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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Heat Lamp - Catskills Real Estate

It's not everyday we install a dual glowing red heatlamp in our modern houses, but the Owner of Cottage 6 has visions of running from the steam shower to the clawfoot and wants a little heat along the way.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pics of Life - Catskills Real Estate

Cottage 3, entering contract. Cool, modern cottage on 6.5 glorious and private acres. And only 5 minutes from a quart of milk or kayaking on the Delaware River.

Fancy Cottage 2, designed with Autumn in mind, with tree bark colored siding, horizontal horse fence porch rail design, and interior colors like pumpkin, forest green, stained pine floor and simple bird chandeliers.
Arts and Crafts #1, with exterior colors found only after 12 paint samples. Everytime I would go by this house a new 2'x2' square of paint color was woven into what was becoming a pretty interesting patchwork of neat colors.
Anyway, I think, in the end, Katrina and Crystal hit the nail on the head (to borrow a construction phrase).

And me, after I jumped off my galloping and totally out of control horse doing a wild barn dash. (Addidas paid me to wear this shirt on this blog post - Catskill Farms going commercial with subtle brand placement - it actually changes if you stare at it long enough).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catskill Farms Pricing

The key to our vibrant Catskills real estate sales activity over the last 16 months comes down to 3 qualities - Quality, design, and price/value compared to other properties for sale.

Quality - while by no means perfect, our construction team is producing high quality homes. Not gaudy, not over the top - just a well-designed, thoughtful use of space and materials. Considering the homes also come with real warranties (almost unheard of in this area), we are also dedicated to helping our customers transition into their new homes as painlessly as possible.

Design - usually, the current prevailing home design consensus consists of more, more, more. More size, more boring details, more outdated ideas. Catskill Farms has taken a different approach, thoughtfully using simplicity as our modus operandis (sp.?). Elegance through simplicity, value through simplicity. Restraint is probably the most unachieved design element in homes today.

Price/Value - I am a student of the regional marketplace. I know what other properties sell for. So when we sell a 2700 sq ft restored farmhouse on 30+ acres with an historic barn on the property for $650k, we know it's worth it. 2700 sq ft @ $200/ft = $540,000. 30 great acres @ $7,000/acre= $210,000. Historic Barn @$40,000 - total value comes in at $790,000.

Further proving the proposition is a quick look around at other properties for sale. 15 acres and an average home in the Beechwoods listed for $650,000. Nicely restored 1600 sq ft farm on 8 acres in Cochecton - $549,000.

Same goes for our Farmhouse at Chapin Estate - 3500 sq ft @ $200/sq ft - $700,000. 2300 sq ft pimped out basement @ $100/sq ft, 5 acres of land inside the gate of Chapin - $185,000. Total Value - $1,115,000. Sales price - $760,000.

Same goes for Farmhouse #6 - 8 acres of great land ($100k), 2400 sq ft new old house ($480,000) - total value $580,000, sales price $475,000.

The amazing fact is we can make money and we can give our clients a lot of value by leaving a lot of money on the table - a true win-win situation. Drastically undersell the 'competition', make money, and give our clients value. A super recipe for selling homes.

The reason we can do this is because we are committed to the 'long-run', meaning we do not need to hit the homerun on every sale. Every client we introduce to our homes and the area is a good thing for me, local businesses, and the local tax base.

The value of our cottages is also easy to see - land ($65,000), house/driveway/electrical infrastructure/well/septic ($280,000), architect ($20,000), real estate fee ($25,000) - Total value $390,000, we sell them for the low $300's.

And what's more, with every house we build, we are finding more ways to give the customer more without raising the prices. As a 12 year veteran of home building, I know of no other design/build firm who uses the phrase 'no problem' to customer requests as frequently as we do. The more common refrain is 'that's an extra', or 'that's an upcharge'. Our last 4 homes have come within 1% of the contract budget, and even that 1% is because the customer fell in love with something I just couldn't include.

So, for all you smart, sophisticated, research oriented readers and customers (more or less everyone we've sold a house to), there you have it, broken down to its most basic ingredients, our recipe for providing great homes at very fair prices.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wish Granted - Catskills Real Estate

Well, my wish came true about more bad news. New home sales are down 26%. What does that mean for me and my buyers - mostly, lower interest rates, better service from our subcontractors, and a more friendly and civil process with every vendor and salesperson we run into.

