Sunday, November 30, 2008
Someone most have forgot to tell them that all the media and gov't were taking very short term trends and extrapulating them into the future, instead of wondering if this short-term adjustment to new economic realities is very basic human nature and caution.
This is a buyer's market - in everything. And I personally think it's a real breath of fresh air to be able to choose the best vendor, the best employee, the best deal, the best price - instead of how it was over the past few years - where you took what was available, whether it was a good value proposition or not.
For us, we were forced to hire yahoos far up on our in-house 'yahoo-scale', accept that they would steal time and material from us, accept that their work needed to be managed closely, accept that even though we provided a great working environment, paid our bills quickly and built neat homes - we had to accept all this would be lost on many of our vendors who usually couldn't see their ass from their elbow, let alone the forest from the trees. We had to accept the painful with the glorious in order to 'keep it moving'.
But now it's payback - for those vendors who treated us respectfully, we are probably the busiest building company in the region. For those who didn't, good luck out there - it's a rough and tumble world, to be sure.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I like the press as much as the next guy, but God, what I need most is freedom from the press, and their pronouncements, analysis, coverage of the latest exagerated event.
Like my friend said the other day - turn off the TV and don't read the paper, and most of us would be feeling absolutely zero effect from the 'end of the world'.
We didn't leverage 25x to buy hedged stock or real estate or any assorted (or sordid investment). A bigger impact probably is the decline in the price of gas and food - which was sucking real money from real pockets.
The fact that a lot banks made a lot of stupid loans is probably a lot less impactful that we are being led to believe.
Give me freedom from the press this weekend so I can enjoy the holiday.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"This has been an awesome time for us. Seriously. Thank you." (JD)
"Anyway...to put my 2 cents in: we LOVE our house and we really enjoy working with you both. We have no regrets and we just can't wait to see and to live in the final result :)" (DM)
"Hi... went up this weekend - everything looks fantastic! i can't get over how beautifully everything is coming together (not that i had any doubts). You have far exceeded my expectation (which is not an easy thing to do)." (GB)
Now that's what I am talking about. A little holiday love.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
And a quick shout out to all the customers who have provided Lucas with some very fine clothes and gifts - he's definitely the most stylish 4 wk old on Crawford Rd (granted, Crawford Road is only 2 miles long with about 20 homes on it - I built 17 of them).
Perfect Cottage 15 on a cold late November Morning.
The economy continues to spin wildly out of control and there is no better safety blanket than a good finanical history book. The mania of short term speculation replaced with the panic of overleveraged 'investors' is nothing new and is the basic ingredient of every business cycle since the modern banking system was invented a few hundred years ago. Cautionary lending criteria gives way to a slow loosening of standards, easy money fuels speculation, speculation and short term riches motivate others to try it and the frenzy circles and rises and pitches until it's over and banks become lame, overly cautious, afraid of their own shadow. It's the same old story, - it's incorrect for anyone to assert this is somehow different - it couldn't be more similar to every other boom and bust cycle over the past 100 yrs. One of the main differences this time is the presence of the 24 hour news cycle. On the computer, on the blackberry, on the news, in the papers, on the radio - constant update of the dire situation.
And what sells best - catastrophe and hysteria - that's about the oldest news there is.
Every mania/panic cycle is shrouded in 'this time is different', but for my generation this is the first real correction, so the optimism that propelled 'this time is different' in the tech boom and real estate boom is being tested in the other direction - meaning, 'this recession/correction is different, more severe, more dangerous' than the others.
I say baloney. Same cycle, different day. To compare it in any way to the great depression is malarky and nonsense, to put it lightly. The fact that no one knows their history makes all this hysteria possible. The correction in risk pricing - meaning, no one should forget that investing in tulips, real estate, or stocks is not without risk. Sure, people are definitely less wealthy as stocks and real estate correct, but who ever postulated that growing wealth was a straight upward trend, or even guaranteed at all. Like I said previously, the thought that 'every decision I make' is pure and unadulterated genius is being tested a bit, and for my generation, a little humility-building exercise is probably not the worse thing to happen to any of us. We all need to pass along the story of walking to school in 2 ft of snow, both ways uphill, to our children, in order to keep them grounded.
As I posted a few days back, we have a series of house closings (yes, these still occur, contrary to mass/mob opinion) coming up. 2 in december, 2 in january and one in february. The first one is scheduled for December 4. And I suggested that tuning into this blog may provide a counter-weight and micro-economic vantage missing from the broad brush strokes we are forced to listen to.
