Big Sky Montana, and another home sold
In Big Sky Montana, for our yearly (last 3 years) trip to Big Sky via Bozeman. Tip - if you decide to map out Long Term Parking at Newark, don’t search for the business Long Term Parking, since you can trust me when I tell you, it’s not the official ‘economy parking’ lot - it’s actually another business altogether not that close to the airport, in a pretty sketch part of Newark. You actually want to search for ‘economy parking lot’ at Newark.
So 5:30am in dark, we end up god knows where as we arrive at Long Term Parking, a little late for my comfort for our 7:15 flight out of Terminal A and realize this isn’t where we want to be. I’ve been to Newark dozens of times, so I had a good idea of the error, and the early identification and pivot saved us, though left us parking at the new parking garage at Terminal A so we will see what the damage is when we get back. Won’t be pretty. Probably a mortgage payment, if I had a mortgage payment.
Big Sky is a little less than an hour outside of Bozeman, a pretty drive. Lone Peak, the 11,000 ft mountain, is a grand mountain that is skiable on 3 sides and literally has something for everyone’s ability. Snowed today, really snowing tonight, so it’s a bit of a winter wonderland, fresh powder experience, and even though we are expert skiers we are good enough to appreciate some fresh powder.
It’s fun having Lucas along - missing 3 days of school and approaching truancy because I keep taking him out for these little trips. ‘That will go down on your permanant record’ - I think that’s a Pink Floyd song. Actually now thinking about it, it’s the Violent Femmes.
On the homes front, we sold a Big Ranch on 10 acres with woods, pasture and a stream running through it. Named West Fields, it was a collaboration between Amanda and me and it was one of the those ranches we don't build that often but has a lot going for it, including a primary suite on the 2nd floor of the home.
And a picture worth a thousand words of our efforts up in North Branch.
Part-time Revit Draftsperson
Catskill Farms is seeking a part-time draftsperson with expertise in Revit. A lot of the tasks are simple and quick like changing out project title blocks. Others involve switching out one set of windows for another. Other projects include altering floorplans (non-structural). Just a lot of pretty straight-forward tasks editing and manipulating our dozens of original designs. We are advertising locally for the position since I think there is some benefit to coming into the office on occasion as opposed to being 100% remote. Text Chuck at 917-838-5342.
Ranch 58 sells and other thoughts
The last thing I want to do is compare my life or events in my life to a country song, but if the proverbial shoe fits, what can you do. The song I’m thinking of “Lucille”, song by that country great Kenny Rogers.
“"You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I've had some bad times, lived through some sad times
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille"
Of course, growing up, when you had to hope and pray for the song to play on the radio, with no replay or Spotify or googling the lyrics, I always wondered about the ‘400 children’ line, but I was young.
But what I’m speaking of is when our lead home designer and client consigliere left, we had a lot going on, I mean a lot. We had 5 houses that were more than 90% done (and another 2 more than 75% done), which may seem like ‘oh you’re in the homestretch’ but oh contraire (sorry for all the fancy foreign words and phrases) when a job is 90% done there is a lot to do, and all the information from the whole project is knowledge that person took with them, so picking up the pieces (as well as the primary client relationship and trust) and figuring out what was going on was a heavy lift. It wasn’t like the transition was a smooth textbook baton handoff - this was a serious fire drill of details, deliveries, returns, certificates of occupancy, paperwork, client meetings. And we got it done.
With the sale and closing of another house, Ranch 58, at the Crest, we proved it, and then with Ranch 59 and 55 coming up next week and the next, we are set to prove it again. 2 custom builds, Barn 49 in Stone Ridge and Barn 48 at the Crest, are well around the final stretch and are a length or two from the finish line. A serious effort from the whole team, new members and existing members, stepping up and taking care of business.
I really got to flex as a manager - in the style of Billy Martin, Dusty Baker or Joe Torre - changing up the lineup, bringing in pitch hitters and relief pitchers, trading and maxing the salary cap. I’m good at what I do, better than ever, best I’ve ever been, which makes sense, you hope not to get ‘worse’, but at the same time skills and muscles atrophy, and my lane for the last several years was very important, very engaged but different than this rescue required.
Looking back to Jan 15 or whenever it was that I got notice of change, my business could have suffered a mortal wound it was that serious. But then as I have done over and over for 20 years, I stepped up, correctly identified the issues, rated them by seriousness and priority, broke them down into micro - texts, and began to execute, leading from the front.
My old friend, the 13 hour a day is back, 7 days a week (weekends less than 13 hrs but definitely working). I know this friend well, having begun to cultivate the relationship back in 2002 with the start of the business journey. It really ebbed in 2018-early 2020, with a good team and manageable workload, and I was taking Monday Mental Health Days and Friday’s off But then the pandemic hit and that changed. And then the pandemic ebbed, and just about when I was ready to take a break, this hit.
