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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From One Extreme to the Other - Highs and Lows

I mean, my life is exciting - sometimes in a bad way, many times in a good way, but one thing that is true is that everyday, 7 days a week, brings something my way unexpected - some glory, some defeat, some accolade, some defaming whisper, some back patting, some complaint.

Let me walk you through this weekend, for instance.

First I find out one of my customers who I thought was a friend is sending mass emails out complaining about Catskill Farms and it's quality, and an attempt to 'rally the troops' to 'see if the homeowners should do something." Now Hugh has been living in his house for 2 years, pretty much problem free. We had a punchlist we punched out, he had a wet basement incident we remedied immediately over a weekend, he didn't have any non-self instigated emergencies otherwise, so for a homebuilder, that's what you hope for. But here I am recipent of a forwarded email from someone on the list with really a negative overtone. The thing is, we would be happy to crack the whip on any subcontractor who failed to meet some basic quality criteria. I mean, putting myself in his shoes - if I was unhappy with my insurance rep because he sold me a policy that has $25,000 deductible if I let anyone on my jobsites without proper insurance verification - do I write an email to all his clients I know, or do I pick up the phone and talk it through with him? And even one step further - if he says he can't do anything about it, and I should've read the 100 page fine print policy, do I then write the mass email? Or do I show a little generousity and give the guy a break, and just work through it? I know what direction I follow every time I have a choice - and that's to give a guy a break. And I think that's why I have a dedicated team up here in the middle of nowhere - a team I have kept very busy when their friends are siting at home, losing their homes and cars, and are otherwise living a depressed existence.

So, what may I ask, is Hugh's problem? He spent zero dollars on maintenence for 2 years, just like I promised, and then has his boiler maintenenced and freaks out and writes a 'let's go get him' email. Like Lisa always says - 'Who are these people? They have these beautiful houses, don't really have any problems with the houses, and all they do is bitch and complain."

Do I really need to remind these 'haters' - that's our new name for them - that they own the only houses in America that haven't plummetted in value?

But these homeowners hire home inspectors who comb through the house before they buy it, everything works fine for 2 years and then they call a random heating guy who talks shit about the previous guy, just like every other tradesman talks shit about the carpenter/painter/tile guy/electrician, that came before them, etc... and all of a sudden we get ganged up on. This one heating guy even told one of my customers they were lucky the 'house didn't blow up'. Now come on, that's pretty extreme. Sad, and counter-productive. I don't think any of our 125 homeowners would ever say I won't at least discuss possible remedies to any issue.

It's weird - I built 18 homes on this 2 mile stretch of road, and on one end I have a small group of angry homeowners, and on the other I have happy homeowners - and in the end, the houses are the same, - same quality, same styles, same attempt at service - It's a real testament to the 'power of the mob' - both in a good direction or in a bad.

And then I have these other homeowners stopping by our house to invite us over for tennis and barbeque, another of martinis, another for a Memorial Day party, and a few others who make it possible to enter and show off their homes at any time to perspective homeowners. They bring us baby clothes, fresh vegetables, and brag us up to all their friend.

And then on the other hand, I get an email from a customer on Saturday saying their basement flooded, - a finished basement, so it's a big deal, with moisture and mold issues, let alone a holiday weekend and all that. So it's no fun, that's for sure. And it's a simple case of the contractor who was hired to do the work closed up the ceiling of the basement without allowing for heat to reach the water pipes now in the ceiling. Now, most times everything will be fine, but as a precaution any time we close up a basement ceiling we do a thorough examination for any pipes that may be vulnerable once they are enclosed in an unheated space. So, little do you know, against all my advice, this homeowner hired someone local to do the work who didn't do the precautionary checklist, and over the winter, the pipe closest to the exterior, the outside faucet, froze and broke, so when the homeowner turned on the hose to water the shrubs and didn't have any water pressure and stood there scratching their heads as 15 minutes of water was running in the finished basement. And then they call me to fix their problem or else my name is Mud, with a capital M.

And then on the other end we showed 3 couples our houses this past weekend, and I wouldn't be surprised if all 3 don't end up making offers or joining our waiting list. That means, conceivably, we might be doing 6 deals in the month of May. And to anyone involved in real estate, the adrenaline rush of making a deal, or possibly making a deal, is a real high. And I do realize we are still in a serious recession. Last year about this time in the pretty slow real estate world, we lined up 7 buyers who took us through February of this year. Now, with the economy even slower, and all the deals we started last year fully consumated, we are lining up another crew of future homeowners, hopefully endowed with the ability to enjoy this serious luxury of country living.

And then on the other hand I got this guy named Steve running around doing everything he can do to make us look bad - if you remember, this is the guy that hasn't had a job since I've known him (1.5yrs), tried to steal my carpenters everytime I sent them over to do him a favor, and then sits around scratching his head as to why I refuse to come close to his house - I mean, breaking up a guy's business and team, now that's pretty lowdown - and then, considering it's the guy who just built you a really nice house, with no delays, and zero cost overruns, - it's just out of the ballpark classless. This guy Steve Carr, who isn't even one of my homeowners (his wife owns the house), has been running around for 12 months poisoning the minds of anyone who will listen about Catskill Farms - and since he can't find a job, he has a lot of anger and time on his hands. AND SMART PEOPLE LISTEN TO HIM!! And now his neighbors (and the police) think he is vandalizing their plants and property. Great guy - real reliable source of information and has been doing everything he knows how to damage my business, - which affects my family, my employees and their families. So I guess it's time to stop ignoring it and taking the high road and turning the other cheek. Stay tuned to watch Catskill Farms push back - it's always a little Sugar Ray, a little Raging Bull, and, in the end, a big left like Tyson, keeps us standing and our adversary sucking wind on their backs.

And then, on the exciting front, and on the other hand, James K from the office is jamming up in Walton NY, with Peter Sorenen's gothic cottage on the hill. The house is framed up and ready to roof shortly.

And I just bought 44 acres and we just are putting in the footings for the new houses tomorrow morning.

And just went golfing this morning with my friend Eric, on a beautiful morning, with very little in terms of crowds.

Well, that's not even the extent of it, but you get the picture. Many thorns in my side, many trophies on my shelf. We've survived 5 years while doing our best, and I hope we can make it another five - since without question, we have enhanced the architectural heritage of Sullivan County real estate.

Oh, on another good note - we fought, and we fought, and we fought, and we fought, and we won - we elected a supervisor, who fired the insane assessor, and hired a normal person and the real estate taxes on every single property I own, or have sold in the town of Highland, has been lowered.

Tune in, As the World Turns, at the Catskill Farms - http://www.catskillfarms.com/

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