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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Late Summer Weekend

The final weekend of the summer. Most of the Catskill Farms homeowners up for the weekend, stretching out and cooling it for an extra day this weekend. Barbeques, wood splitting, a little gardening and landscaping.

My weekends start out at 5 or so on Friday, leaving work a little early. I was a NY Times guy for over 15 years, but about a 1/2 yr ago I began augmenting it with the the WSJ weekend edition - both, at least for the moment, are a lot of fun and a great compliment to the weekend, filling in those hours between golf, work, strategizing, and the inevitable honey do list.

Lisa usually makes a good weekend dinner, even in these late months of pregnancy and serves it up hot to me, the breadwinner and man of the house. Lisa and I prefer and are more comfortable in the traditional roles of man and woman - me earning and bringing home the bacon, and she barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

Just got some bad news - Lady Storm, the dog we adopted when her old owner passed along, has cancer and is slowly fading out on us. I mean, we knew this was going to be the drill since she was an old dog with bad legs and sordidly bad breath. But she's been good to us - low maintenence, fun to be with, awfully touchy about the cats playing with her tale - little ruby and big storm - reminds Lisa and me of the show Rob and Big. I'll post some pics of the two of them shortly. It'll be sad, but jeez leweez, I can't think of a better way to go out then being pampered by Lisa for the last 9 months of your life - much better than what was going to be her fate - slowly starving as neighbors forgot to feed her, or sent to the pound to fend for herself. Old Storm - a real good dog.

It's been a great month of weather of here. Since the beginning of August nighttime temps around 45 and daytimes never exceeding a sunny 80. This is prime time Catskills - beautiful weather, no traffic, no noise - just the family, the house, the pets and a little well earned respite from all the overachieving I'm sure most 2nd homeowners do most days of their lives.

Cheers - happy Labor Day and hasta luego Summertime.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

SHAZAM - Cottage 8 is Sold.

Rob calls me up and says 'take your lady out'. I'd agree - 3 closings in 3 weeks - not like I often have the opporunity to quote ZZ Top but -

"Top coat, top hat,
I don't worry coz my wallet's fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
lookin' sharp and lookin' for love.
They come runnin' just as fast as they can
coz every girl grazy 'bout a sharp dressed man."

Cottage 8, our 2nd mini-house, has left home, and is striking out on its own with its new owners, Rob and Leah.

Da Facts -
850 Sq ft above grade -
500 sq ft below grade -
3+ acres
Started in April
Finished in August

No sweat, but a lot of glory.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cottage 7 has left the building - SOLD

boom, boom, boom, boom - another one bites the dust.

Cottage 7 facts -
-Sold from blueprints in January
-Started in April
-Finished in August
-1300 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths

Cottage 1 sold in June of '07, and since then the idea has blossomed into a great business. I remember when I started tinkering with the idea - and the conventional wisdom mantra was 'no one will ever buy a small 2 bedroom home." I guess there is something to be said about 'doing it my way."

Anyway, Emily - who is spearheading our new and improved approach to marketing - is something of a photographer as well - and snapped a few finish photos of the house, on the day of closing. This house is tight - ain't no one who sells houses as completely finished, as clean, with grass growing - as Catskill Farms - as I said before 'you can't touch this'.

Here's a link to the finished home -


Friday, August 22, 2008

Baby Shower, picnic and yard games.

Lucas Richard Petersheim - that's the name of our baby boy to be born in just a few short weeks. Lisa's mom came up with her boating boyfriend Frank and did the mother/daughter trip to 'babies r us', and came home with a seat contraption, a 'diaper genie', and changing pad and a bunch of other unfamiliar items, that I suppose shortly will be very familiar. I'm not a big 'poop' fan, - don't like cleaning up after my dog or cat, but I guess that will change shortly also.

Last week our friend Amy threw a party for us. Here is Kai, Darryl and Cheri's boy, holding court with James K and Zach, giving us some paper airplane pointers.

Me in the garden with the new generation.
The moon, after a few drinks.
Elilah, daughter of Joe and Viv, who own Global Home in Jeffersonville. This kid won 'cutest kid' awarded by Cookie Magazine.
Me, on the badminton court, striking a pose.

