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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 17, 2021

Punch lists and Customer Service

The thing I've learned about building homes is that's it's a tough business. And one of the things that makes it tough is that most people only do it once in their life. It's not like a haircut, or buying shoes, or a car, or buying an existing home - where you do it a few times so you have something to compare it against - good or bad. Some sense of relative quality or process.

But in building a home, the client typically doesn't have that, and hence has no real baseline for understanding a good but imperfect process vs. a bad process.

For us, I know building homes in 6-8 months, consolidating all the tasks like financing, land purchase, architecture - navigating the building departments, utilities, Board of Healths, zoning issues - dealing with the weather, the terrain and a hundred other items including a host of characters that make up the subcontractor group - I know that's a pretty big accomplisment, house after house, year after year, and now decade after decade. I think some builders actually expose their clients to the above and more just so they can seem like the hero who fixes and solves the problem, taking their clients to the edge of sanity, only to help them recover. Not us, we build, we power through, we deliver, we move on.

We also deliver with pretty good quality, and we deliver pretty much on time, we deliver on budget if the clients wishes and we deliver with a ton more flexibility in our 'standard choices' than anybody else in our space.

This I know - cause I've watched how other people do it. and I've seen how much of the process risk is shifted to the client, how many loose ends are undefined and left for the client. Even me, when I built 2 modulars in Phoenixville, got whiplash from all the costs that were mine that I was assumed were the responsibility of the modular company.

But, if you get tempted and drawn to build with Catskill Farms like 260 families over 2 decades, most of our clients have no baseline of understanding what is good, what is average, what is poor and what is somewhere in between. I mean, the expectations of a building company are pretty high - if your new car breaks down, you are without a car until it gets fixed - no mechanic is showing up at midnight to solve the problem. If you get something from amazon, and it doesn't work, you send it back and wait for the return.

And I have to say, we deliver a pretty good product, and have a great pre-closing punch out process that delivers a finished home about as well as somebody can. We routinely have our cleaning company go through houses the day of closing - in addition to 2 or 3 times prior - just to make sure they sparkle. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good, if you have something to compare it to.

But what is true, is after 8 months of extreme effort, we are looking to move on right when the client is moving in and looking for more, so you have this tug and pull of good efforts on behalf of the client without becoming their doorman or concierge. And then on another level of complexity is the fact that each client has a different tolerance of imperfection, making client expectation management a challenge. Every one knows a bad haircut when they see one, but judging the perfection of a tile install, or hairline crack where two boards come together, that's more massage and message than anything.

With my company, as I've logged over the course of last year, we had 240 homes to warranty, a slew of new clients, and worse, a half dozen projects that I had no choice but to tend to myself - projects and problems that needed to be addressed first - labor shortages, and a supply chain of everything from plastic pipes to lumber to windows causing us to spend twice the time to do half the work, administratively.

But as I wrote last post, or the one before, my mind works in a circular fashion, and besides using all my talents recruiting new team members, I think my next task is to catch up on minor warranty work for our valued clients. It's hard to balance all-consuming black swan issues, clients that are desperate to have a place out of the city and the promise we've made to our existing clients - and you can't really balance it all the time. But if you are serious about what you do, at the first opportunity you circle back and live up to your word the best you can. I think I will handle this task myself, catching up and leveraging my authority to marshal the troops where they need to be, and at the same time accomplishing something that has been missing for years - and thats my ability to stay in touch with my clients after my team takes over. That distance between owner and client isn't good for business.

And that's what is true about the black swan events - time is a zero sum game. If that scarce resource is needed for an emergency, then it is not available for something routine or strategic. It's the business builders who don't anticipate these 'sure to happen' events, although undefined and untimed, that suffer the most. Me, I'm accustomed to being hit along side the head with a 2x4 knocking me off course. That's just what happens when you move fast and break things.

Not planning for the unplanned or unexpected is like when a real estate investor doesn't properly plan for maintenance or improvements - it's going to be needed, and it's easy to under-budget, but just because you underbudgeted doesn't mean the costs and expenses will go along politely.

You might have noticed a lack of pictures. That's because this blog isn't allowing me to attach photos - just another problem to solve.