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.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

St Petes

For the most part, the 3 flights I took, four if you include the connection from Costa Rica to Tampa via Atlanta, all came off pretty well and for the most part on time.  Nothing is ever really on time but close enough to qualify.

A days work. 8am.

I’ve been visiting St Pete’s for a few years, and in 2021 put a deposit on a yet-to-be-built top floor condo in a 17 floor, 85 unit in Downtown.  Now it’s condo crowded, but back then, there only a few new projects around.  This one hadn’t yet started, and I was one of the first 15 to buy.  I hadn’t really realized how risky the decision was until 18 months later they still hadn’t started, and my contract - as are most yet to be built FL condo contracts- gave the developer pretty much all the discretion and power in the relationship.  Luckily, they did end up getting started and then from there things went pretty quick, and they hope to deliver the project over the summer, but to be honest, I’ll believe it when I see it.


I did get a tour of my unit - pretty much under construction - but I was able to walk through up 17 floors of construction.  Some things I loved, others were ok, but all in all, to own a pretty solid piece of real estate in the Tampa area is a good thing.  Rents are pretty robust, though I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do with it.  I’m thinking of furnishing it now, and really thought I was going to outfit it in the Palm Springs mid-century style, which I still might, but that would entail flying out there, picking it all out, shipping across the country, etc…. It would be pretty snazzy, I’ll have to figure it out.


St Pete’s is quite the robust small city.  I happen to be there over St Patty’s day, and that was happening for sure.  Took a 3.5 mile walk the one morning.  The downtown has an urban flair but pretty quickly it segues into a neighborhoody feel of cottages and single family homes on quiet streets.  The place I’m buying is on Mirror Lake, which is a pretty big lake with a 40’ ring of grass around it, and it is turning into a pretty popular spot for St Pete’s growing homeless population.

Developing is challenging.  No matter where you do it, or how you do it, it is always a pushing the rock up a hill experience.  It’s never easy - with constant problem solving with gigantic consequences.  Lots of time time and money are in short supply, so every hurdle is a challenge.  We are just over the hump on a 9 home project on 70 acres, and before that we did an 11 home project on 100 acres and before that, 16 homes on 40 acres.  We pump out a lot of homes.  Few people have our track record or longevity in this region.  Many more examples of people leaving town with their tail between their legs.  It’s risky business and we succeed because I keep my nose in every detail, every expense, every operation day to day measurement.  Anything less just creates a lane for error that can derail, permanently, a project.  Even with me watching like a hawk, the problems that arise are daily, and important to solve well.  Luckily my margins are big enough in our projects because all the unexpected costs that keep arising out of thin air of single family residential development where each lot has its own services - well, septic, gas, etc… - it’s just expensive and there are little to no economies of scale to be had like you would have in your traditional development exercise.

So now that the latest project is pretty much ‘in the bag’ even though from purely a construction standpoint we have a lot do yet, I’m starting to look at new projects, touring some land up in Ulster on Friday - 170 acres I believe. Turns out, it's still winter, so my Friday, yesterday, spent running around was done so inadaquately dressed. I spent the night up in Olivebridge since I had meetings yesterday and now today, Saturday, and it saved me 4 hours of driving. Me and my trusty air mattress.

But to tell you the truth, it was a night from hell. Heating malfunctions at one house, then another, left me a cold shell of a home of 50 degress and pretty aggravated. Then my air mattress keep losing air over time. It's one of those moments, after all the work and diligence, you just ask yourself why you are exactly doing this and putting yourself through it. Literally did everything right, and still spend my Friday night putting out fires. Now, I'm still cold, have a very stiff neck and upper back, it's raining stupid hard again like it has since September, and I have a client walk-thru in a house with no heat in a few hours.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Books, Costa Rica Travel

One of the big travel decisions was which book to bring.  I narrowed it down to a book about occupied France in WWII and Look Homeward Angle, a Thomas Wolfe work of fiction from 1929.  Somehow this writer had escaped my radar, though he was writing in area I know well - the Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, etc… era.  