Zach, just about ready to get smashed upon, with the croquet set in the fore.
Lisa digging in, eating for 2, Vivian in white, Toby in jeans,
Cheri and Kai.
The boys (wow, talk about man boobs!)

Amy and her friend Lisa and Amy's chicken.
A birdhouse.
Amy's house. This 100 yr old farmhouse was the inspiration for Farmhouse 8,9 and 10.
Me, double-fisting after the badminton game.
Pregnant Lisa with Hanna and her mother. Hanna is one of her students at the Homestead School, a local montsori school.

2469 Lawsuit Free Days

4379 contracts signed over the last 5 years. $15m of money changing hands. 2469 lawsuit free days.

I feel like Cal Ripken, keeping the streak alive.

It takes a special customer not to be able to reach a compromise with Catskill Farms - because we know how to take a lot of abuse before pushing back.

Today, we close on Cottage 7, and for all you 9 to 5'ers, that means we get a paycheck today. Depending on how many houses I sell in a year, that's how many times I get paid. So once every couple of months I get some money, and that's always a good thing.

And then next week we close on Cottage 8, an 820 sq ft lofty cottage with a built out basement. This house is getting rave reviews, I mean really, people are flipping out over it - I think because of it's very intelligent use of space.

We started framing Gayle 1100 sq ft 2 bedroom 2 bath house, started framing Dean's 1300 sq ft 2 bedroom 2 bath house, and we are backfilling Albert's house, and getting ready to pour the concrete slab for his barn.

This weekend my old baseball coach is coming up to check us out. He runs one of the largest and oldest design/develop/build companies in southern PA, and he is duly impressed enough to come up and check us out. Maybe with an eye on helping us expand in to Woodstock, Rhineback, New Paltz, Stone Ridge and Marbletown. I played baseball for the longest time, from the ages 7-20, and we had a kick ass team that year after year took home the gold. And I wouldn't be surprised if those sports lesson don't continually help us compete hard and gracefully.

A woman spear-heading our marketing just came, very concerned about the previous blog post and the harm she perceived it will do to her efforts. I told her 1, I don't accept excuses so work around it.

Anyway, the emails have been coming in 4 to 1 congratulating me for standing my ground. I think people who have accomplished anything understand tough decisions. And if they don't, I can always go back to waiting tables or mowing lawns.

It's amazing and discouraging we can exceed all expectations, finish projects on time, on budget with the highest quality, and still find we are unable to meet expectations. Really, the only answer is to sometimes let customers who want to be unreasonable deal with the local talent pool if only so I can add some perspective to how easy I've made it for them.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Vacation and Parties and Observations

It's always hard to get hard and fast information when making a big decision but I have had two observations about our homes as of late - no one in five years has ever wanted to resell one of the homes they have bought from us, and after spending an hour today in my new restored farmhouse perusing area real estate websites at existing houses for sale between $225k and $335k, it's not a big surprise we are kicking it and killing it like we are.

I mean, having nothing to do with our homes, it's not that rare of a story to find a family's situation change, it's priority altered, etc.... that causes them to rethink the country house idea. I have seen it a few times, where a nice house sells, and then in 6 months or so it's back on the market, - the purchasing family a victim of a romantic daydream that didn't match true priorities. However, our 34 homes remain with the original homeowners - you would at least think there would be a divorce or something, -

It has been a question that has been popping up in some of the interviews we are having with folks hoping to get on our waiting list - has anyone tried to resell their home, and how did that go? Answer, simply - no, no one has tried to resell their home, but judging by the fact that we continue to sell all our homes (mini-houses, cottages and farmhouses) at higher prices than last year, I think the value proposition is pretty strong (as long as the sellers avoid paying 8% commissions like the local realtors think is fair - and don't ask them their advertising budget!!). At times everyone in my company feels like nobody likes us because we can't be perfect every second, but my god, we build houses ahead of schedule, on budget, stand behind our work, design with a ton of style and have passed along homes that are holding their value in a real estate plunge - I mean, OMG, what more can I do?

