Gone Skiing, Vermont
Typically, a group of 10+ of us go to Stowe over President's Day weekend. We leave mid-day Friday, land at the Courtyard Marriott in Burlington by early evening, and gather at the hotel bar by happy hour for drinks, giddy exuberance, some Connect Four, and then dinner. Started out with my sister, nephew and myself 8 or 9 years ago, and has been ongoing and growing ever since. And can get super cold up there, with skiing below zero degrees is not unknown.
Well, didn't happen this year but my friend John and I snuck out this past week for a mid-week jaunt up north, with 1 day in Stowe.
Vermont in general, and the slopes, in particular take their Covid prevention pretty serious. This lodge is typically shoulder to shoulder hot mess of parents, kids and friends all in the full spectrum of fun and ill-temper. The lines for the food, always pretty good, are hunger games like in the need for strategic aggression. Not this year. I guess like 5% occupancy rules, strictly enforced. Eerie.
And 1 day in Killington, cut short cause our legs were screaming.
Good days for skiing. Got 3-5 inches of fresh powder on Monday and temperate temperatures for Tuesday and Wednesday. While the lift lines were unpredictable because of Covid (2 people on a lift or gondola slows things down regardless of the slope crowds), the slopes themselves were somewhat clear sailing, or clear skiing in this case. If you do much social media, there are some very frightening photos of lift lines out West.
I had never been to Killington, which I liked a lot. Big mountain, and a lot more 'easy' slopes, which I think would benefit our team a bit more - kids and some of the less adventurous skiers.
I'm surprised this picture below isn't blurry cause of the speed I was clocked at.
Time to think about breaking out the golf clubs for what I hope is a return of my mental health Monday where I social distance from the Office. As I have reported. I had to come out of retirement/pasture this past year in order to keep the ship upright, avoid the icebergs, and shovel in the coal to keep her moving full steam ahead.
And another in Killington.
Farm 59, SOLD, Narrowsburg
Farm 59 left the Ranch today, to a sweet couple whose male component had been searching and pecking and almost buying for 8 years. Then he found us, and we found a way to make it happen.
This house's first version was a cottage, over on Tuthill Road, back in the late aughts I believe, but we found a way to turn it into a 1500 sq ft 3 bedroom 2 bath farmhouse a few years ago, and then selected it for this plot back last summer.
It's fun pairing homes and land. Some land is quite versatile, and some land is quite specific. Not specific in a bad way, but just requires a certain home to really work well. And some homes need something specific to make it work to, like a sloping grade for ranches in order to make the ground floor feel well-lit and liveable. If it feels like a basement, we've failed. And we don't fail. We might get knocked around, but we get back up. I always get back up.
A few of the homes over on this section of Maple Lane are more or less sitting on rock, and are somewhat flat, so we opted to use crawl spaces instead of full basements. Worked out pretty good - still room for all the mechanicals and even nice storage, but you don't have to do that man vs rock effort that isn't fun for anyone - not the excavator who has pound through it, not us whose every move is complicated, and not the client who ends up paying for a lot of it.
It's our 3rd closing in February, and we just consummated I believe 5 new deals and 2 more in the hopper. Since my office team is so excellent, I'm focused on scouting and hiring, and my new floor scrubbing detail of punchlist and warranty stuff - 'keep you honest and humble' exercises. Plus, who knows, maybe I'll find unexpected fulfillment in paint touchups and leaky faucets and poorly installed toilets rather than selling a million dollars of real estate a week like I have been doing.
New house that just went up. You may be thinking, "Wow, I guess Chuck figured out the picture thing he was going on about in the last blog'.
That would be incorrect - I have to write this somewhere else, import the photos to that blog post, then cut and paste it to this one. Yeah, I know, you'd think I would have the ability to hurdle this one, but not yet. Still trying...
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.
The Hardest Job
It occurred to me the other day at how I got to where I got to. Many things of course, but a reoccurring theme is leadership, and defining leadership as being out front, taking the first bullet, cresting the hill without knowing what lies on the other side (too lazy to check if 'lies' or 'lays' is right). My brain works in a circling motion, moving from one end of my business operations to the next, searching for bugs, problems, issues that are unaddressed and threatening. If none are found, the brain circles again, an endless anti-virus mechanism.
But back to leadership. I do the hard problems, the ones that I think will be inefficiently tackled by unvested staff, the ones that could have ripple impacts across the production schedule, the bottleneck that is lingering, the minor hole in the dam that is threatening to grow bigger, quickly.
My daily question as my operational review brain cycles through the projects - where is the delay, where is the possible delay, what will be solved without my help, and where can I get in and clear the way forward for the troops. Bushwhacking with my problem-solving machete, my night googles, my forecasting wand, my stiff-arm and sometimes even an uppercut or roundhouse.
Happy Valentines Day.