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Thursday, December 17, 2009

6 Homes in Contract Going Into Winter

Well, here it is. The end of another year. Just so happens this year goes down in the record books as one of the worst macrolly as the modern world has ever seen and going down microlly (here at Catskill Farms) as just about as far surpassing our even wildest expectations as one could imagine.

It's hard to remember how crazy scary it was. Last year at this time people were taking cash out of the banks, checking to make sure their deposit accounts didn't exceed FDIC insurable limits, banks were closing, Wall Street was stumbling, and for the 5 homes we sold at the height of the panic (between last December and this past February), these people are celebrating their first year's anniversary of owning a country getaway at absurdly low interest rates that make their monthly upstate expense nut seem like child's play.

It was also at the this absolute bottom of mass fear and panic that we started 3 new specs homes (Cottage 18, 50's Ranch and Cottage 21). So, at the height of a real estate panic not seen in 80 years Catskill Farms had 5 homes well under construction and posed to sell, and another 3 set to break ground.

There is that old adage 'nothing risked nothing gained'. Well, we certainly risked it, and we certainly reaped a fair amount of gain over this past year of panic. We sold 12 unique homes last year into the teeth of the Great Recession - an underfunded little company with a good idea. That's twice the amount of sales from 2008. We doubled in size. I mean the TV guy Jack remarked on more than one occasion that "I might really not have any idea how extraordinary this achievement is". And he's flying around the country scouting builders and locations every day.

So - in sum - We came, we saw, we threw down and gambled, and we conquered.

Remarkably, we now have 6 homes under contract and under construction going into the winter - and here they are.

Cottage 24 was and is a spec home (one I'm building with the hopes someone will come along and buys it) when lo and behold someone came along and bought it. Now granted, the papers aren't signed just yet and tomorrow we have a site meeting, but it's a great house and the Jim and Mark are veteran house searchers - so I think this one is in the bag.

For those more active followers of the blog, these were the guys who started their bidding low, and I had to decline the offer but in the end we found a price that worked for us all (meaning, my asking price). No, seriously, I don't mean to be cocky but we really don't negotiate a whole lot. We have a long track record of sales, successful mortgages and the prices for each size home seem pretty right on for what we are offering and what else there is to choose from out there in the real estate wilderness.

This house is cool - we kind of did a barn cottage with timbers, reclaimed wood. In the fore front that's a chalkboard door.

Kind of not a funny story but I'll tell it anyway - so I'm at Cottage 24 Friday morning spreading the lights out in each room so the electrician can put them up. And I drove my little new Ford Ranger, 5 speed, that I bought for the estimating portion of the new insulation business I started. So, Cottage 24 sits high on a hill, that drains into what used to be Lucky Lake - and there aren't a ton of trees on the properties because the guy before cut a lot of them down. So I am spreading the lights around when I see my truck slowly starting to move down the hill - shock, disbelief - the next part is a blank in my memory, but I guess in a single stride I made my way outside, ran to the accelerating truck, tried to open the passenger door so I could hurdle inside but it was locked, let out a moan as the truck careened away from my down the hill and just as it was picking up 'no-return' speed it hit a 6" tree head on, stopping the truck about 80' from where it began. A little damage to the bumper but that's about it. Can't say I know what I did to deserve that type of bad luck - because frankly, living down the fact that my truck is at the bottom of lucky lake after careening down a mountainside would have been a little hard to live down, even for a guy like me. Well, Merry frickin' Christmas. An early present.

And so, back to business - here's Susan little abode that is just about done - we are painting and tiling. It doesn't take too much effort to back button back to when this house started - it was like 6 weeks ago or something crazy like that.

So, here's the proposition we offer our customers - sign up with us, we will build you a very unique home that you can help design, it will be on a great piece of land, construction will only take 3-4 months, I will pay for the entire house until it's complete, and then you can move in and live happily ever after with a builder who will do his best to iron out any perceived issues or deficiencies.
Not a bad proposition - when considering the alternatives.

And Tony and Laurie styling at the 50's Ranch ReDo - such a great house the first time around and not so bad the second either. A great space - a great unique, styling getaway. Actually, almost too cool for school, if you ask me. "Well, yes, we're going up state to our mid-century getway with 100 mile views." Well, excusssssse me. Latedah.

And Barn #2 for Richard, who deals in fine art insurance. This 1100 sq ft loft like open space with 1 bedroom and 2 baths was inspired by Albert's music studio that we build last winter. Richard found us after reading about us in the NY Post.

Above, with the roof - below, without, just a few days before.