For country folk, Lisa and I like to travel, although logistically it's not always easy, since the airport is 2+ hrs away. Although we have hit Poland, Berlin, Munich, Florence, Rome, Capri and California over the past few years, we return year after year to Tulum Mexico. I think we have traveled there 5 times over the past 5 years. 2 hours south of Cancun, it's quiet, it's beautiful, and it's close.

Here's our hut on the beach. Rents for $140 a night, right on the beach.

Here's my best imitation of Evita or Lenin.

Picture of a Sullivan County rainbow snapped by Lisa.

And a picture of NYC ex-pats who started out as weekenders and eventually gave up the city life to make a go of it up here. That's me, end row, far right. I think this pic was taken at Lisa b-day party last year at Lot 45, Chapin Estate. Or measured another way, 3 houses ago.

And at the dinner table during the party. What's neat about Sullivan County is the ability to ignore everyone, stay close to home and cook at home, or on other days, venture out and find a very unique under-the-radar fast set of diverse NYC professionals.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bust A Move

In the city ladies look pretty

Guys tell jokes so they can seem witty

Tell a funny joke just to get some play

Then you try to make a move and

she says "no way"

Girls a fakin' ... goodness sakin'

They want a man who brings home the bacon

Got no money and you got no car

Then you got no woman and there you are

So don't just stand there, bust a move

For all the real important business of the company, we rely on - Ken's Cans.

Now, it has been awhile since I posted but we have really been 'bustin a move' up here. I mean we are always busy but now we are jammin. Even for an 'overachiever' (james' words, not mine) we are building a lot. Building roads, building driveways, building foundations, roofs, installing siding, etc...

Here's the beginning of Cottage 15, an 1100 sq ft home on 3 acres in Eldred NY.

And Cottage 14.

And Cottage 13, in the ground. Dean and I debated whether we should skip #13, like hotels do, but he said he liked the number, and if he is #13 in the scheme of things, he will make the best of it. This house is on almost 6 acres.

Then Albert's farm on top of the hill on 10+ acres with a 1/4 mile driveway leading up to it.

And the masons who have installed these 4 foundations in 2 weeks for us.
And Albert's approach, through the woods.

Perfect little Cottage 8 which is just a few weeks away from closing.

And Cottage 7, closing next week.

And James, kicking it at our new office. He probably on the phone looking busy with a 'personal call'. Lots of red accents in this space.

And a butterfly and bumble bee making nice in the parking lot of Catskill Farms International Headquarters.

Amazing, but this beautiful plant is a weed. And that's the bumble bee's butt sticking out from behind the cacti flower.

So there you have, a belated blog post because we've been bustin a move around the clock so more people can have more cottages and farmhouses quicker.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Deja Vu - Moving Day

Ok, so not only are we finishing up Cottage 7, Cottage 8, the Old Farmhouse, are 1/2 way done with Cottage de Emily y Gavin, framed up on Cottage 9, pouring footings at Cottage 15 and Cottage 13, digging a foundation at Cottage 14 - BUT WE ARE MOVING TODAY - AGAIN.

So let me count the ways - since spring of '06 I have moved my offices 5 times, and my home 4 times. Up here in the sticks nothing is easy, and moving is doubly hard. Not the move itself per se, but you can't keep your phone number and one house you need cable and the next you need The Dish, some houses use DSL, some Road Runner, some telephones are power by Frontier, others by Verizon. We are on our 5 telephone number in 2 years, and my business has changed tele and fax #'s just as many times (luckily, people really want to find us, and throwing a few annoyances in the way hasn't stopped that determination.)

Ahh, the country life. Well, this is it, at least for a couple years. The fact of the matter is we are exploding with business here in this economic and real estate recession and one of the main reasons is because I was able to unload some of our larger projects, keeping cash flow greased and debt loads minimal. To do that, as I kept doubling down in '05/'06/'07, we sometimes had to make some tough decisions - one reoccuring one was selling the home we were living in to go live in one that wasn't selling for some reason. The downside was the constant stress of moving - the upside was we have lived in the great houses the past 2 years, however briefly it may have been.