Cottage 15 at night. I live pretty close to the houses I am currently building (actually right next door) so I check on them usually twice a day. Is the heat on, any pipes leaking, are the doors shut, etc...? After 4 months of work, no one wants anything to happen to these finished homes, me first and foremost - and with 13 people going in and out each day, the list of possible disasters is numerous.For instance, Cottage 15 is first up to the plate. 1150 sq feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, fireplace, porches, living room, kitchen, dining room, full basement, 4 acres. Priced under $250k (before the tile upgrades - sorry Gayle). So, if you remember, Gayle came up last spring with her friend Jamie before we cleared any land or put in any roads and we stood there in the woods on a breezy day and Jamie said 'this sounds like the ocean' and Gayle said 'this is a no brainer' and within a week we signed a short one paragraph deal outline, she sent me $10k to 'hold her place in line' and now, here we are, 8 months later since we first met, and she is days away from owning her little country dream.
Her Kitchen. Who is going to tell me lots of meals, drinks, hor dorves and snacks aren't going to taste better coming out of this sweet little cooking area? Of course, since it's 3x bigger than what they got in NYC, that's just a bonus. Using small spaces intelligently is much more difficult than one would think. There is no room for error, and a lot of times the first inclination is to shrink the baths, shrink the bedrooms, eliminate a closet - which are suspect paths to be sure.
Living room, fireplace, wood plank ceilings, cool light.
I've got a lot of comments from people who got my back (very necessary in my business) and all were in agreement that I should remove the post a few weeks back with my mounting the harley davidson, highlighting the fact that I have gained some serious weight. A lot of freudian and creative approaches, such as saying the picture doesn't represent reality, it's distorted, the situation is not so dire. But I've left it up - and it has not only been an eye opener, but a motivational tool to do something about it - like being shamed in front of the community (the scarlett letter idea) forces an acknowledgement and then a constant reminder, not hidden away, of the job that needs to be done. So, with me weeks from outgrowing my 36's (I was 34's for 20 years), with the attempt to slip on some long johns under my jeans like last year a complete failure (unless I go to 38's, which ain't happening), I have begun each morning at 5:30am to do some exercise. I'm 3 weeks into it, and although the fruit has not been harvested as of yet, I am hopeful.
Speaking of fruit, who would've thought having an apple tree near the house was a bad thing. It's like living in a zoo - everyday a troupe of deer are brazenly hanging out, scaring us everytime we exit the house with their snorting and running off, and then you got the big assed racoons with their scary eyes, and best of all, the other night I took old Stormy out for a walk and 4 fucking bears (mom and 3 cubs) come scrambling down the tree and run off at a million miles an hour. Who would have thought that diseased old tree could have held 4 bears?
Saturday, November 15, 2008
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.
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.
Here is a broad frame picture that captures my new ride as well.
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.
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.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Here are some pics of the new insulation that we using in homes that ask for it. It's a foam-based system that ensures a better seal and air-penetration barrier than the traditional pink panther.
One of the arguments against the traditional 'batt' insulation is that it leaves too many weak points and air penetration opportunities - especially in these times of high energy costs, having a house that neither leaks or allows air in is a plus.
Kind of pricey too - about double the cost of traditional batt insulation. And when I saw how much was brushed into the dumpster I definitely sat the foreman down for a little chit chat.
There's a lot of pros and cons with all the new 'green' ways of building - most of the items don't add a lot of value, but a few do - orient the house to work passively with the sun, and use good construction techniques to minimize waste, air penetration and heat loss.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Here's what we saw on the way in the other day - a Hawk and her friend, the Bald Eagle.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
not that i really care, but it makes me realize what makes our homes so special - we are not lazy, and we rage against the 'easy way' and reinvent our design techniques and materials on every single house. nothing is harder than building a different house every time we build one - much easier to imitate ourselves, to repeat ourselves, to pretend we value the artistic achievement born from each collaboration from catskill farms and the individual owners. how much easier it would be to just order 2 of those faucets, one for this house, and then we could just go ahead and use the other one for the next house.
it's just comes down to respect - i respect the fact that uniqueness and originality, while arduous and not risk free - produces the product that has made us what we are, warts and all. it's a principle that is readily evident to anyone who knows our homes and efforts.
the hardwork associated with keeping it real obviously has value - since even in these difficult times, we are able to help families achieve their dream of living inside a piece of original art at a price tag that is astonishly affordable.