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Monday, August 31, 2009

Cottage 23 - Offered tendered, Offer accepted

Did that take 2 weeks? Congrats to the NYC architect and Broadway composer who are joining the Catskill Farms family.

My New Friend Jack

So like I have mentioned on several occasions, Saturdays are busy. We usually have a full construction team pounding away at something, a bunch of subcontractors are working away, and then to top it off, it’s our main day for customers to visit. So, two weeks ago I have appointments set - one at 10, one at 12, one at 2 and one at 4. So, I’m in and out of the office and some yahoo calls and wonders if he can ‘stop by’ and see some houses. Now, most times this would be out of the question, in fact, James and I would look at each condescendingly and ask rhetorically ‘what are they thinking’?

But I had a little time (15 minutes) and I liked the guy’s message energy so I called him back and said I had 15 minutes and that wasn’t a lot of time but I certainly could run him up the street to look at one of our homes. He shows up in a bad rental car, and we’re off right away to a house so he can see for himself whether this works for him - so he’s asking questions, quizzing me, I’m giving my off the cuff answers, and he really likes the work he sees and so we get back to the office and we have a few minutes to spare before the tell-tale sound of tires on a gravel drive.

Jack then gives up his game. He’s out scouting the area for the next season of a pretty big home show and he was just about ready to blow town (depressed at what he had seen over course of 2 days) when he came across our website, called up, visited and was quite impressed with moi (not sure if that‘s the correct spelling of moue, that damned French word). I showed him about everything - Cottage 17, Cottage 13, Cottage 14, Cottage 19, Cottage 22, Modern Retro Ranch, Cottage 18 - a true tour de force.

So that was pretty exciting, but we are busy, so it’s not that exciting, and since I always freeze up in front of cameras, I could definitely see negative results as well. Plus I’m sure all the hot TV talent would be trying to get in my pants and I’m a happily married guy and who, frankly, needs the aggravation? So Jack goes back to NYC, then to Nashville to meet with the network bigwigs. No, Jack’s great idea of profiling the construction of one of our new old homes won’t fly, but why don’t you work with the guy to find a great remodel project?

That’s where my good friend David Knudsen of Catskill Buyer’s Agency comes in - local real estate guru, real estate blogger of some renown, man with great knowledge of what’s for sale, where and when.

So Jack wants to see all the ugly ranch houses and similarly challenged pieces of architecture on great settings that Sullivan County has to offer. Dave pulls up a list of 25, he and I narrow that to 10 and we all roadtrip on Friday around the county to see some seriously distressed real estate.

Turns out, between Davids knowledge and Jack’s thoroughness, we found a great lake house remodel potentate that just might be coming to the big screen near you.

And you all can say you knew me when.

$10 bucks Cottage 23 gets an offer this week. You snoozo you loso.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cottage 23 -

This Cottage we started about 12 days ago, and the following snapshots demonstrate the controlled speed we drive everyday, including Saturdays, and some Sunday.

Foundation takes about 7 days.
Day 1 and 2 of the framing.
Day 3 and 4 of the framing.
Existing inspiration for the current Catskill Farms Cottage 23.
Day 5.

Another picture of Day 5 framing. Dean the framer will be done tomorrow, paving the way for the roofer, the electrician, the plumbers, the heating guys and the siding guys.

Keeping this pace will allow for a 3 to 4 month build time, getting someone into this cottage by Christmas.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cottage 17

The Painters hard at work on a HOT HOT day in Barryville, NY. Cottage 17 - one of 6 houses currently under construction - is moving full steam ahead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And We're Off - Cottage 23 Construction Commences

Cottage 23 is a new design that was inspired by a neat little 100 yr old house across the street from where I eat breakfast Sunday mornings in Damascus, PA. It's a very nice house and as I've mentioned before, we look at thousands of designs in order to find a couple that work for us. Over the last couple of years I have probably perused15000 designs in all shapes and forms in magazines, roadtrips, internet design sites - and we've come up with exactly 43 that work for us. We are discerning - Just like our customers. And that probably explains why we are kickin' it bigtime in this monstrous recession - I love saying 'kickin it bigtime in this monstrous recession' because I know it really burns a few readers up who have wished for our demise for many years. But we've out-Sun Tzu'ed 'em all, and are getting ready to shortly expand our reach even further to become the only game in Town - whoops, my mistake, we already are.

