From the early pandemic’s industry-wide shutdowns to the hottest market the region has ever seen, the last 18 months have been one wild ride for those in the construction and real estate game. With over 275 homes completed in the Catskills and 23 currently in progress, Chuck Petersheim, founder of Sullivan County design-build firm Catskill Farms, has had his finger on the pulse of the region’s real estate market since his company’s start in 2001.
Petersheim shares his thoughts on where the market is headed, the challenges the region faces, and how small business owners can adapt.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the real estate market starting to cool off. Has that been your experience?
CP: The market is actually more robust than it may seem at first glance, because the lack of inventory has sidelined so many buyers. However, when a solid listing appears, it’s like piranhas in the Amazon. Buyers who have been disappointed by bidding wars or uninspiring inventory are ready to pounce. As the pandemic has eased up though, people don’t have to be here for safety’s sake anymore, so they’re a little more picky.
Do you think it’s possible to sustain that kind of interest long-term or are we looking at a bubble that’s ready to burst?
CP: Currently, there’s simply too much demand for the supply to catch up, and that could provide real fuel for a longish-term sustainable Hudson Valley real estate market.
As long as New York City families are tethered, but not handcuffed, to the city, the hybrid workplace is going to be a boon for the beautiful and world-class Hudson Valley. Without a true disruption like the pandemic, this opportunity would have never happened, but I believe it’s here to stay.
What do you see as the benefits of such a monumental shift in the region?
CP: As a small business person who believes that rising tides float more boats, more people create more opportunities. I don’t really believe there are a lot of cons. I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or maybe just a true life raft to the Hudson Valley. It comes with a host of issues in housing and affordability, but I think they’re outweighed by the opportunity.
As long as I’ve been involved in the Catskills, the idea of actually making money, reinvesting in your business, growing, supporting a family, and planning for your future has been very challenging. The huge surge in demand means that small businesses now have a chance not just to survive, but to prosper.
I’m also a big believer that there’s always a small business person around the corner. The cost of starting up a business is so much lower in the Hudson Valley than New York City, and this disruption has made new and creative entrepreneurial thinking possible for the people spending more time here.
What has been the largest challenge of the last year?
I feel that Catskill Farms is one of the few companies that was able to grasp this opportunity. We doubled in size, hired new people, and performed at peak performance. We were able to do this because I put as much energy and time and effort and creative thinking into securing workers as I did securing clients. We invested in billboards and advertising on bus shelters and we got the word out, but it was like another full-time job. But it worked. We found the help and we met the moment.
How are you seeing this issue play out with the construction of your homes?
CP: The labor issue is a problem across the board, from overwhelmed towns dealing with inexperienced land buyers to banks that can’t get an appraiser out for 30 or 40 days. It’s especially an issue in day-to-day production. Whether it’s a pool liner or a refrigerator part or a hot water heater, they’re all hard to source. It’s making what was once everyday activities look heroic. The companies like ours that are meeting the expectations of their clients are problem solving in ways they never imagined.
What’s one piece of advice you have for other small business owners navigating all the challenges and changes the last year has brought?
Our edge has always been what the client brings to the table. They bring information, they bring goals and aspirations, they bring fears and trepidations, they bring talent and passion. And for 20 years I’ve been writing emails, meeting, greeting, riding in cars, walking in the woods, touring homes with these folks, and my eyes and ears have been wide-open to hear it all, unfiltered. And when you listen, instead of sell, you can really zero in on a product that meets the needs of the niche you are pursuing.