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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Las Vegas - 2023 Builders Source Show

13 years after my last trip to Vegas, I’m sittin’ up front on a plane, currently about directly over Chicago, heading back to Sin City.  The building industry expo starts tonight, and my building supply company who I have spent untold millions with over 2 decades, offered me on of 10 spots for their Hudson Valley/Westchester allocation.  The last time I was here, with James Karpowicz, my project manager at the time, was in 2009, and was for the same conference/expo.  Though, at that time the country and perhaps the world, was in a real estate collapse, and Las Vegas was close to the epicenter.  Airports empty, taxi drivers cheap, lap dances cheaper (not that I would know).  This round I go as an industry veteran and I look forward to seeing what it means to me and Catskill Farms this time around.  A few of Builder’s Source (my supply company) executives will be here and it will be good to catch up since few company’s have such a unique journey as mine and some of the guys at Builder’s Source have seen it from the inside out, which not too many people can say - which gives us a lot to talk about.

You often hear about corporate good will trips bestowed on valued clients, but I haven’t seen much of that even though I’ve literally put tens of millions of dollars in people’s pockets.  Must be one of those things like finding a good lawyer quick that just doesn’t happen in real life.  Or maybe it used to happen like in Mad Men days and just doesn’t anymore.  Not mentioning any names ERIC G———n.  Just kidding.

I often talk about how my business journey has been one without peer support just because Sullivan County NY didn’t really have anyone doing something like I was doing, and that was true when we expanded into Ulster, and then Dutchess as well, though it came closer the more east I explored opportunities.  No real builder’s association, chambers of commerces (at the time), and I probably could have no doubt could have benefited from a few more sounding boards as I wandered the path of a small businessperson.

Vegas no doubt will be fun, but only to a degree - my efforts of debauchery these days start and end with maybe a few extra drinks and some pre-midnight revelry.  Leave it to the Builders- legendary early risers - to have the grand buffet breakfast from the hours of 6-8am.

Coach K of Duke fame is one of the speakers, and Jim Gaffigan is one of the entertainers.  Should be a good show, for one of the most vital and fundamental and foundational industries in the country.  When the building industry sneezes, the whole country catches a cold.  Especially interesting time to be here because of the place the economy is - just getting off a 2 year pandemic fueled sugar high, now a return to a new normal, and in some parts of the country a real retrenchment of the industry due to interest rates.  One thing for sure is there will be dozens of companies that represent each layer of the economy right now - some prosperous, some in pain, some in retreat, some in advance.

Thursday, 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.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Christmas Time (and we sold a Ranch)

Christmas time around the corner and just getting ready for Lucas and my trip the NYC, an annual adventure.  This year we are being joined by 2 of his friends so it should be raucous and eventful.

Had lunch with Boyz from Jeff Bank, long-time relationships that count for much of our success.   Brought my office help along to keep it interesting.   George, who now runs the bank, worked closely with Catskill Farms a decade ago addressing and accommodating our lending needs, and helping grow and meet the heights we now soar from.

Snowing up here, anticipated all week with varying degrees of predictions ranging from Armageddon to a dusting.

Sold a Ranch house last week up at the Crest, so I’m not counting but if I was I’d say that is 7 sales and another one in contract. Moving right along.

Ranch House #61

We plan on having another 9 homes going up in Olivebridge in the Spring, so that is exciting. And a few custom builds, a few renovations scheduled for this coming year, a few spec homes. Should be an interesting year. 2020, 2021, and 2022 were big years for us but to be honest, they were big years for a lot of players in the real estate and construction industry so as Warren Buffet says, 2023 - when the tide goes out - is when we will see who is wearing shorts and who is bare-assed and naked.

The market is slowing, but a lot of deals still happening especially for better, well-designed homes priced right.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

2nd Generation, and we sold another

Barn 47 sold last week, the day before the Thanksgiving break. It's another one down at the Crest project in North Branch / Fremont NY, just a few miles north of the outpost named Callicoon. Brokered by Erik Freeland, the nearly 3000 sq ft home (because of a finished ground floor) sports 4 bedrooms and 3.5 baths, has views, is partially wooded and partially pasture.