Back a 400 ft driveway, Cottage 23 sits privately surrounded by large pines and oaks, stone walls and a little stream. We cleared a little more than usual, giving it a wooded pastoral feel. Hidden, but not isolated. Pretty, but not showy. Modest, but not annoyingly self-deprecating.

Here's old Norm, the excavation master kicking more butt with his big machines. I mean, this guy really keeps us moving, working 7 days a week, to all hours. Lisa says 'he needs a girlfriend' but I like him single and focused.
We all ready got the foundation in - and the framers start on Thursday. So by the end of next week or so, we will have a house.

That is, a house for sale. And for those who follow our progress, it's a rear opportunity to jump to the head of the line. 2 bedrooms, bath and 1/2, vaulted kitchen ceiling, couple of porches, couple of acres, and for a couple of hundred g's, it can be yours.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our Lives in the Catskills

It's Saturday morning, another very nice day - 2 nice days in a row is quite a rarity this summer. This top picture is of Albert's house and barn, with the grass coming in and the driveway smoothed.
Not a very exciting picture for most people - but the signs of utility trucks on the road where we are building Cottage 17,19 and 22 means one thing for me - Electric (and subsequent celebration). Many things move slowly up here and with the exception of Catskill Farms, most dealings with vendors and the like can test the patience of most people. We have nearly completed 3 new homes before we had electric to the site - meaning lots of generators and generator maintenance, such as who is stopping at the gas EVERY morning to fill up the gas containers, which subcontractor will need power who won't come with a generator, and mostly, it's impossible to hop from job to job, since every time you relocate, -even for just a 5 minute project, you have to lug a 300 lb generator with you. Anyway, electric utility trucks are always a welcome sight to my eyes.Here's our offices - this large steel construction post and beam structure served for 20+ yrs as the Eldred School District bus repair terminal. We bought it in the spring of 2008 and have big plans for it - mostly, renovating it into chic shared office space for those professionals who are outgrowing their offices.
Here's a shout out to Lara - our incredibly skilled controller, as well as about 12 other jobs. Good employees consistently help us grow our business - and we spent 5 years looking for the right ones for the right jobs. And as I have mentioned, it took the economy to go off the rails to free up some of this labor that had secure jobs elsewhere. As I have also mentioned, we have benefited from the down economy in many ways - more access to construction and office labor, more service and better prices from our vendors, and pickier clients who choose us more and more when concerned about lasting value in this large purchase.
And James. What more needs to be said? Good help enables businesses to grow and James has qualified as good help from day one (besides that HF3 window order mistake). People ask me if I am capable of giving unqualifed praise, and the quick answer is definitely not. Sorry.
And here's Edwin's 2 sons in America, just repatriated from Honduras, right before the coup and all the political upheaval going on over there. The thing about business is, sure, you love your customers - but a business provides satisfaction as well from seeing employees and associates do better for themselves through the business - be it personally, financially or career-wise.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Deja Vu - Another Day, Another Closing

It was only 2 weeks ago that we brought sweet Cottage 21 home to roost, and now the much-sought after Barryville Cottage was passed on to new homeowners this morning. Congratulations Richard and Nancy - from the forests of Ecuadar to the Mountains of the Catskills.
One of my best country living stories involve these new owners - so we were tooling around inside the house, taking a look and creating punch list of things we agreed to do for them - we were in the basement, and something moved, and it looked like running water but it was really a small snake and while this would have ruined the deal for everyone else, Richard ran over and picked it up and started looking and tickling its belly, and then Nancy with as much enthusiasm rushed over to check it out. That was definitely a first - the snake closed the deal. Usually I use my handsome son Lucas (I know, I know - I can hear everyone now ' 'takes after his Dad') or back before she died, my old dog Bella was real good at closing deals.

Some customers have accused me of without fail having a cute deer family run across the lawn right at crucial deal making stages.

Real foggy this morning - making for some great shots. This house is circa 1925 - and it's really the type of house that inspires the entire business. Great country architecture - the fact that this house was in great shape, was a real bonus.

We added the stone, painted the walls, cleaned real good, redid the floors, replaced the countertop, added a lot of spray foam insulation in the attic and basement.
It's a simple house, but very functional. Cared for diligently by the previous owners, who owned the house for 27 years.

