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Friday, January 30, 2009


Dean at Cottage 13 wrote us a nice email earlier this week --

"It's always great to come up and see the progress- I can't believe it's almost finished- it really is like my Mom said, like walking into a big hug."

Definitely more encouraging than being verbally assaulted by a pair of homeowners with some ill-conceived grievance or another at Town Hall.

With only 10 recorded real estate transactions in Sullivan County above $240k since the beginning of December, Catskill Farms is selling more than 40% homes successfully selling over the past two months. That's pretty amazing - 40% of the homes being sold are being sold by Catskill Farms and our incredibly talented team - from James who takes the heat for everything in the office, to Curtis who takes the heat for everything in the field, to Juan who more or less gets it done at the sites regardless of what it takes, to Deborah the gifted bookkeeper, to Anouk who helps me manage the myriad hurdles of any given day. And then there is me - more or less responsible for all the problems, victories, and failures experienced over the past 5 years, since we built our first new old house in Sullivan County. And there have been some real doozies - some real high victories like selling more homes by far than any other pretender over the past few years with just the advantage of an original good idea, a lot of risk-taking, and a lot of hard work to the extreme other end like over-leveraged parting of our dream homes.

So, since we have been up here we have been taking huge risks - I mean, who did I think I was to try and build some cool houses in the middle of nowhere while living in a little shack without dependable electric or heat, and stray wild animals running in and out unexpectedly and certainly uninvited? Debt up to our eyeballs but our eye on the ball, we pioneered the new old house idea in this region, we pioneered the idea that a country home did not have to be a wreck of a house wrapped in a romantic notion of the fixer upper. We pioneered the idea the the real estate MLS was not the only was to sell a home locally, and then we really opened her up by producing a small, affordable, 2 bedroom 1300 sq ft perfect cottage - against all the conventional wisdom that said 'you need 3 bedrooms', ' you need 2 1/2 baths' , 'you need a bonus room', and 'you definitely need a garage' - always ending with - 'if you ever want to sell these houses.'

50 houses later - 50 houses. In 4 years. In the middle of nowhere. With a deepening recession making it rough since late 2006. Sure, that's when the bad news started dominating the newspapers, way back in 2006 - it seems like it is bad now, but it's all relative and it was just as hairy in late '06 with the first headlines about stalling sales, that continued through 2007, and then just kept getting worse through 2008 - and through it all we kept finding customers (or they kept finding us), we kept getting the construction financing, our customers kept getting their financing, and we just kept getting it done.

We sold 13 homes over the past 10 months and while that may not seem like a lot, it's about 3x more per year then we had been selling - which once again stressed every aspect of the business - legal, engineering, architecture, construction, financing, etc...

Then we pioneered the mini-house - under 1100 - which is proving to be more than enough house for part-timers.

I'm not saying all this to be boastful or a braggart cause lord knows it takes a team to pull this off and I just happen to be captain. But we are selling houses successfully, at prices at the same level as last year, when all acros the country prices and demand are plummetting.

We did three things right - we understood a market opportunity, we successfully reached out and educated that market niche, and we worked like crazy to get the house built. And I guess there is one other thing not to be overlooked - we kept it real, - really real - original, unique, one of a kind. And that is rare in this day and age of the 'easy way' first.

And now to really show off our cojones, we have embarked on the construction of 3 new spec homes - a spec home being a home financed by the developer/builder without a buyer lined up. It's a testament to our credibility as a company that a bank would even lend us the money to do such a foolish thing - but doing foolish things against conventional wisdom has definitely paid the bills for us the past few years.

And then, before we even had a chance to keep the houses under wraps (they were supposed to be top secret) -Erin traveled up from NYC, selecting the first design of our new mid-century ranch series. Hands up cause Erin's in the House.

Introducing the Mid-Century Ranch - once we bring back the Ranch, we are going to attempt an even more challenging task, bringing Michelob back to the mainstream.

Here she is -

The Sketch -

The Reality-

5.7 acres, way up on a hill looking into the hills of PA, 1 mile from Barryville. 975 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, walkout basement, fireplace and big deck. The Ranch.

And Cottage 18, at 900 sq ft, also has 2 bedrooms, a stream, couple of porches and lots of other details that make life sweet.

The sketch -
The House, taken from sketched inspiration to real life house.
Selling for $225k.
And Cottage 21 - modeled after Cottage 8, which got so many rave reviews that we just had to do another iteration. This 1325 sq ft house overlooks a great pond, and will take a real arts and crafts approach to details and finishes.

And it overlooks a pond across the road. Selling for $340k.

And since we are talking about keeping it real and how originality is an important ingredient to our success, and originality can't really be faked - how about this piece of literary work from a local competitor builder? http://kenozalake.blogspot.com/ - started about 2 months ago by the group that has been unable to sell much at all over the past 4 years.

Now granted, this blog from Kenoza Lake Estates in Kenoza Lake NY, in the western end of Sullivan County, might have just accidently picked the exact same tones and design for his blog - but I'm afraid it's doubtful - and regrettably, it's not about the blog design, but actually about the value produced and being offered. Words, as they say, are cheap (which with everything I got to say, would still add up to a healthy piggy bank).