But that’s the story of small business - at least one run with an entrepreneurial streak - if you push, something is always going to stress and break. The only way to avoid that is to stop getting better, stop pushing people to get better, and frankly, that ain’t me babe.
It’s weird to be able to build 4 spec homes (homes without buyers lined up) and have those homes not sell right away, and be able to sleep at night; it just wasn’t a big deal, in fact it was desired (loving to flex with the proper use of a semicolon, harkening back to my english major days at the U of Pittsburgh).
As I mentioned up top, Ranch 58 just sold. Just a collaboration with me and Amanda, as was Ranch 59 and the lakefront house we are just finishing. I guess in a weird way, that was a great way to end, collaborating with Amanda on $2m of real estate that people just love. We built a lot of fine homes together, communicated with shorthand and half sentences, thoughts finished by the other, Radar of Mash, like. It’s something that’s hard to replace and probably never will be. Even if more successful, it won’t be the same, and I really liked how it was. I enjoyed working with her, and I can’t speak for all small businesspeople, but there are a lot of people I have to work with for the sake of the business that I rather wouldn’t, so to enjoy it, that’s a plus.
It sold for $640k, which was a fair price for all involved.
Ranch 58, a real beauty -
Crazy developments in the banking front - where banks with contagion risk are being insured for all deposits regardless of amount, but smaller community banks aren't, forcing their larger depositors to consider moving their deposits to larger banks that are being made whole - unintended consequences from the Fed actions, that seem so elite-focused they don't even realize it, which just perpetuates the angst of middle America that they aren't really being considered in the grand scheme of things and gave a lane to Trump and similar to exploit it.
Observations of the bank that just failed
The collapse of Silicone Valley Bank is an interesting business story. 1, I guess it’s a pretty big bank, and its collapse will have material impacts of the nascent tech startups that banked and stored their money there - starting immediately with missed payroll, and only snowballing from there.
From my perch it’s interesting to already see pleas that not just $250,000 of deposit insurance gets covered, but that all amounts of lost deposits get covered - I guess the ‘too big to allow to fail’ is a lot smaller than it used to be.
2nd, this seems, even to a non-banker like me, as to be wholly predictable, based on what I’m reading - they had large deposits, they safely invested them into safe havens, which became less safe as interest rates rose, and people pulled money out at first because higher yields were possible elsewhere (with simple CD’s paying 4.5% and more), so that began to stress SVB’s cash flow, and the only way to raise money was to sell the safe haven investments at increasingly bigger losses. That should have been highly predictable - seems almost obvious. Why would anyone keep money in a bank paying 1.5% when you can get 5% with no added risk? And these deposits were held by a lot of institutions and corporations, which move money seeking yield faster than say you and me.
3rd, the capital markets are no help, especially for a bank, since if a bank is seen in need of raising money, then people lose confidence in that bank and a bank run logically follows, as people want their money to move to safer shores. There’s a cliche, which I can’t remember and I’m not close enough in my guessing for Google to help, that says - more or less - that if a bank has to reassure depositors about the safety of their money, then it’s too late for that bank. The suspicion of distress is all it takes for a panic that feeds on itself.
3, I didn’t know it at the time, but it seems like the failure of Real Eats, the company that has shipped delicious food to my door for the past 12 months is related to the Fed action as well- that yields can be had that are attractive in very safe CD’s, bonds, treasuries, what have you, that not as many people are investing in capital raises these companies need. That was one of the reasons the CEO gave, meaning the company had only existed, and possibly only could exist, in an environment of low interest rates and eager capital markets and private equity, since it was not profitable. Of course, to me, it seems like having a business plan that generated profits would have hedged this.
4. All this happens as I moved out a good portion of investable funds into CD’s, and considered as 100% some of the banks that are now subject to the liquidity rumor mill.
This just reminds me again that the investing professionals out there really have no real crystal ball or even much forecasting ability. If you weren’t predicting this simple concept of how interest rates could impact banks, then how can you pretend to know something about more complex situations. One thing is for sure, it will be a great couple of weeks for business journalism, which is right up my lane.
I saw this post on Instagram about my friend Piers, moving out of Lot 5 at Dawson Lane - Farmhouse 42. He sold after 4 or 5 years and is moving to Boulder. Our houses always sell, and I bet he made $400k. The diversity of our clients, their individual and family achievments and accomplishments, is one of the neatest parts of our Catskill Farms journey, and I’ve said it before that what would really round out this Founder’s job the best, was if I actually had time to hang and get to know them better, since they really are best in class.
The men laying some stone at my house clearly were enjoying the views at breaktime, judging from their chair set ups.
And a snow man at a client meeting, that they had just constructed. Reminds me of my son's art - everyone is always smiling in his sketches and drawings.
I don't think I've blogged this much in a decade. Fun to be back in the saddle and leading from the front.