This novel, set in a fictionalized Asheville, North Carolina between 1890-1930, is considered one of the top 100 American novels on most lists.  The anthesis of the sparse Hemingway and concise watercolor of Fitzgerald, Wolfe’s fantasia and phantasmagoria spasm of words and ideas are more like a large Pollack with paints and colors splashed wildly about.

Like the book I just finished, The Rings of Saturn, the writing takes an attentive, committed and patient reader, and the successful reader travels with the respective writer on a rewarding journey.  Already Wolfe is coloring vivid characters full of flaws, everyday life and dashed or diminished lives.  The main character for the moment is the patriarch, WO Gant.   If you’ve ever seen There Will Be Blood, think of the oilman there ; tall, skinny, scowling, with a long purposeful gait. There Will Be Blood : Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Paul Thomas  Anderson: Movies & TV

The 2nd part of the Costa Rica week was from the south near Panama to the mid-section, Jaco (pronounced Haco), 2.5 hours mostly west of San Jose, the landlocked capital.  A beach town.  A surfing town.  Party town with a heavy reputation for sex trading.  Not why I was there though that would have at least made that disgusting massage a little more worth it.  I was still feeling oil 2 days later from that coating I received.  I know, gross.  

The ride up from the Golfo Dulce was an adventure, once again, in my trusted Toyota pickup, once again picking up a dirt road within miles of the journey’s commencement, following it to ridges that overlooked the jungle and then the Pacific Ocean in the distance.  Up and down, round sharp bends, through small towns with small schools, baking in the 95 degree temps.   Large farms with cows and bulls, a few horses and one hilltop sheep farm.    

About an hour in I come to a ferry I had seen online, but little information could be found.  So I arrived hoping the crossing was available.  I’ve crossed the Martha’s Vineyard ferry, a few ferry’s connecting the islands around Lake Huron - this wasn’t that.   This was a metal, 3 car floating contraption with a small boat with a small engine strapped to the side of this floating piece of metal.  Although the crossing at Sierpe was only 150’ wide, navigating the current, and spinning the contraption with a boat strapped to the side, and lining it up just right from car loading and unloading -it’s the type of thing the was a massively complex chore of navigation, just because its lack of machine might. This was using the currents, the propulsion of a small engine, and a rudimentary helm.

A successful crossing left me 2+ hrs south of Jaco, which I covered without too much issue, arriving at the Jaco South Beach Hotel, a 3 star joint right on the beach.  It was just right.  

In 6 days in Costa Rica, my average walk or hike was 3 miles and covered a lot of jungle and then beach town terrain.  Saw monkeys, birds, hookers and surfers. The one in southern Costa Rica through the jungle, was straight up, and then straight-down, leaving me thoroughly sweated out each morning.

I wasn’t really keeping track, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t spend a ton of money.  At least there still is a lot left in my wallet.   I guess without drinking much and not partying much and being somewhat remote, commerce just isn’t for the taking around every corner.  Sure, some nice hotels, the boss-move bribe for the private boat, driver and instructor, the nice truck all cost some coin, but the boots on the ground spending was pretty reasonable.  My guess I will spend more in St Petes in 36 hours than I did in a week down there.

All flights pretty much on time, and relaxing, always more fun up front.  I love calling it ‘up front’, like saying you went to school in ‘Boston’ when everyone knows that means you went to Harvard.  I haven’t ridden in the back for a flight over 3 hours since 2005 - as a massive reward point earner with all we purchase, there is just no reason.  I’m not sure if my son has ever sat in the back, poor kid, hard lessons coming!  I literally have 14,000,000 points to spend someday someway, and that doesn’t include the $30k-$40k of annual cash back from my Fidelity card I use to pay my lumber bill.

And this all started with an idea in 2001, that not everyone wants that crappy old shabby chic upstate home and some would prefer something that still inspires, but works better, and the contractors not your realtor's brother.

