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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.

February 10, 2024

Catskill Farms v. Corby Baumann and Ben Forman

Coming to a courthouse near you, the 1.5 years of pre-trial preparation is quickly turning the corner to trial prep, my first courthouse appearance in 20 years of entering into, honoring and completing contracts of all sizes.  The Catskill Farms v. Corby Baumann and Ben Forman trial.

As a writer and english writing/journalism major who aspires to be a local cub court reporter when I retire, I figure I’ll write about this, It’s all public anyways, so why not write about.  I always tout my blog is about the good bad and ugly, and this is all 3 wrapped in one.   Many of my clients I’m sure have been on the wrong and right side of a lawsuit - you can’t do anything at any level without at some point getting caught up in a dispute that works its way to a court-room.   And honestly, that’s why they are there - there’s no shame in it.  It can be argued it's more fair than attacking someone on social media. It's also pretty interesting - you can see why people get into law.

We have over $150,000,000 of contracts with homeowners of various stripes and sizes (yes, not a typo, 9 figures - that’s probably low, I just took the number of homes we have built times $500k per home, and that’s probably low per home, but I like to be conservative in these types of things).  Too easy to be over-optimistic in the planning - change a spreadsheet cell variable because you don’t like the results - that’s common.  I like to plan conservatively and let the results surprise me pleasantly.  That’s a lot of money changing hands.

That’s $150,000,000 of contracts with people who I’ve only met for an hour or two and maybe another couple of hours talking.  Then we enter into a contract where they give me a little bit of money (10% or 20%) and then I build the home with a lot of input from them, and then in end trust they will be there with the cash or mortgage to finish the deal so I can get paid and monetize my efforts. 

But remember, our business model isn’t just building a home.  We scout the land, figure out the best house for the site, design the septic deal with the town and the county, surveys, and then build the thing in all sorts of elements and labor/help challenges.  Frankly, you can’t pick a harder way to do things.  But unlike many other rumors and attempts across the country, we actually have cut out the middle man in much of the process - the architect, the realtor, the contractor, the designer, etc…  We just have the talent to get it all done - a rare combination of operations and creative synergies under one roof.

I get paid when it’s all done, to everyone satisfaction.  Considering it’s hard for people to be happy with their haircut, it’s a tall task, a risky task, one not many endeavor to undertake.

So, the $150,000,000 of contracts to savvy demanding many times first time homebuyers from that legendary unforgiving region of NYC is only part of the story.  We also then take those 300 homes and $150,000,000 and sign tens of thousands of subcontracts to get the house built - most times under $20k, many times under $5k, to all sorts of characters, businesses, individuals to get the house built, in an area notorious for a shallow labor pool.

That’s a lot of space for honest disputes and misunderstandings and mis-set expectations, and let’s be honest, sometimes shit goes wrong.  And yet, not a minute in a courtroom.  Problem-solving is important - and both sides don’t need to walk away happy to know the legal system is poor revue to resolve it.

Cutey cottage where Ben and Corby live. Great spot, great house in West Saugerties.

So, after working for a year for Corby Baumann and Ben Forman (who have lived in one of our first Ulster County homes for 10 years) - 9 months of it for free- leveraging every asset, employee, engineer, surveyor, and most importantly - the deep and earned experience I bring to project planning - so you work for someone for a year for hardly a penny - really just cause you like to see people succeed and you like knowing that your team once again changed someone’s life in a positive way - then you dedicate 500 man hours to getting their land cleared and their foundation in up a little narrow country road (so country parts of it closes in the winter), then having to make an impossible right hand turn up a steepish grade on an even narrower gravel country road with all sorts of dump trucks, work trucks, delivery trucks, excavation equipment trucks) - hustling like some touristy older man chasing tail in Pattaya cause you know winter is coming and what is now hardly possible will prove doubly so in just a few unpredictable week, that you personally spend more time on the job to make sure it goes well than you have in years- you do all that and breath a sigh of relief that heavy lift was over.  The windows are ordered, the framers just about ready to go, all systems a go, and you stand back and know what you’ve accomplished for the project and your clients and you get this from the client -

FROM BEN FORMAN -

"I HAVE FOR THE MOST PART BEEN ABLE TO AVOID BEING BOTHERED BY THE GENERAL LITTER ON OUR PROPERTY. OVER THE WEEKEND I DID NOTICE TWO THINGS WHICH WERE HARDER TO IGNORE.

THERE ARE 2 DOUBLE D BATTERIES VISIBLE BUT EMBEDDED IN THE ROUGH CONCRETE WHERE THE SLAB WILL BE POURED AND THERE IS A GATORADE BOTTLE AT THE BOTTOM OF ONE OF THE FORMS FOR THE DECK FOOTINGS.

WHILE NEITHER OF THESE ARE LIKELY TO CREATE ISSUES DOWN THE LINE, THEY ARE NOT ACCIDENTAL AND SEEM PRETTY UNPROFESSIONAL.

BEN"

Basically, it says (if you can't read it) that even though dozens of men have just sweated blood for them to get their new home foundation built (they own like 3 or 4)- that these men who were more or less living on site - eating multiple meals, hydrating, drinking coffee, having snacks, opening hundreds of packages/straps/tarps, gas cans, diesel cans, oil cans, grease cans, tools, tires, engine belts - literally a mountain of debris - that the job was so clean that Ben Formann found 2 double 'D' batteries and a gatorade can OF A GUY WITH CANCER WORKING SATURDAYS IN BETWEEN CHEMO SESSIONS to get his slab rough done so we could get the concrete slab poured - and Ben writes us an email saying we are unprofessional and purposely littering his job - that's where Ben Forman's mind went when he saw the foundation of his new home. Litter that barely is the size of my forearm.

Deliberately disrespectful to him, his wife and his jobsite? No self-respecting individual just lets that slap go unanswered when the job is just beginning. Who would set themselves up for year of enduring that type of approach to having his concerns addressed?

Tune in soon to find out how this email has resulted in causing their dream home construction to flying off the rails, cost $200k or more of legal fees, cost them untold angst, and is resulting in a trial for breach of contract for them throwing me off site after I raised objections to having my team spoken to like that.

In the next episode - learn how within 48 hours of this email, Corby Baumann was secretly taping phone calls, hiring lawyers, planning to throw us off the site, and terminating the contract to build their home.

You will be left as bewildered and baffled as I was, for sure. It's important to note that there had been zero negative conversations about anything prior to this email in the previous year.

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