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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Micro-Cottage 2 -SOLD

We have been largely spared from the biggest storms but we are still seeing weekly interruptions of our best laid plans. Snow, ice, extreme cold - we haven't had a week without a snow/ice dilemma in weeks. Got so bad last this week, with my book-keeper stuck in her house in the woods 1/2 deep on a non-public road, I ventured in Quickbooks to send out a few bills I wanted to get paid. That's where the trouble started, with me obviously selecting the wrong task - and ended up emailing out about 50 already paid, or erroneously billed, invoices.

So, all day long I've been fending off with varying degrees of successful humor why our customers are receiving all these bills.

Sitting at home with Lucas and Lisa eating pancakes at nearly 9am. I don't do it often, but with the rainy ice they were calling for, I figured we would just sit this one out. We can make up the time in the field on Saturday. Fortunately, it's really dumping some sort of icy precipitation out there, so I'm not spending the morning 2nd guessing my decisions to keep 22 people at home.

We had another closing last week and this one was our last for January. It's actually our last until Farm 15 or Cottage 34 closes in March/April. We are loading up on land in expectation of a big year, but no new sales closings until March. We actually have 3 homes that are signed up for to start in April, which will nearly get us to our entire sales aspirations for 2011, and it's only the 2nd of February.

Micro Cottage 2 is cool, for sure. That's the one I sold while riding around with Lucas back in November or so. Jeff and Sarah took one look at this 723 sq ft 1 bedroom beauty on 7+ acres and were sold, sold, sold. And now it's all theirs. One of the good strategic moves I made over the years was to offer a lot of different sizes of small homes. We got our Shack at 500 sq ft, our Micros at 700+ sq ft, our Mini's at 960 sq ft, our Cottages at 1300 and our farmhouses at 1500 on up. What it enabled us to do was pretty much capture anyone who wanted to build/buy with us - no one walked away because our homes didn't fit their budget or space desires.

This house has what is called Adirondack siding, which is like a rough-cut, irregular beveled siding. Very rustic. Then we stained it a woodsy color, built a covered porch in the front and deck in the back, curved a driveway in, and wallah, sold it quickly.

Like many of our homes, we started this one without a buyer - a spec house in industry parlance. We are one of the few companies that still build spec homes anywhere, mostly because banks don't want to hear the word - a risky, speculative, losing proposition for sure. Our bank, Jeff Bank, has stayed lock-step with us and kept our engine running. Granted, we are a great borrower who has always paid our debts on time, even when we didn't have the money, and at this point a pretty proven track record of understanding regional real estate trends - and in the end, I'm pretty conservative for being in a very touch & go business. But still, there are plenty of examples of credit-worthy builders having the rug pulled out from under them by their banks, many of whom had long and personal relationships with said bank.

We started our relationship with Jeff Bank back in 2003, with our very first home, Farm 1. Andy McKean gave us $100,000 when I needed $300k, but I got the rest from credit cards, paid the bank back monthly, and paid the rest off when sold the house a year later. For the first few years, I paid my bills with credit cards half the time, creating a very short-term business financing strategy, but established good relationships along the way, as well as a real understanding of how to stretch a dollar. I would guess the amount I borrow from Jeff Bank these days makes us one of their largest borrowers, and the fact that we never have some lame excuse for why we can't pay our bills, keeps us well-financed and forward looking.

Like our customers, we are very credit-worthy. Which is partially why I think we were able to continue to sell homes as this economy deteriorated - since I pay for the house during construction, I want to see qualified customers who will get financed in the end. Not maybe, not possibly, but definitely. So when the credit markets tightened and credit got tough to get, we were already demanding non-creative financing - you need 20% down, you need money left over and you need great credit. Then we can talk. Only once did we alter this principle, and only once did we nearly get left with a broken deal.

Same goes for Jeff Bank - their lending criteria did not really change a whole lot during the boom, probably causing it to lose some market share to larger more aggressive institutions. But those banks are now gone, and I'm sure whatever market share they lost, has been more than recouped. The ole tortoise and hair story, fer sure.

Stained porch ceiling, big rough handrail system.

...with a great big rail ledge for cocktails and snacks.
The thing about 700 sq ft, is that it is not that small. The main living room, which blends into the kitchen and dining room is big enough for most any use. You got the fireplace/tv area, the dining area, and the kitchen area. The big secret about selling small homes is that the rooms can't be small or undersized.

We used a white washed plank ceiling, sheetrock walls, and a stained wide plank floor.

Below, from the dining room, looking southwest through the house.

A birch plywood countertop sealed with epoxy, cabinets, open shelves, a window, apron farm sink, island and stainless steel appliances.

It's a lot of usable kitchen for the space.

The bedroom is all windows. Like I said I typically break out the bear costume, -or maybe the sasquatch or Halloween guy - and make large grunting noises in the moon's shadows on our customers first night in the country. Instead of wine or something boring, we just sneak up late night and scare the bejesus out of them. It's a real relationship builder, both for the new homeowners, and for our client/builder relationship.

Even small homes get big-ass wood burning fireplaces.

3 panel door.

Simple straightforward iron hardware.

A barn light sconce.

An Ikea hanging vanity.

An interior closet wrapped in exterior siding.

And a 6 light, 2 panel front door.

Well, there you have it. A Snowday Blog.


  1. These homes would look great on a piece of woods in the Southwest Florida prairie. I have an original cracker style bungalow made out of two old bunkhouses connected with a living/dining/kitchen space and even though I live where the blacktop ends, people constantly drive through to see my little piece of paradise. The wiring is all updated and I added a barn for storage and a cute prefab cottage for the washhouse connected by a wooden walkway to the outside door in the master bedroom closet. I love your work.

  2. From one micro-owner to another... Looking good! Congrats, Jeff and Sarah, and welcome to the 'hood. -Daniel

  3. I love the siding on this micro cottage. It gives it a warm rustic touch. Also like the stone on the fireplace, the open floor plan and the bathroom vanity. When I hit the lottery I'll be having Chuck build one of these for me (or maybe one of those retro modern ones...so hard to decide). Keep up the good work Catskill Farms!