Catskills - Sullivan County - Ulster County Real Estate -- Catskill Farms Journal

Old School Real estate blog in the Catskills. Journeys, trial, tribulations, observations and projects of Catskill Farms Founder Chuck Petersheim. Since 2002, Catskill Farms has designed, built, and sold over 250 homes in the Hills, investing over $100m and introducing thousands to the areas we serve. Farms, Barns, Moderns, Cottages and Minis - a design portfolio which has something for everyone.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Rain, Writing, Management and Health

Another week of rain.  Sure, we had a sunny day, then an overcast day without downpour, but for the most part, that last 5 days have been raining. It has been raining since September of 2023 - not hyperbolic raining - but real life raining 4-5 days a week.  Hard rain, torrential downpours, heavy rain, then even heavier rain.   It’s depressing, it takes all the fun out of construction entirely.  People can’t do their jobs right, materials suffer, everyday is a strategic plan of how move forward with wet, saturated ground you can’t drive on.  But more than that, it’s just well past getting old.  To make up for it, we literally need a month of sunshine.  And I’m going to keep complaining about it till it changes, since I grinned and beared it for too long now.

Interesting aside, as I was wondering if ‘grin and bear’ or ‘grin and bare’ I did a quick search and came up with this timely and appropriate result - 

Where does grin and bear it come from?

“Hickey used the phrase is his Memoirs from 1775: I recommend you to grin and bear it (an expression used by sailors after a long continuance of bad weather).”  So, killed two birds with one stone: verifying ‘bear’ was used correctly, and inadvertently using a phrase first attributed to someone complaining about the weather.

The good thing about writing, as with any muscle flex, is that you get better at it - in this regard, I find myself able to retrieve the word I’m looking forward with more ease, describe a situation with a bit more precision, be patient in the craft of a sentence.  This gets easier, just as running that first mile, reaching that deeper stretch, displaying emotional intelligence.

With the team back in place for the moment, I’m able to let go a little of the 7 additional jobs I was performing in the first quarter of 2024.  As I mentioned, I wanted and needed a stable start to 2024, was all set to have it, and then literally was served everything but.  Luckily, the profit incentive of keeping things on track superseded the stressful drudgery of ordering people around and actively seeking out and solving job site and office problems.

So with the space and freedom of time, I quickly pivoted and began planning my new modular pool company and planned an 8 day trip to the French Riviera with my 26 year old traveling wingman nephew.

Even with the weather, we push ahead at breakneck speed, with oversight offered at every stage by the tradesmen themselves, my project manager, me and oftentimes the client as well.  It’s redundant and effective.

Just finished my biannual - every other year, soup to nuts, inside and out, physical on the 70th Floor of the Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan at the Princeton Longevity Center (PLC).  I’ve been staying a lot downtown, way downtown, like Battery Park/Southport Seaport area for half a year now and I like it a lot down there.

PLC offers these ‘executive physicals’ that scan you, evaluate you, measure you, test you, in every subjective and objective, every surface and subsurface test known, to use a comprehensive approach to preventative care.  With an approach like this, the odds of something sneaking up on you - plaque buildup in important arteries that lead to a widow-making out-of-nowhere heart attack, cancers, diabetes, colon cancer and dozens of other identifiable creeping issues.  At 54, I’m in extremely good health and I guess a lot of it is the effort I make in that regards, but let’s be honest, a fair portion of it is genetics and genes and nature, not nurture.  But whatever the cause, I checked out again pretty well, and all the stress of the last 16 months hasn’t (damn, can’t think of the word I need) hasn’t (damn Im so close to getting it) exhibited itself with any measurable physical impacts such as drug/alcohol overuse, weight gain, raised blood pressure, or other common maladies that go with high stress loads.  Harder to directly measure mental health, fortunately, since I’d hate to see that graph as of late.

So, off to fight another day or two.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Piloting the plane

That landing on the sale of the last two homes was definitely harder than it needed to be - I just watched Aviator again, DiCaprio starring as Howard Hughes (and the creepy mother scene) - so the hard landings in that movie are pretty apt to the sale of Farm 74 and Barn 54 last week in Olivebridge.  Not the hardest for the passenger (buyers) but for the pilot (me), jeez, wow, just when you thought you could get out, the house pulls you back in with a bunch of last minute needs.

And I was pretty beat up to begin with, and the lift here in Olivebridge has been a bit brutal, needing my constant intervention, guidance and instruction.  I guess what is true is that is could be less of an ordeal if I’d slow the whole production machine down a bit, but I’m just wired to keep it going - and any new factor of production that enables us to be better, well, we don’t just do better at the same speed, we do better at a new faster speed.

