, and now the big party is over too and for most of my customers including myself, this will be the first big 'welcome to the real world' experience we have had, having come out of school at the end of the last recession in the early 90's.

It's amazing. A 16 year party - that's a pretty good run by any economic standard. I remember when my girlfriend at the time, when her parents sold their Hamptons house in 1997 since they were convince after 5 years of expotential appreciation the market was sure to tumble. Of course, property value continued to grow for another 10 years.

It's pretty impossible to time the good times or the bad times but what is certain is times like these really show who was not wearing pant and who was swimming naked. A business that is fundamentally strong and has a good ground game has some chance of surviving.

We here at Catskill Farms were preparing for the dark days when the sun was shining most brightly. Lowering our prices, decreasing the size of our homes, 'going green' - we started doing this in mid-'06, when a lot of the speculators were just rolling out their audacious game plans that were fueled mostly by stupid money, inaccurate spreadsheets and unoriginal and overpriced products - be it land or houses.

In 2004 when we sold our first home, we were completely undercapitalized, paying bills with credit cards and then paying the credit cards with credit cards. Lisa and I kept a 'debt chart' taped to the refrigerator of the 600 sq ft Rock House, and every Friday night we would attempt to pay some bills. The debt chart showed my 15 credit cards and the available balances - meaning, in the end, how much financial wriggle room was left before the house of cards collapsed in an unoriginal and totally calamitous end to an over leveraged good idea that ran out of time.

This was not to be - and we wriggled through, and now we sit back and try to 'keep our powder dry', waiting for opportunities that haven't been available for a decade.

But, what remains true is it is doubtful this is the end of the road for the old USA and if it's not the end then it is the best time to buy shit in a long time. Stocks are cheap, they are giving cars away, lumber and building materials hitting all time lows, any consumer good on sale.

Regardless of the news or the reality, we are currently building and will be selling 5 houses over the next 10 weeks - one every other week. To me, that doesn't feel like a recession - it feels, to me, like a reason to party - get down now.

What's equally fun is seeing the clients buying these homes totally into it, enthusiastic and committed to finishing, buying and then living in these brand new country cottages. It's the true contrarian viewpoint to the negative bombardment we are subjected to presently. Life goes on, and maybe it's just a good time to enjoy what you got, and not worry so much about the next level of achievement. Me, I expect a big winter reading - my list including "The History of Standard Oil", "Panic of 1907", "Manias, Panics and Crashes" and "Bloody Sundays - Life in the NFL".

Validating us once again are 2 new articles out about living small in small spaces - the Times does it with an article on the Cabin, and Builder Magazine with a front cover highlighting "the Cottage Industry".

Here's Albert's Barn/Music studio with high ceilings, a sound room and plenty of room for the band.

And the farmhouse we are building for him and his girl. Simple black and white 1700 sq ft farmhouse on 10 acres where life is good.

Dean's cottage on an adjacent parcel and while it may appear progress has slowed the truth could not be more different - the inside is nearly the end of the carpentry phase and by the end of the month we will be painting. The lack of siding is making the house appear a bit unfinished but the fact is it is presently being stained in the factory which adds to the lead time but puts us ahead of the game when it is installed.

And here's Nick in on the porch of Cottage 9, that will be his in less than 3 weeks. As I mentioned before, this house is an instant classic. Metal red roof, exposed porch rafter tails, blue porch ceiling to keep the bugs away. 1300 sq ft of perfection.

Here is a broad frame picture that captures my new ride as well.
Nick the client and James who works with me examining the final touches of the kitchen.

Another great pic of the cottage de Gavin y Emily. They will be moving in sometime in December. Can't wait to photograph this house, where the details are extravagantly good lucking.

Mauricio planting some trees outside of Cottage 5, our first 750 sq ft home.

And Cottage 15, which will be ready for the final inspection by the building inspector on Thursday and Gayle should be purchasing this home the first week of December.

And Deb and Jeanne's cottage outside Yulan, NY. We haven't decided what color to paint the pre-primed siding yet - cedar shake and a blue roof.

Big lofty interior. Painting started on Thursday.
And their bad ass fireplace.

There you have it - all we got going on. Happy weekend. It's raining up here in the sticks.