Facts be told, these figures have nothing to do with our limited edition cottage and farmhouses. We don't build overpriced vinyl sided cookie cutter suburban tract homes on 1/8 of an acre where you can see your neighbor cooking breakfast.

Honestly, I would venture the buyers of Catskill Farms' homes are in an enviable position. We have not seen any pressure on prices, and because demand is far outweighing supply, we are designing and selling houses at the same prices, or more, than we were a year ago. That's great news for existing and new customers, because, in the end, it means Catskill Farms is selling houses full of value.

It's actually pretty easy to quantify.
2 scenarios -
Buyer purchases their own building parcel ($65,000), buyer hires an architect ($20,000), buyer pays a real estate fee ($20,000), buyer pays for a lot of surprises ($25,000), buyer pays for a construction loan, and all the interest during the process.

Scenario #2 - Catskill Farms, always on the lookout for great property cheap, pays $25,000. Catskill Farms pays for the architect, our customers are finding us directly many times, Catskill Farms pays for all of the surprises, and Catskill Farms pays all the costs of construction and financing and taxes and utilities during construction.

For the exact same house, going it alone would cost upwards of $100,000 more. The fact that we have vertically integrated, cut out all the middle men, and passed on all the savings to our customers, has resulted in house values unaffected by the hurricane of bad economic news, mainly because, in a phrase, they are 'drastically underpriced'. Similarly, if the customer was lucky enough to withdraw their money from the market in order to buy the house, they are now insulated from the current violitility. Possibly there are 2 safe spots for one's money presently - cash in the bank, and a Catskill Farms home. This is said as a joke, but in reality, I would think it's got to be a good feeling to not only love one's home, but to realize that the idea and design you fell in love with is standing tall in the chaos of the present financial turbulence.

Today, Cheri decided Cottage 3 was perfect for her and her 2 dogs. She is going to be our 3rd full-timer in probably our most unique house ever. Rob and Leah and baby (not sure about the pet count) have firmly committed to Cottage 8, and Pablo and Ana are, I'm sure, checking the mail twice a day looking for the new designs we collaborated on.

I can only think of two words - "Rock On".

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Deal Time - Sullivan County Real Estate

As far as I'm concerned, this whole 'the world is ending, everyone is losing their homes and jobs' thing going round is working out pretty perfect for Catskill Farms.

Today, Rob and Leah signed up for a plumped up mini-house, and Cheri showed definitive interest in Cottage 3. That's on top of Pablo and Ana sending back the sales contracts for Cottage 7, and Gavin moving towards the closing table for his new home at Highland Farms.

February and March are going to be interesting months. We are selling 5 finished homes, signing contracts for 3 homes to be started in the spring, buying an awesome huge open bus garage cum my new office/headquarters, buying 14 more acres (3 building lots), and moving towards contract on 50 acres with an old farmhouse I am purchasing.

It's a great time to buy anything if you got the money and confidence. Appliances, cars, homes, furnishings. Lots of stores and dealerships are offering great incentives since sales are suffering. And once again, mortgage rates are low, low, low. And for the most part, mortgage rates are almost as important as the price of a home. If a household is in the position to take advantage of the slowdown in the economy, it's a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity to buy, buy, buy.

Keep the bad news coming, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, make the news as bad as possible. Seems to be an inverse relationship between bad news and our sales activity.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Builder's Life - Catskills Real Estate

Being a small business, sometimes life is less than the romantic ideal I paint it. For example, our front porch filled with boxes of toilets, vanities, sinks, barn door tracks, lighting, tile and other assorted items waiting to go into Farmhouse #9 in Barryville NY.Or, the broken window resulting from Edwin the carpenter getting a little carried away unloading the 14" hemlock shelving we are installing in the pantry of Farm 9.

The full coverage for broken glass came in pretty handy for this doozy. Pretty cold riding around till it got fixed. I could have opted for the duct tape and cardboard temp fix, but that would have entailed finding cardboard, a scissors and duct tape, and frankly, I'm not that handy to begin with.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Good Morning in the Catskills

Morning time in the Catskills, with the Moon going away and the sun risin'.

Sunrise over the Toronto Reservoir at Chapin Estate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cottage 6- Below the Line - Barryville, NY

Since the Owner of Cottage 6 makes his living on the big screen, I thought it was apt to use a movie analogy for this post. In movies, 'below the line' are all the people behind the scenes, like camera men, grips, sound, production, etc... "Above the line" are those more visible such as the actors and the directors, etc... These photos could be considered 'below the line', since they are the unsexy elements that happen before the finishes that everyone sees. But as with many things, what happens behind the scenes is as important if not more than what occurs in plain view.