Barn 47 pictures

A lot of times I look around and wonder why it looks easier for some people, and feels so hard to me - or used to. It's still a bitch day to day operationally, but the systems and people and relationships are in place to help fix any problem. To some degree, I think it's a pretty simple explanation, and that's the burden of the startup, rather than the 2nd generation - the burden of the startup vs buying or leading a business that has been around a bit.

It's hard to overstate the complexities of a startup, especially one like Catskill Farms that happens from scratch, is basically a new idea - and is hatched where I knew no one, inherited no relationships, found no quarter in growing up with the people now in charge. I really didn't know a whole a lot about real estate, construction or development. So the lift is pretty heavy, just getting things up and running, and maintaining that momentum. Took a decade a half really.

I think about these things as my son grows up - Lucas Petersheim is now 14, and I wonder if he will have interest in this business of mine, and whether I will encourage him or aspire for him any part in Catskill Farms. It's a tough business, so I'm not overly concerned about passing it along - if it ends up winding down as I wind down, that might be fine. I gave birth to it, and oversaw its orderly unwinding. We will see. I like to use his name in the posts cause then when he and his friends google him he shows up through the years in various disguises and destinations.

But that's not my point - my point is if he did want to join and take this cash-flow flush, hardly leveraged, somewhat large company and do what he wants with it, grow it in some new direction, he would have a lot of advantages that would allow him to hit the ground running and accelerate through the curve, unlike me, who as soon as I picked up any speed, there was some new hurdle that needed to be jumped. Not that he - or any 2nd generational owner - wouldn't have issues, he would just have the tools and vehicles to navigate them - unlike me, who first had to figure out wtf was going on, then go find someone - a lawyer, an accountant, engineer, surveyor, project manager, interior designer - to help solve the problem. So all the momentum stops while I would go figure out how to fix a problem I wasn't expected and identified very late, and there was little money to deal with it

It's hard to overstate the value of having relationships in place - for instance, even now, I'm subdividing a piece of land and I don't do that much so I really didn't have an engineer in hand to handle the onerous process of the state and municipality process. So 9 months later, after 2 false starts and a lot of wasted time, I finally have the engineering company in place to help me to the finish line. The next time will be much easier.

Take Donald Trump. He was able to leverage all his father's hard lessons and relationships to go after much bigger fish than his father ever did because he wasn't spending his time in these exercises of learning, relearning, defeats before going for the big game. I literally 'lost' 15 years just putting the systems in place that anyone - my son, a purchaser, my employees - could use and leverage to not only grow the business, but not have to worry about putting the basic guardrails in place to keep the business safe - be that from the vantage of book-keeping, accounting, legal, insurance, benefits, payroll, - you name it.

It's hard to overestimate the value of go-to relationships in each of my fields of risk - at this point, I got a problem, I know who to call, and I have the funds to solve it. Back in the day, it was like ground hog day, each waking up to a new set of problems that looked a lot like the old set of problems that threatened the viability of my business without any real clue how to rectify it, so a lot of time was spent each week figuring stuff out that anyone running this business would benefit from.

A great example, and I use this example because I love watching his business kick ass and he's a good friend of mine, is what Eric Goldstein and his wife (and team) are building with 5G Insurance. He certainly is doing an impressive job with his 5 year old business, expanding across the country with his agency's work, and that growth is impressive - and it's a great example of what I'm talking about - he had a ton of experience, know-who-to-turn-to relationships, how to solve this and that problem since he worked at his family's firm for a long time and was bred into the business - this advantage allowed him to accelerate and lean right into the opportunities he saw, the opportunities he saw that motivated his jump into his own business, and is actually a safe guard insurance policy in many ways. When you are stuck on a problem - doesn't matter what the problem is - you aren't growing your business, and if you aren't growing your business, you are a sitting duck for hunters, be it competition, cash flow or the myriad of other problems. Business building is still hard, regardless of where you start or join, but if you aren't spending a lot of time solving remedial problems because you lack the basic knowledge of how to achieve what you've dreamt up, if you aren't spinning your wheels, you can just make a lot more progress more quickly. Truth of the matter is that Eric's knowledge of his business, even if his business is new, was a much safer bet than Catskill Farms when we were starting out, since he just knows more about what he is selling.

Lucas Petersheim killing Time over Thanksgiving Break.

We have a small theater in Milford that shows classic movies on Sundays that are introduced by a film expert who gives all sorts of context and other related information about the film, the era, etc... Last week was Casablanca.

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