The best ideas are always the simplest ones. Then water it for 22 years and see what grows.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Costa Rica Baby

Yuck. And I know better, being a bit of a massage connoisseur, not to book 90 minutes with a masseuse you aren't familiar with. If things go sideways, you can live with 60 minutes - most times it's just a lack of pressure or understanding of the body. But, ignoring all past experiences, with vacation brain firing away (meaning no brain activity detected) I found a random spot and booked a 90 minute one for a few hours later.

Nobody likes the word 'juicy', in most contexts. Like moist, for whatever reason, that's just not a word people rally around. But this woman who never kneaded a muscle with more strength than an 8 year old could muster was lathering me up with squirt (not a crowd favorite either) after squirt of 'oil', just running off of me. Ick, gross, and then her not massaging me but just rubbing me over and over. Ugh, the worst ever, and of course I should have just got up and left but I was like I'm here I might as well get a rub down since I'm already all involved - but tedious, little pleasure, and sort of gross. And she didn't speak a lick of English. Im in a surf town named Jaco.

But, Costa Rica...

Home away from home down South close to Panama.

In Costa Rica, a naturalist’s paradise.  Woke up to the loudest cacophony of sound coming from the thick jungle in Southern Costa Rica - if ever a moment was ripe and true for the word ‘cacophony’, a morning in the jungle is it.  A wall of sound, of all sorts including I guess a 'screaming monkey'. It died down after I’m not sure how long, and then pretty quiet all day.  I’m wondering if the early evening feeding time will present another round.  Judging from what I’m hearing right now at 5:24pm, Monday, possibly.  Sounds of all sorts.  Hundreds of competing birdsong, from the pretty, to the obnoxious, to the harmonic to the demonic.

Took a couple mile hike up a steep jungle path each morning and really made me think of that book I read back in Africa about Livingston and Stanley, and the frickin’ jungle they had to cross in modern day Tanzania.  I kept looking at the size of the brush and undergrowth and imagining trying to get a convoy through, and I kept imagining wondering what was lurking just out of site ready to leap.  Those guys were literally crazy to be doing shit like that.  Animals, bandits, disease, the natives.  It’s hot here, for sure, but in the shade not so bad - a little breeze there and here, a ceiling fan a blessing.  I’m stationed on a bay (Golfito) about 4 hours south of Jaco. It’s pretty remote.  A lot of people go to the northwest Pacific coast toward Nicaragua.  I’m in the south, toward Panama.  I was going to hop around a bunch, but after a day of chilling, I think I’m reducing my moving about plans pretty much to zero.

3 mile hike up and down a jungle mountain.

I'm in Costa Rica for 7 days, and then St Pete's checking in on my condo construction for 3 days. The condo was supposed to be done a year or so ago (so unprofessional- (tongue in cheek)), or so I was told when I signed up back in early 2021. While frustrating a bit out of principle and a guy who believes in timelines, in reality, it worked out better since last year was a shitshow of crisis after crisis to keep me busy. I'm more ready this year, and nothing changes the fact that I got in really early, like really early, and I'm probably sitting on a few large in appreciation before I step in the door of the top floor corner unit. That happens, and is happening in our projects too - the people in first get the best deal. Makes sense - more risk I suppose, and sales beget sales (not to get old-testament biblical on ya where Abraham begets Peter begets Sarah begets Amos begets Shrek....).

Anyways, back to Costa Rica. Landed in San Jose, rented a truck since I had a feeling I'd be off-roading, and drove 4+ hours south in this Central American country.

Forgive me, I wrote some of this two days ago and now I can't keep straight what I've already written about.

I chilled, but I had the wrong impression that one can just turn a switch off after 16 hour high stress workday for weeks if not months on end and be relaxed. And the forced 'screen free march' just made it worse. So by day two I got over myself and engaged with the work world a bit which relieved the pressure a bit.

On day two I checked with hotel manager about heading straight west to Drakes Bay and he looked at me like I was sure to fall off the end of the earth. Guess he doesn't get out much. So I took my pick up and within a few miles I was on a dirt road up and down the peaks of Costa Rica with small farms, rusted tin roof houses and like an apparition a young indian girl on horse fording a large stream.