The Owner of Cottage 6 wanted a stained glass window for an area inside the house that looks out onto the back yard and receives a bunch of mid-afternoon sunlight. So, as I mentioned, we drove to Scranton PA, home Old Good Things (a massive salvage yard) to scan our options. The Owner selected the above old school stained glass mosaic of King David to define his march up the staircase.
This photo highlights what will be the steam room/shower combo in the upstairs bath. Flip a switch (or, since we have passed the '90's), push a button, sit back on the tile bench, and steam away.

Here's Lisa, a new addition to our team, surveying the stain glass with a wary eye. She is standing in the basement/ground floor room that will someday be a very hot media room, with surround sound and other fast amenties (like electric and cable).

The Owner opted in for a fair amount of exterior stonework, and what you see here is the first step of stoning the chimney. First you set up the scaffolding, than apply wire mesh, then apply a 'scratch' coat of mortar, then the stone, when it arrives. We are stoning the fireplace, and the entire exterior foundation.
On Friday we have our 'rough-in' inspection, meaning the building inspector comes round and inspects our wiring, our framing, and our plumbing. The electric also gets inspected by an independent electrical inspector, and with the plumbing, we cap off the plumbing and heating pipes on both ends, and apply 10 lbs of air pressure, and then leave it sit for a few days in order to detect any potential leaks. If the pressure stays static, we are good to go, which is the way we like it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chapin Estate Deal nears completion

Chapin Estate - Lot 45, Top Ridge, Bethel NY. 6000 sq ft of perfect country living. 4 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, fireplace, woodstove, etc..., etc...., etc....
A quick picture of the rear of the house. Note my full length cover alls hanging over the railing, the debris pile on the right handside, and the rack propped up against the staircase. Not the sort of thing that makes Lisa real happy.
Below, my home office on a Friday afternoon. A little bit of everything happens here. Lisa and I werent' sure if an active home office would be good thing since I tend to work too much as it is, but it has turned out pretty good, and allows me to nibble away at my work without leaving home all the time.

The living room showcasing the fireplace, the duel balconies and, of course, my lucky charm picture of Abe Lincoln.

Me with Bella.

Our Farmhouse at Chapin Estate has always been our most accomplished home. From a design perspective, it is nearly a perfect getaway home due to the fact that the guest wing is completely separate from the rest of house, giving true privacy for guests and family.

Details galore such as old-fashioned radiators, wood plank ceilings, barn board walls, large crown mouldings, full house audio and security, wide-plank floors, fireplace, woodstove, sliding barn door, bluestone flooring in the mudroom - all the usual suspects of our homes except more of them. We don't normally build this large, but for the standard at the gated community at Chapin Estate, this is on the small side of what people are building.

Built as a spec home and finished in Jan 2007, Lisa and I decided to move into it because it was a fabulous house and we needed a place to live after our 30 acre farm sold in Bethel near Jeffersonville. So we raised the price and took it off the market for all intent and purposes, and as is usually the case, as soon as we did not want to sell it, a young family decided it was the perfect house for them (it's a perfect house, period, if you ask me.)

This is the 3rd time in the last year and a half that I have sold our home out from under my wife to be, and while she is quite the sport, I think I better not do it again. Since we are glass half full type of people, we are appreciative to have lived in several diverse spaces over the last 2 years, because when we go to build our next and permanent farm, we will have had the experience to really design a home from the pros and cons of previous spaces we lived in. As I have told her, you got to take one for the team every now again and hopefully it all pays off in the end (it's a little easier to believe these days, because I think she was just humoring me over the course of the first few years, when debt was through the roof, business was a roller coaster and the learning curve still steep.)

Bella Drive - Sullivan County - Barryville

Some nice anonymous person made up a sign for my new road and hung it out front with little ribbons on it. At first I thought it was Mrs Carr, but then the ribbon effect probably means it was Maurizio or Benoist. Doesn't really matter - a pretty nice gesture.

Bella Drive, newly posted, at 7:30 am, rising from behind the McInnes property. This project is pretty exciting from a client vantage - Lot 1 is a first time homeowner from a distant land, Lot 2 is a writer/food team expecting their first child (and our 1st full time residence after 25 homes), Lot 3 family just sold a magazine they spent eleven years establising, and Lot 4 is a cinema star.

And then there is me - with a beard that went from chic to hick one morning without me even noticing it.