I mean, just in the last 6-8 weeks, we put in 6 foundations, with the framer right up our ass ready to go, with the windows being ordered 8 weeks prior and ready to install when the last nail was hit, the roofer right behind, and siding being trucked in right after.   I mean, we are moving.

Which makes me realize how even after 20 years, I never shirk my duty of being where I need to be, when I need to be there.  I might not want to drive 1.5 hrs on a Saturday, or Sunday, or a Monday at 6 am, or to Narrowsburg at the end of the day and foundation mason is forming his walls, but if there is a piece of oversight to be done, a problem learned before that I don’t want repeated, a quick personal eye on something before it’s too late to be undone, I’m there - regardless of the convenience or timing, regardless of my energy or enthusiasm, I never shirk that duty to my client, and even if it’s a spec home, I never shirk the duty of putting out the best homes we can.

I think I was deceiving myself thinking that all the balls in the air and the prolonged ROI on the Ashokan project was not causing some serious stress, and all the related and unrelated issues - some expected, some unexpected, some par for the course, some completely out of left field, some about people, others about process - just a lot.

So I piloted two new homes to a successful landing, and we have 1 a month predicted for the rest of the year.  That's serious cha ching.

I’ve been fighting a case of the blues for months now, and it’s pretty understandable- 1, it’s rained everyday, literally, since September.  That’s hard on the mood but it makes my job nearly impossible.  It also adds a lot of new managerial tasks, none fun and none easy, like patrolling muddy shoes, and taking mud into consideration any time you have anyone enter a home, since you know they won’t.  Plus, I’m not the first one to say that sun is important to general well-being.   We’ve had periods of rain over the last 23 years that have caused me to have to navigate it, and change my plans daily, but this is the first time that no matter how I rearrange the sequencing, the time arrived where we just couldn’t move forward and actually got delayed.  Now that’s a big deal when you don’t get paid at all on 90% of your projects until you can turn over a completely finished home.  It’s just hard to get up and hear the prattle of the hard rain on my home’s metal roof and soldier on another day.  It's hard to drive 3 hr a day in the rain. Visit jobs in the rain. Can't get pictures, etc... And we are talking rain, and then intermixed in the rain are periods where the downpours are insane.  If this is climate change, this will be no fun indeed.

Ever since Amanda left - you remember Amanda, the most talented hardworking woman in Hudson Valley who Corby Baumann dismissed as an administrative assistant of sorts in her deposition after Amanda worked on her behalf for 6 months (a standard practice of Baumann it appears to diminish the efforts of those who work on her behalf), who left the company February of 2023 - it’s been a rebuilding effort, and that effort was hard.  There is no other way to say it.  It’s not been straight-forward, it has not been linear.  It’s taken a ton of my time and energy.    We are building faster and better than ever before but it’s been hard, and more than hard, it’s been a rotating cast of professionals, meaning the need for fingers to be in every pot is unending.  Without exaggeration, I lost a year of my life, just out of the blue, gone, keeping the plane in the air.

Another subtle drag is the damn rotator cuff surgery recovery.  That’s 7 months and counting now.  With baseball season (men’s league, 45+, can’t pitch unless your 48+) starts today and for the first time since last July I was throwing a ball.  But the 7 months of rehab was pretty rough, largely unexpected, a full-time job filled with of PT, fear, and pain.  I ran this company when I was supposed to be on a couch.  The process was such a bear that you can forget or downplay the reason you did it in the first place since that lack of mobility in some movements seems like a small price to pay in lieu of having your life turned upside down for 7 months as you work your way through the recovery.  But here I am, spring of 2024, throwing a baseball.  It’s not the most accurate throw since the whole shoulder is restrung now and is still a bit tight, but no pain, and a lot of strength.

Then there’s the whole idea I’ve been doing this gig now for 23 years, and it can seem a bit a like a hamster wheel process, where the gigantic achievement of building a good looking home at a fair value in a respectable timeframe is mostly lost as we just cue up another where the groundhog day of predictable hurdles pop up like a whack a mole game right on cue (interestingly, I used ‘cue’ twice there, I’m wondering if both are correct, but it’s early and I don’t care enough to figure it out, since it seems right.)

And then there's the knowledge of knowing you just aren't getting to half the things you need to - that you are stuck in operations, when marketing and strategy and planning are needed now, and since most results of that planning takes months if not a year +, everyday it's not done, is a day where someone's job may be at risk since if you can't keep the work in front of the men, then there is little use for all the help- and we have a ton of seasoned professionals working on our behalf right now, so that would be a depressing day indeed to not be able to utilize their skills to the fullest.

