< back to all blog posts

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.

December 29, 2022

Law and Order

Working hard in Cochecton

I’m not sure about other people’s businesses, but I find a lot of my day to day is spent in low grade frustration, as I marry what I hope for versus what is actually accomplished.  Those not necessarily always aligned goals pull and push, and it’s when I really think we have reached a new level of self-sufficiency, that I find my widest gap in what I hoped for versus what actually occurred, so it really wasn’t the reality that changed, it was my expectations, which I had mistakenly re-pinned without telling anyone and really without much evidence supporting the higher bar.

This past year I got sued for the first time - well, I didn’t get sued, my business did - so I was forced to quickly establish a defense team.  You see on TV when someone needs a lawyer for whatever reason, they find one, and a lot of times they find a really sharp one who seems not to have any other clients.  That’s not my experience - especially with civil work.  I think transactional, estate, etc… work it’s true.  I think with criminal it’s true - but civil not so much.  Because with civil litigation, it’s just so damn messy in the best of cases, that to do a good job you need to immerse yourself in the facts and nuances of the case, create a narrative, and sell that narrative, over the course of a long time line of court established schedules.  Also, it’s a testament to our good work that I don’t have a go-to civil suit attorney - don’t really need it.

One thing I learned from it - elementary, my dear, in retrospect - is that the lawsuit court and delivery dates are malleable, extensions given with little hesitation, and no real penalty for dragging the thing out in perpetuity.    12 months after this suit was filed, the filers had not sat for one deposition, had not really responded to our questions and were just really not prosecuting the case, just letting it hang out there, an orphaned narrative that was somewhat defamatory.  Christ, following the newspapers, I saw that Steve Bannon was arrested, bailed, tried and convicted and I wasn’t close to my first day in court.  My attorney, who I found by reading up on the causes of actions I was being accused of - reading up on it, and coming across an article penned by an attorney so I gave him a call, and he turned out to be quite the professional, at quite the professional prices.

The point here isn’t this suit above- which for all intent and purposes was settled for $0 out of my pocket, EXCLUDING legal fees - but rather the ability and inclination to use the courtroom to settle disputes.

Before you have the money to blow on a lawsuit, when you are defamed, stolen from, cheated, whathaveyou, you can rant and rave in your blog, you post social media, you can leave bad reviews, but you don’t dare use that carefully crafted and constructed cash flow to throw good money after bad.  You never have the time or the money to seek vengeful retribution - no matter the schemes and scenarios you dream up in your head.   Anyone who has ever had much to do with the law, knows that $20k goes fast, and $50k isn’t that far behind, so the dispute really has to have some significance to really matter in reality - the reality being a hard and fast cost/benefit analysis, which is pretty easy to do when you don’t have much dinero to be wasting.

But, after you get a few dollars in the bank, and you get the right attorney, you are left in the unenviable position of actually being able to chase down some of these do-badders, and seek your revenge.  So now that the cost/benefit calculation has changed, and benefit can include ‘principle’, ‘anger’, ‘what’s right’, it leaves the door open to chase a lot of offenses, without a lot guardrails.

I remember the same experience a bit with the one assistant I hired - my first real assistant, who was good at her job.  It allowed me to do all sorts of things that came to my mind, and that proved dangerous since there was value in not being able to snap my fingers and act on a whim or grievance - there was real value to not being able to chase after each gripe or wrong.

In the same vein, It’s hard to overstate how abused you can feel as a small businessperson, how somedays it feels as if you are a unmoving target to lots of other people’s spears and arrows, with an empty arsenal to fight back other than to stay focused on building the business, and avoiding distraction.  That can be done and achieved, but it’s not always an easy path, so not having a good attorney or not having a good assistant just keeps you from chasing distraction.\

In 2023, I have two lawsuits pending I initiated,- one a small time one against an ex-employee who stripped a work trailer bare of $15k of tools.  This one could be looked at as a bad choice from a cost/benefit since $15k is literally like only 25 hours of work for a good attorney so this one isn’t for the money but for the principal.  The 2nd is for $300k, for a contract that a client reneged on once we got started - we didn’t lose any money, but there was more to be made.\

I’ve literally transacted $200,000,000 of small contracts over the last 20 years, and it’s a badge of honor at the lack of disputes that have progressed past mean emails, but it also feels good to be able to use the legal system as another tool, a tool really only the rich can afford to use except in the most necessary situations.  That after 20 years, I don’t have to let every single offense go un-responded to.   That’s no way for a street fighter to live a life.  With nearly 300 homes sold, the lack of litigation we have experienced is a testament to our entire approach of problem resolution - which boils down to ‘be careful who you work with’, ‘be fair’, ‘take care of the gray areas as the cost of doing business’ and ‘stick to your core competencies’, and ‘don’t be a push over’ and ‘stand your ground’ when appropriate.

Happy Holidays and here’s to 2023.

< back to all blog posts