An hour and half later, with a dusty truck, I end up in not quite a town, more an outpost, with some fishing, diving and boat shops. It was out there - this whole area is believed and reputed to be one of the most biological diverse areas of the world. I had no idea. It rains hard for 10 months out of the year.

I showed up around noon, to a dusty town and shops squeezed around a small inlet (think Phoenicia size but with dirt narrow roads, tight turns and an ocean on one side) and poked around for some snorkeling trips, which seemed to be mostly scheduled for the mornings. A little chit chat here and there and I had struck up a deal with a diver to find a boat and driver and off we went snorkeling at an island an hour out into the Pacific. Except he wanted to dive, not snorkel, but I wasn't so sure, so he threw both gear into the boat and off we went.

But not so fast - my boat guide had ordered up some gas, which means someone brings it by motorcycle from somewhere in large plastic gas containers, and just so happened that someone got confused and thought our gas was their gas and so we didn't have any gas, which resulted in a lot of high-intensity conversations in Spanish, small craft in shallow water navigation, and a crowd starting to gather as I'm on a small boat waiting for gas as a melodrama plays out - it matters because the 1 hour out island is 'off limits' after 3 and it was 1:30 and we had an hour out. So you can see the time crunch unfolding.

Anyway, it works itself out, we get our gas, and we head out. We got local pineapple and watermelon and a borrowed knife and eat well on the way out as our trusty driver beelines it to the island you can just barely discern at first, and then slowly comes focus. The guy I'm with wants me to dive, and because I didn't have to sit through a 3 hour class, I was half game, though I'm wary around water ever since I nearly drowned when I was 31 trying to swim across an Adirondacks lake and misjudged the cold and the distance, and only for some strength I summoned from somewhere did I find my way across that body of water blacking out and barely breathing. So that sort of unknowing panic can pop up anytime now when I'm in the water, and once it grips you, it can be quite deadly in and of itself.

Good Tinder foto.

So the diver guide threw a tank on me and said 'don't for get to breathe' and then we topped backwards off the boat into the water, into the Pacific Ocean, Nemo-like with it's colorful fish, turtles and even a half dozen sharks about 3 feet long. We were all alone out there and it was pretty glorious.

Headed back to the coast with the sun setting behind us and this very large group of dolphins - 40 or 50 - joining us for some of the way, surfacing and submerging in their arc'ed fluidity.

The humidity is taking its toll on all things paper, my passport included.

Directions from one of the road trips from Golfito to Drakes Bay. Parque Nacional Corcovado is the park with the insane bio diversity.

I'm sure the Defendants have been checking the site and refreshing their browser for the post Court conference blog post. Patience is a virtue; it's coming. God I love the good opportunity to use a semi-colon correctly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Really not necessary

This is exactly what I'm talking about, about shit that is completely unnecessary just appearing out of nowhere on any given day. Here's an asshole truck driver taking out 2 utility poles less than a mile from our offices, knocking us out of business for the 2nd straight day with no electric and no internet. Every week it seems like something ridiculous happens that is completely out of the blue, and unrelated to anything expected or ordinary.

This happens as I'm out of town, and we have serious work to do.

Charles Petersheim, Catskill Farms (Catskill Home Builder)
At Farmhouse 35
A Tour of 28 Dawson Lane
Rock & Roll
The Transaction
The Process
Under the Hood
Big Barn
Columbia County Home
Catskill Farms History
New Homes in the Olivebridge Area
Mid Century Ranch Series
Chuck waxes poetic...
Catskill Farms Barn Series
Catskill Farms Cottage Series
Catskill Farms Farmhouse Series
Interviews at the Farm ft. Gary
Interviews at the Farm ft. Amanda
Biceps & Building
Catskill Farms Greatest Hits
Construction Photos
Planned It
Black 'n White
Home Accents at Catskill Farms, Part 2
Home Accents at Catskill Farms, Part 1