It’s sunny today.  That’s 2 days in a row.  And literally, that’s cause for celebration for a host of reasons. Maybe I'll even be able to get some photos tomorrow.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Barn 54 Sold, & Pictures

This home has slowly evolved since its coming-out, back in 2008 or so - this version, with a large primary suite on the first floor with walk in closet and lux bath, comes in at around 2300 sq ft, and the finished ground floor comes in at another 1000 sq ft. 4 bedrooms, an office 3 full baths, 2 half baths and a large screened porch. Vaulted ceiings and a dedicated mudroom. It's a nice house. This exact model was first built in Sheldon Hill Road, Olivebridge I believe, then in Woodstock, then Kerhonkson, then North Branch, then the project that went awry in Saugerties and now a show-stopper in Olivebridge, another version going up in Olivebridge, and a version going up in Narrowsburg.

My question is how many times will I build this home before the Defendants (they wanted the same version) get their home built once -you remember the one, the one where I was called 'unprofessional' and 'purposely sabotaging their homesite' after we just finished their foundation. I think this in track or motor sports is called 'lapping' your competitor, and if this is the best Dan Dwyer Contracting can do (taking 15 months to insulate a home when I had already got the foundation in), it's weird that he gets the business he does - hard to explain how word doesn't get around.

But it's not that hard to understand - from my vantage, some people would rather have a wet dog noodling around that doesn't bark back then someone who is actually serious about what they do. And we are serious indeed.

So this home turned out nice. And was built in about 10 months - but at the same time, we weren't just building this home, we were putting in the infrastructure of the entire project - 1/4 mile long road, 1/4 mile long underground electric, and a host of other necessary projects.

It's just such a beautiful home -

I was under some pressure on this one for sure because one of the buyers owns Tetta's General Store just up the road, so a person that has a ton of contact with a ton of people. Definitely better not to have this project goes sideways off the rails, but at the same time, holding firm to our process and the discipline I find is important to pull something like this off. We literally finished on a timeline as predicted - a rarity indeed, especially since a lot of that schedule was over the unpredictable winter months.

Love this kitchen. Expect me to mimic it shortly in another home.

This closed on Friday and that night I got some pictures of the closing night party. Rewarding for sure.

Terrific basement space - this picture captures less than half of it.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Ashokan Acres - 2 Sales.

I think it's hard to overstate how much work I've put into the 9 lot subdivision in Olivebridge New York. I don't subdivide much, mostly because it's a risky endeavor, high cost endeavor, extremely taxing on the cash flow endeavor, indeterminate outcome endeavor. So when you buy 70 acres in a small town in Ulster County, and navigate through the myriad of tasks necessary to come out the other side with some sort of profit aspiration, you've actually done something of note. Unlike some people who are literally 18 months into building one home and are barely 35% finished, not mentioning any names.

The work was hard. First a year in the planning board - and some of that was my fault since my engineering team changed 3 times during the process before I found a team that was actually going to meet the rigorous demands of the planning board. And they were rigorous, had sought and hired an outside engineering team from Albany to take the town lead, and they pretended we were in some hyper high-density area and really demanded one of the most detailed and revised plans one could ask for. The upside to that/this process is I learned a ton but more than that, if I wanted to do it again, I have the team in place I could leverage in a much more fluid and lower-stress process.

But here we are, two years of laying out cash (and amazingly, it was cash not debt, which would have been a scary ride indeed) and solving every imaginable problem - and not just solving every imaginable problem, but knowing the market well enough to design something that would be attractive to the buyers in the market. It was a challenging piece of land, and challenging brings, obviously, challenges, but also opportunities, with every topo change, rock formation, stone wall creating a chance to do something neat and well-thought out. All over the Catskills are examples of projects that haven't met the expectations the 'sponsor', ie developer, with sales and prospects much thinner and slower than ever expected. I go into these projects with that expectation - that things are going to be hard - and then we work it out from there.

Friday night at 5:30

But two years of investment and problem solving and spending is a long time. Bringing nine new building lots into an area 1, starved for them, 2, is one of the strongest markets literally in the country, 3, I had been locked out of for 18 months because land prices had risen so fast and so high - bringing these lots to market was a career-defining move. And now, 2 years later, I get to begin monetizing my efforts, and it should be rewarding.