In the beginning, the Rock House in Cochecton, NY. 4 acres, 600 sq ft. One single big room on top of a big rock. This is where it all started, where the dream came alive, where Fridays evenings were spent going through 16" of accumulated bills (with no way to pay but to borrow more money) while listening to the Dead Hour (grateful dead) on WJFF, the hip local radio station powered by water in Jeffersonville. We had a snake in the house incident, a skunk in the house incident, a bat in the house incident, and a few times we had various animals come scurrying out when we drove up the driveway (which was only passable in the summer months). Probably the most memorable though was the time I lit a fire in the woodstove on a chilly September late afternoon, and failed somehow to notice Lisa was using the woodstove as a 'book display area', ran into Jeffersonville to get something and came home to fire engines and our neighbor Frank exiting the heavy smoked-filled house with 5 burning/smoldering coffee table books - best was he had thrown on Lisa's flowered oven mits to do the rescue. Worst was the fact that it was broadcast over the police/fire scanner that 1/2 the people in the area tune into for recreation - so every knew what happened - but hey, it's a small town area, so everyone always knows your bizness.

It was said this house was built by some Swiss pioneers in the late 1800's, changed hands a few times, was owned by a guy who drove buses in the city until the mid-1960's and then somehow was donated to the "I have a dream" foundation in NYC, and then I bought it, with a credit card, in November 2001. I developed Tusten Farms (Farm 1,2,3) outside Narrowsburg, Callicoon Farms (Old Farm, Farm 4, 5, 6) outside North Branch, and Crawford Farms (Farm 7, Barn 1, Modern 1) before we 'moved on up'. We were broke for most of that time because I had the very bad habit of reinvesting every penny I made back into the business, and leveraging that investment as far as it would stretch. We lived here for 5 years.

Then I found a pretty little farmhouse on 30 acres near Jeffersonville, on the backside of Bethel. Pretty much abandoned and left for dead, we spent a year fixing it up, adding on to it, shaping up the land and fixing up the barn - only reinforcing my notion that the 'fixer upper' is not for the faint of heart, tight of budget, or impatient.

Compounding matters in a negative fashion, I got into a huge fight with my neighbor (photographer mentioned and deleted previously) about the placement of his new playpen barn for his car collection - basically, the placement saved him money and damaged the value of my largest personal asset, my house. Really taking the cake in a kafkaesque fashion - it digressed into litigation and my bank's attorney (who I was trying to protect since I had a decent mortgage on the place) ended up defending my neighbor. That's when I really realized who had my back -no one - and it was up to me to watch out for what was in my best interest.

A very sweet couple with 2 children ended up buying the spread from me, and I'm sure they are enjoying it because it couldn't have been a better house and property - on a great quiet road not to far from everything.

The far front section of the house was original, and the rear taller section with the wraparound porch was the new section. We gutted it, did everything new, and it was really large and stylish living. It had a gigantic laundry/mudroom, big room with a fireplace/kitchen and dining room, 3 baths, and 5 bedrooms. We lived here for 6 months.

Then off to Chapin Estate, on the other side of Bethel, NY. As I have threaded before, Chapin Estate is a 2500 acre nature preserve (gated no less) with lots of big homes and fancy people. This house was nice - new, big, super low-key stylish, on 5 acres overlooking a big horse pasture where the sun set nightly. We lived here for 10 months.

Then, when we unloaded our Farmhouse at Chapin Estate to a real sweet young family, we had to act quick. Previously, when I would sell our homes out from underneath me and Lisa, I would 2-4 unsold houses to choose from - this time I had nothing. And since I was also running a part of my business out of my home office, I needed a shelter and I needed an office.

So I pulled a rabbit out of my hat and ended up renting an unsold adirondack special just down the road from us, still inside the gates of Chapin Estates. This big new house was all log, all the time and couldn't have been less Lisa and Me - but you know what, it was a nice house, quiet, secluded and perfect place to hang our hat while we finished up the old farmhouse we were renovating. We lived here for 6 months.

And today, we move to Eldred, NY - into a 1300 sq ft 140 yr old farmhouse that I have spent the last 4 months restoring. It couldn't have turned out better. And, rumor has it, we expect to stay for a while.

So, there you have it. A whirlwind tour of what we've been up to over the past 6 years - building 24 new farmhouses and cottages, restoring a bunch of antique structures, injecting $15m into this local upstate community and building a neat little business that hopefully is getting better everyday.