And then a little more polished in Rome, probably 2 sheets to the wind.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Carr Farmhouse in Barryville NY Nearing Completion -

The architectural landscape of Sullivan County real estate is about to be enhanced once again with the completion of the Carr Farmhouse near Barryville New York. Above photo was taken during the sheetrock polishing phase. What I like about this photo - as the boss - is how clean the house is. Not many things besides actually finishing a job shows the merit of a builder than the cleanness of the job sites. Good for many reasons, not the least being safety and efficiency.

The hand hewn beams that were delivered by ol' yeller many months ago stand proudly, separating the fireplace room from the reading room. Sheetrock spackling and polishing is not a romantic trade but is critical to the quality of a home.
Cottage red cedar siding, primed and painted in the factory, being installed rather slowly by the siding crew. I would have liked to see this completed by now, but to be honest, there are lots of things I wish for that I don't get. For instance, a day without being aggravated to the extreme by some nonsense, a little more cash in the bank, or the return of the 34" waistline come to mind as examples. Well, at least I have my health.

This house is going to be sharp - the Carrs have done a fantastic job with not only the design collaboration, but also making decisions in a timely manner. As a whole, the many clients we have collaborated with - Chris and Matthew, Katrina, David, Maurizio, Steve and Christine, Tammy, just to name a few - have not only been amazing in their aesthetic, but also their respect for the process and the deal they struck with Catskill Farms.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Another Day, Another Dollar

I know I've said this before, but Saturdays are busy. What's more, we are seeing a surge in interest in our homes that exceeds even optimistic projections. Why - I think because we have a good idea, and keep working hard.

Tuesday I have a new 'project manager' starting, that I am hoping can help us manage the office and field work of the business. A tall task, but the time has come to hire a overseer of sorts. What's interesting about this time when I sent out feelers for help, the response I got was much more talented than before - and I think the reason is because the building industry is seeing a true slowdown. Since we are busier than ever, we have been able to find talented persons who have been gainfully and happily employed over the last few years, only to see that work dry up.

Today was filled with site meetings, with both subcontractors, existing clients who we are building for, and for prospective clients who are scouting the area.

Tomorrow the future owner of Cottage 6 is coming up, meeting me at Good Old Things in Scranton PA where we are trying to find a large unique salvaged window to serve as his second floor gateway to his exquisite 6 acre backyard. From there back to the house to decipher a few design ideas before he heads out for a few months to make a movie.

Rumor has it next week will be 50 degrees, after 10 days of very cold weather hovering near zero degrees. That may sound good to you, but what it means to me is MUD. Inside the houses, on the tools, on the porches, on the materials, on the boots.

It's been a trying winter on our houses. Rain, snow, ice buildup. So far so good, because even though I sit by the phone like the Maytag mechanic, we really don't get many emergency calls. This round of brutal weather has played havoc with people's electronic low heat sensors, but for the most part, our 30 houses around the county seem to be holding up excellently.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Bad Ass Mini-House - Mini Price Tag

New Year's Day and big snow storm passing through. We also had one the other day - which means one thing to me - I get to tool around in my new 1990 Ford dump truck with a snow plow. One would think plowing snow is easy, but it does take some skill (I'm learning). With a couple thousand feet of roads and driveways to keep clear, the payback on this old truck is pretty quick, since a snow plowing for above mentioned amount of drives can reach $500+ per storm.

It's a great day for snow storm - and I always think about my customers, hanging out in their houses watching it magically come down, with the fireplace roaring (and arguing about who's going out to get the wood, or who forgot to order it in the first place). I'm sure today is tempered by the fact that most of them need to get back to work. I'm hoping they just wait until morning and let everyone else try to make it home today.

It's impossible not to feel foolish your first year up here, when in the middle of January you are calling around for firewood to be delivered. By the 2nd or 3rd year, most people know you need to order it in September to have any chance of getting it delivered timely.

Wow - our first mini-house is really coming along, and the interest in them has been amazing. Small open spaces, lots of land, and small affordable price tags. WE RAGE AGAINST THE MCMANSION.

Below is the gentleman who has signed up to by our first mini-house. Not native born, he is very excited to own the american dream - and even more excited about the huge pottery space in his pimped out basement. Our mini-houses with mini-price tags - a brand new idea in Sullivan County New York. We will finish this house by the end of January, and for those who have been following the adventure - that translates into a 3 month construction period. Yes, you heard it right - 3 months from drawing board to closing table.