Upstairs, - more of the same - new paint, raised the ceilings, added our famous white painted planks on the ceilings.
A backsplash and tile countertop. New sink and faucet.
This bathroom renovation was done by the original folks who owned the home - while some of their designs around the house didn't turn out perfectly, they nailed the bathroom.

Picture of the pond - Richard is planning to invent a microbe.
And a picture from the rear of the property.
Simple house. Simple Catskill Farms Story - Buy a house - Live Happily Ever After.

Friday, August 7, 2009


The internet's an amazing place. We get 9000 visitors a month to our website and 100 day (3000 a month) to our blog. Of the website visitors, perhaps 75% of them are unique visitors, meaning visiting for the first time (in web parlance).

So - 6750 new people are finding out about Catskill Farms every month of every year (or 324,000 persons have discovered us since the website launch in 2003). It's no wonder we are able to make a sale every once in awhile.

For all of you frequent stopper-byers, thank you. And for those who are new to the concept that 'yes, you can buy a country house that works' and 'yes, you can buy a country house that gives pleasure not pain' - Welcome.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cottage 21 - Sold and Gone

Another Day - Another Closing. What more needs to be said?

Today we said goodbye to sweet lil' Cottage 21, the last of the 3 spec homes we started back in November 2008, at the absolute height of the panic and real estate decline. We sold Modern Cottage in May, Cottage 18 in June, and now Cottage 21 in August.

This house is sweet - with 2 beds, 2 full baths, open living room space, built out basement, security, audio, wide planks floors, wood burning fireplace, pond view and 6 private acres, I ask - what more could a family want?

This one took awhile to bring to a successful conclusion, but we can wait it out these days- even just a year ago, I would have flipped if a closing took this long, since we needed the cash.

The sleeping loft up above looks down onto the living room and fireplace.

Radiator, wide spindles, handhewn beams, galvanized metal sconce, exterior stained green cedar siding.

View of the pond across the street.

And the final profile pic on a morning before a storm.

A masterpiece, by all definitions - a house we are incredibly excited to have designed, built and sold for Norah and Jeffrey.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cottage 22 Rounding the Final Turn

A polite, respectful, considerate business owner would not sneak up on his right hand guy during a meeting with the future owners of Cottage 22 and snap a high res picture, but obviously, since I took this picture, I'm not that guy.

Here is Courtney and Bronson, standing in their future bedroom on a rare bright sunny day. Even this Sunday morning - dark, dreary and depressing. No rafting, no kayaking, no practicing my golf swing. Boooring. Read a good article in the New Yorker the other day. It was a backward looking analysis of how so many smart people got it all wrong over the past couple of years, and the gist of the story was about overconfidence, and how people come to be overconfident, and how studies show that this then leads to a belief that one can control events that they actually have no control over. Luckily, like I have mentioned earlier - we never suffered from overconfidence - I was always sure a business-ending disaster was just around the corner, even after 40 homes. What drove our success was 'fear' - we feared all the time. Feared our lack of cash, lack of labor resources, - feared our competitors, our enemies, and half the time our customers. This type of fear keeps one alert, careful, diligent. And it seems to have paid off.

I think Bronson's an attorney and Courtney works in public relations, and their dog just sort of doesn't contribute much and mooches off the breadwinners. This weekend's meeting was really just a review to make sure all the orders and decisions we received were interpreted and executed correctly, and off we march into the final 4 weeks of construction. The house is pretty well finished, and we are heading into the floor sanding, kitchen installation, tile phase.

About 1000 sq ft, 2 bedrooms, fireplace, wraparound porch, 1 1/2 baths, wide plank floors, handhewn beams, cable rail - all in about 12 weeks. From raw land to raw leisure.

Looking down the steps at the hand hewn beams.

Here's the downstairs, painted, with james in the background.

Chimney stone is compete, siding is complete, decks and porches are complete except for the railings.

Really cute little cottage with strong architectural lines.

And back to my house with Ruby lounging around in our dining area.

And my son, nephew and niece in our new tub in the addition we just finished.

Marcus, the guy on the left, and I were taking Lucas for a walk in the stroller last evening and made up a game called 'Runaway Baby' where we would very carefully let the stroller roll down the hill unheld by us (we were right there behind it, running with it). Let's just say that game won't be being played much in the future after a little accident that left Lucas with some small scratches, Marcus in tears, and me in big trouble.