Hybrid work and its benefit to the Catskills
Crain’s, a newspaper about NYC issues of interest to the business community, reports that just 8% of NYC workers are in the city Monday through Friday according to their most recent business survey. “Only 49% of Manhattan office workers are expected to be in their seats even after Labor Day,” they report.
That bodes well for the Catskills and Catskill Farms and give credence and added legitimacy to what I’ve been pretty sure of for awhile now, and that is the good times in the Catskills aren’t going away anytime soon, and things can trend back to ‘normal’ without denting the demand-supply imbalance that has defined the Catskills real estate market since April 2020.
I remember when the vaccine came out in November 2020, and I thought that could actually spell trouble for the upstate marketplace - but 2 things were true that kept mass vaccinations from eliminating the upstate demand. 1, the vaccines didn’t really work that well - at least not well enough to signal the end of the pandemic, and 2, hybrid work showed it could work.
Most of our clients are pretty well-established in their careers and are part of the decision-making around these workplace decisions and pivots, and if they were buying, and continuing to buy, that pretty said all there was to say. Hybrid work, especially around the NYC metro area, where people and families could better balance the hard life that is city life, the expensive life that is city life, - that almost everyone could split their time more evenly where before only the luckiest could count on a consistent Friday off, and a longer weekend.
It’s actually hard to overstate the disruption that Covid wrought - all sorts of things in the workplace that were hardly ever seen, that are now so commonplace as to be unremarked on.
Lawyers closing real estate transactions remotely. Digital signing of documents. Zooms instead of face to faces. Video calls in general. Online tutoring. The list is too long to even begin to list comprehensively - effective and efficient improvements to the workplace that never could have happened without some sort of disruption that outweigh all the interests that have to be shoved aside.
Some I just can’t buy into, however, such as camera video tours of homes to perspective buyers - any time someone would ask me to do that, I’d just say ‘no thanks’ - our stuff can’t be appreciated by video.
As had been true since the beginning of my upstate journey, the little niche I work in keeps defying national and regional trends. In 2008-2012, my NYC niche kept producing profits for us when the rest of the building industry was getting decimated - kept producing because NYC real estate held steady while the rest of the country dropped. Now, NYC was MOST impacted by the pandemic and the disruptions wrought by the pandemic, and that again benefited us.
12 days till we head to Africa.
Home we just sold in Saugerties, the 15th of the 16th that got started in April, 2020.
Selling Homes in the Catskills - Olivebridge and Saugerties
We have just sold a bunch of houses and bunch more to go. They got clustered some how, which makes a tough process even tougher. Lot's of people involved in the end who really weren't present much during the process - bank inspections, home inspections, homeowner inspections, building department review, certificate of occupancy requests. Lots of requests to lots of different people with interdependent and sequential deliverables. No bank underwriting finalization without CO, no CO with board of health, no homeowner or home inspections with everything being complete. And of course everyone's pushing to get it closed.
We are pretty good at it, and we tend to be able to foresee the problems before they arrive, being a been there done that type of process. Basically, you can't assume anything will go off as it should, without the help, assistance or guidance from the team at Catskill Farms. It ain't easy, but it needs to be done.
The 3 Olivebridge houses are a result of a piece of land I bought, already subdivided, and subsequently built 3 homes there. Pretty good project that went well. Buyers ended up with a lot equity when we were done, since prices just keep climbing for these homes of ours, basically the most sought after homes in the Catskills. We bought the land last spring, as rumors of a vaccine and return to the office were circulating, so it was a gamble, not knowing if life was going to return to normal in terms of 5 days at the office. We now know that may never happen, and that is a good piece of knowledge to have, since hybrid work is a boon for Catskill Farms and the hardworking people of the Catskill.s
It’s hard eating out right now. Few restaurants are executing well, at least in all categories. From my recent experience, some get the food out on time but the servers aren’t adequate in numbers or adequately trained, others have sufficient servers but the kitchen is understaff leading to long wait times, some fail in all categories and some have just closed the doors because they are tired of not being able to deliver a consistent sustainable service.
I know for me, I’ve been to a few restaurants where waiting for the food takes an hour or more - not the whole process of sitting, ordering etc… I mean just waiting for the food after the order is in, half the time with empty glasses. We all have compassion for the industry, but at the same time, you are out to enjoy yourself and an unnecessarily Long experience with iffy service along the way isn’t the pinnacle of enjoyment.
Just last week in Milford PA, I literally went to two restaurants, one after the other, and didn’t get a dinner in 90 minutes each. It’s hard to say I didn’t do my part with patience.
Then yesterday in Scranton at a delicious dinner at the Sambuca Grill, the service started out strong, then just disappeared, walked right by - and that’s just a training issue, a middle management issue, but to feel the breeze of your server go by 30 times in a small restaurant and that person failing to stop from bread to dinner completion, that’s an issue.
I’m not complaining, ok, yes, I’m complaining. Because I think the pandemic tolerance is wearing thin for the service industry, and even if it is unfair and not avoidable, it’s still a decision to eat out, and for me, I’m going to start patronizing restaurants I hear first hand have adequate staff that is trained to a minimum degree.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, as a business person who has made it through the pandemic and has a ‘to each according to his talents’ disposition, but I look around to a wide range of vendors and peers and colleagues who are running businesses and they have found a way. But then at the same time, I am very picky who I work with, and maybe that due diligence eye will need to be applied to where I eat as well until this all gets sorted out.
Maybe the stock market correction will drive some people back to work.
Safari and House Selling
Safari is the Swahili word for Journey, and that’s where Lucas and I are heading in late June, soon after the school year lets out. Over there in Eastern Africa, in Kenya and Tanzania, where Karen Blixen set up shop in 1913 and ultimately wrote the book Out of Africa about her 17 years there.
Vaccines are important when traveling to countries as these, and yesterday Lucas and I traveled earlier morning to a place that specializes in such medicine, on East 55th Street, NYC. We were given shots for typhoid, yellow fever, hep A and B and given an interesting tutorial on each. No vaccines exist for Dengue, Chikungunya.
We were told not to drink the water, not to eat raw foods, not to use the ice and a bunch of other things, most of which I knew but needed a refresher. I traveled to India for 3-4 months when I was 23 and I can mostly guarantee I took few precautions, with few problems, but that’s the advantage of youth and naïveté.
Now I travel with guides and medicine and well planned routes to some degree. Not overplanned, but planned out, leaving enough room for improvisation but having a structure embedded in the trip.
We sold a house on Friday of last week. It was a big one, exceeding 4000 sq ft, on 6 acres, with a mountain view. We did that contract last summer at some point, and then felt the true brunt of the broad basket of inflation across the entire spectrum of materials, and even some labor. After surviving 12 months of covid related surprises, I thought we were in the clear. We weren’t and built the 3 houses in Olivebridge into the teeth of unpleasant pricing surprises across the board. We paid a lot for the land, and we got caught up in the inflation rip tide than pulled our dreamed of profits out to sea. Luckily, we had priced these homes at what the market could bear, and although our profits were less than hoped or projected, there was still room for a little get jiggy with it dance.
You could see, however, how a contractor could get caught here with contracts that didn’t envision a price increase of this sort. While the times are profitable for us, I pity the fool who isn’t approaching this business environment with the same strategic planning tools as we do. It’s just really risky out there.