It's rewarding because I know I'm changing people's lives - our homes always do, over and over for 23 years. They work, they have value, they feel good to the soul and pocketbook. The process is reasonable, and importantly, not interminable. It's rewarding because I set out to do something, and mobilized and motivated a diverse team to get it done. It's rewarding because I'm going to make a lot of money, which is fair since I did a lot of work and took on a ton of risk, and dialed in a game plan that accurately forecasted what the market would support - and make no mistake, the only people who think designing, building and selling homes is a no-brainer and sure thing are those people who don't do it, or quickly realize they shouldn't have done it.

And of course, unlike a lot of people who get involved in these things and it's their main focus, we had a lot of other stuff going on - like say, building another dozen homes through the Catskills, managing a large single family home rental portfolio, navigating a gigantic shift in my office infrastructure, managing absurd wet weather that is literally zapping all the fun out of what we do - it's literally been raining since September, and before that it rained like 14 weekends in a row. And of note, for the most part, most of these I'm selling myself, without the 'help' of a realtor, which is another pretty serious lift.

Then you have family stuff, life stuff, dog stuff, house stuff, and personal stuff - you have employee stuff, insurance stuff, warranty stuff, surprise stuff, client stuff, - and you are just coming out of the pandemic that left everyone bruised and battered and acting un-naturally - and you look back and just say 'wow, that was something.' I lead a whole group of people - employees, subs, clients, etc..., a whole group of people with families and goals and problems and wins and losses - I lead a whole group of people, honestly, with integrity, with a transparent commitment to hard work and producing a good product, - I lead them through and impacted each one of their lives.

I guess to achieve goals like that - where you literally are materially impacting the direction of people's lives - you can't expect that to be easy. And it's not easy. And hopefully, someday, when I'm out of the trenches, I look back on the people and events that made up this journey with true affection, since I can't believe you can live a much more day to day life of unpredictable swings of wins and losses than I have, and do.

So Today we close on a house. And of course it wasn't easy or a soft landing for us - it was so for the clients because I solve problem after problem, but is there any reason the heating system has a problem (fixed) the weekend before, any reason it has to rain every day, any reason that the closing documents didn't arrive on buyer's desk so this morning I'm running around signing new ones and having an employee drive it down for a 4 hour round trip so we can keep the clients on track, and reason why my air mattress had to slowly deflate every 1.5 hours? No, there is no reason any of this needs to be happening, and then we go back to a post a few weeks ago, where always having some gas in the tank is a good idea, that endurance - that ability to solve one more problem, leap one more hurdle, confront, navigate and resolve one more head scratching high stress time is of the essence issue- that ability, across every aspect of what we do, is critical to keep it moving - and if it ain't moving, then it's losing, and lose too much and you really aren't around very long.

And then Tomorrow we close on a house.

And then every 6 weeks for the rest of the year we will close on a house across 3 counties of the Catskills.

And that's just the way we do it. We don't stop. We don't fail. 23 years and 300 homes later, the impact of me getting up every morning and going to work - regardless of the optimism or pessimism - has had a serious and real impact on a lot of people's lives, including my own.

My baseball coach, back in Lancaster PA, in the 80's - and we were really good, and we practiced and played a lot - long before travel leagues and year round commitments - he was one of those types of coaches you could never get away with being today - and he told me something that has been proved true over and over - he said, because we were from Lancaster, where a hard and honest work ethic was modeled everywhere you looked - where Republican presidential campaigns (before the party took a turn for the weird), where they'd always stop to tout the American spirit and ethos of small business and hard work - he said, 'dont forget you are always going to have an advantage, because you know how to work harder than most people.".  And that was before I had ever had a job - he was just aware of what being surrounded by people who get up and work, and treat each other fairly and squarely, of operating from both a position of hard work and integrity, is a long term competitive advantage that is hard to beat.

And at least in my case, he was right on the money with that .

Charles Petersheim, Catskill Farms (Catskill Home Builder)
At Farmhouse 35
A Tour of 28 Dawson Lane
Rock & Roll
The Transaction
The Process
Under the Hood
Big Barn
Columbia County Home
Catskill Farms History
New Homes in the Olivebridge Area
Mid Century Ranch Series
Chuck waxes poetic...
Catskill Farms Barn Series
Catskill Farms Cottage Series
Catskill Farms Farmhouse Series
Interviews at the Farm ft. Gary
Interviews at the Farm ft. Amanda
Biceps & Building
Catskill Farms Greatest Hits
Construction Photos
Planned It
Black 'n White
Home Accents at Catskill Farms, Part 2
Home Accents at Catskill Farms, Part 1