It's cold now up here. I mean September, October and November and even some of December were mild and deceptive - even the beginning of December was warm and we threw the dice hoping to just need 'one more week' and bam - whether changed - a foot of snow, then rain, then ice, and now temps near 15 degrees for more than 10 days. Everyone cold, struggling to get that foundation in, get that foundation backfilled, get the septics in before the ground freezes. We are definitely in emergency mode with the plow trucks out, the heaters one, and minute by minute management of our sites. Last week our metal roof bundle set to be installed on Monday blew off the roof over the weekend during 60 mile per hour winds, the mason had two concrete trucks stuck up to their axles because one day the ground was hard, the next the 35 degree temps made them soft as the bum of the the biggest loser.

This time of year tests the mettle of a construction company's experience, without a doubt.

And here is Daniel's 800 sq ft Micro Cottage 3.

Sans roof, and roofed - sitting on 5 acres on Tuthill Road, near the edge of a gentle cliff. This is a lot of house and land for this little package and I love it.
And Farmhouse #12, loosely modeled after Farmhouse 6, with a much more shaker bent to it. This 2400 sq ft will house John, Wendy and their 3 children (2 currently baking). See, now there is no reason why I would say something like that except that I am a flawed individual.

John is a real student of the simple nature of architecture and he's pretty clear about the aesthical direction of the exterior, and we studied a lot of faccias, and soffits, and roof lines to make it all come together.

Below is the big foundation and big future basement - the 2400 sq ft home is sitting on 7+acres.

So, since it seems like Cottage 24 is going to be snapped up like the last christmas tree in town, we went ahead and started Cottage 25 - which is a 1300 sq ft new design I'm really diggin'.

So, before long, over on a road named Tuthill, that intersects with Hallock, where I bought 44 acres and a cottage at the depth of the panic, we have now built and finished and sold 3 homes, renovated and sold the cottage, and have 3 homes under contract that are under construction.

And the demographics play out like this = 2 gay couples, 2 single men, 1 couple pre-wedding, and family of 3 soon to be five, and Nancy and Richard the two veteran world traveler teacher naturalists. Now that's diversity. All appreciating good architecture, good value, good country air and a clean weekend break from the urban pressures

And this unique monstrosity - it was one of those builder's colonials that some genius thought was a good idea to build up here during the boom on spec - but between running out of money and host of other privations, it didn't work out and I kept driving by it and while it was ugly as is there are a lot of designs and inspirations we've had that we've had to have some vision and see behind the sagging porch, peeling paint, bad addition, grandma's tightie whities hanging out front - so the more I looked at it, the more I thought maybe it could work for us - add a fireplace there, add some wood clapboard, change out all the terrible doors, retrim, rewood, - the house was around 90% complete, we've torn out enough to take it back to 75% complete, and now we will add a bunch of Catskill Farms brushstrokes to bring it alive. In the end, it will be a bigger house at a pretty affordable price tag.

And my 5 -bay garage going up, little by little. It's been brutal for these guys - ever since they started it's been around 15 degrees, handling cold steel, sitting on cold steel, moving cold steel. They get there at 7 and work till dark. Definitely A for effort.

So, that's a lot of construction. And since our business model entails me paying for everything until the day of closing and turning the house over to the new owners - let's just say I got a lot of skin in the game, all the time. And a big thanks to Jeff Bank for financing my end of things and not being feint of heart at my monthly gambles and Ulster Savings for helping out a lot of our customers. These small banks are an interesting breed - my relationship with Jeff Bank something out of a small town Frank Capra movie (except for the time when I had no money and the bank's attorney decided to litigate against me while I was trying to protect a bank asset - too long and sordid and confounding of a story for this interminable post and possibly too revealing of the area for even this layered blog). Oh well, you got take it with a grain of salt or there is no surviving up here - and we are surviving just fine - sometimes wholly intact, sometimes partially, but we are still out there kicking ass and designing great affordable homes.

Amen and Hallelujah.


  1. Congratulations on a great year! We are looking forward to many enjoyable weekends in our crack'n mid-century ranch. Wishing you continued success...

  2. Not bad for a guy who keeps getting called an @$$#0!& by his detractors, huh? :)

  3. merry christmas to all - and nest dweller - 'one who calls me asshole' still regularly sends me notes of varying rudeness, so I hired an internet private eye to determine who it is and when I do, hopefully this person isn't a white collar worker doing this from an employers computer since I plan on outing the person nice and publicly within a few months and I would hate to see such indiscretion ruin a career. should be great for site traffic as well.

  4. Laurie and Tony - right back at you - it's been a great process and I'm sure you'll be kickin' it soon fireside at the new cottage. Floors and wall coverings start tomorrow. MErry Christmas.