Hudson Valley View: Interview with DEN General Contractor, Jeremy Mayr

Casa Nevana during the build process, via Jeremy Mayr. 

When you picture the Hudson Valley, you may think of lush scenery: rivers, foliage, and rolling hills sprawling for miles. Perhaps you also think of the towns scattered throughout the landscape and the people that inhabit them. Among those towns live the people that build them, including BuiltBy DEN partner and general contractor, Jeremy Mayr. Jeremy’s long construction and design career spans many states and projects, but all roads have led him back to his home in the Hudson Valley. We recently sat down with Jeremy to hear more about his story, his career, and his partnership with DEN.

 General Contractor Career Highlights

  • The career of a general contractor is often long, varied, and spans across multiple forms of architectural and construction training, including design, drafting, carpentry, and ironworking.

  • A great general contractor will be reliable, trustworthy, and transparent with communication.

  • Many general contractors who own their own businesses will hire locally for jobs, and work with small businesses for supplies to boost the local economy.

  • When hiring a general contractor, do your research and request references if needed, as you'll want to make sure the person you hire is reliable.

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Jeremy Mayr. I’m the owner of Catskills Fine Homes in Saugerties, New York, and I’m a General Contractor partnering with DEN in the Hudson Valley.

Walk us through your background in architecture and building.

My professional experience started when I was 18. I traveled the East Coast building and remodeling Walmart Stores, from Panama City to Coco Beach, Florida, up to Elmira, New York. 

After two years, I moved back to Upstate New York, where I completed the Carpenters Union Apprentice Program in Newburgh. After some time there, I wanted to get into the more technical side of building, so I went to Ulster County Community College and took the course in Architecture Design and Drafting. After graduating, I moved my studies to the Boston Architectural College, and after about two years at that school, I went down to New York City to join the IronWorkers Locals 40. I completed the apprenticeship program, where I’ve been a journeyman since 2008. 

From about 2010 through now, I’ve been flipping homes on the side, whether in ironworking or carpentry. That brought me to building new homes with DEN.

What keeps bringing you back to New York? What do you love about Saugerties and the Hudson Valley?

Growing up in the Hudson Valley, we definitely experienced all four seasons. When I lived in Florida, it felt like summer all the time. Up here in the Northeast, we have fall and foliage, spring—it’s new and regenerative—and, of course, the winter months remind you of the holidays. All of those things combined are what make home. I’ve tried other places; I’ve tried South Florida, and I’ve tried Central Florida. Boston was great, but the winter is so much longer, it seems, than here in the Hudson Valley. I like seeing the Catskill Mountains (although many people will say they’re hills) because they’re beautiful. I love traveling through them to job sites and seeing what it all has to offer. It’s just a good feeling.

Barnhouse Athens during the build process, via Jeremy Mayr. 

Can you share a little bit more about your time at the Boston Architectural College? 

Earlier in my career as a carpenter or apprentice, I always saw the boss with blueprints. Then, when they handed me or showed me the blueprints, it looked like a different language. So once I experienced that a few times, I was like, "I want to be that guy. I want to read that language." Being able to acquire that knowledge and skill was a challenge for me. That was what led to my decision to go to drafting school and architecture school. Architecture school taught me that I have a high understanding of art itself, so it all just came together.

Was there a turning point in your career where you switched to becoming a general contractor?

In the summer of 2018, I was on a structural concrete job by Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and we were setting concrete panels. They were about 40,000 lbs. each. At the site, all of the connections were supposed to be welded within the concrete panels. We set up a panel, and for some reason that panel wasn’t secure enough. I was the last one to walk away from the panel when it fell. I was about four feet from it, and all of a sudden I heard this loud bang, and the whole building shook. The job was shut down for a week because they wanted to investigate what happened and what other problems it may have caused. My wife was pregnant at the time, and my daughter was due about a month later. When I got home and told my wife about the accident, we reevaluated things together. With the baby on the way, we realized there was no reason to take such a risk. It was a good career, but not worth an injury. The next day I decided to change my career and really dove into contracting for myself, and it worked out.

Can you dive into how you went about your career change?

Prior to my career change from ironworker to contractor, I had done a few small jobs in the area, but my business was predominantly house flipping. After deciding to make the change, my biggest job was to get clients and customers. I contacted Angie’s List as well as Home Advisor, and things were slow to begin. Eventually, a gentleman contacted me about an addition. He brought me some blueprints, which were pretty intricate, and asked me if I could read them and if I had any experience. I could read them, but I told him I only had a little experience. After he interviewed me, he said, "I’m confident in you. I think you can do this," and he gave me the opportunity. I now consider him a friend of mine as well as a customer, and I’ve pretty much rebuilt his house since. That was my first large job on my own; just my younger brother and I built it over the summer. That started everything

Casa Nevana during the build process, via Jeremy Mayr. 

What do you think sets you apart from other home builders?

Most of my customers become my friends, and they’re always repeat customers of mine. The one thing I’ve always been told by them is that they’re happy because I always answer their phone calls and emails. When I tell them I’m going to do something, 99 times out of 100, I get there and do it, or my guys will get there and do it. It’s just customer service. The first time you tell someone you’re going to do something but you don’t, that’s a mark, and then they start losing confidence in you and things change. I try not to do that, ever. I try to be as transparent as possible.

How do you market yourself? Do you get a former customer as a reference?

If someone asks me to provide a reference, I will. I have many to share. After a couple of meetings with someone, I usually gain their trust. Like I said, when I tell someone I’m going to be somewhere or start something, I make sure I am, and I do. From the start, when things get moving and we’re there getting things going, the customer sees the pace we’re moving at, and they find comfort in it.

Can you share a little bit more about your employee structure?

I have a small crew. My brother is an Executive Supervisor. He works with me to run jobs. I have three or four full-time, in-house carpenters, as well as a couple of laborers. I also have numerous subs in the area that I’ve worked with and trust for some time now, and I know when they tell me they’re going to be somewhere that they’re going to be there and do the job accordingly.

What kind of impact do you see your business having on the community?

As far as business is concerned, I provide jobs for local guys. I use local hardware stores and lumber yards to try to keep it in the community. Wherever we’re building, I use the local lumber yard for materials. In that aspect, I think I’m helping the overall economy in the area. If I can use mom and pop businesses, I will.

Casa Nevana near the completion of the build process, via Jeremy Mayr. 

How does it feel to close out a project and see it all completed? What kind of satisfaction do you get from that?

That’s the toughest question to answer. My wife actually asks me that pretty often. The answer is, I don’t know. It takes a while for it to set in with me because I have a trained eye, so there’s always something that I’ll see—not that it’s wrong, but it’s just like, "I want that better" or "we’re going to do this differently next time." It may seem perfect, but I speculate on everything, and I pick it all apart. In the grand scheme of things, when my children are older, I’ll be able to drive through the countryside or the mountains and say, "Dad built that house," so that brings some satisfaction and gratification.

What are the home owner’s reactions like? Can you share one that stands out?

My first house build was a DEN house, Casa Nevana. I became very friendly with the owners of Casa Nevana throughout the whole build. When we signed the contract, the owner, Michael Penchansky, and I took a picture shaking hands. He was like, "You have to save that; this is your first house." He was very happy for me, and I was in awe. It was my first house build and my first contract. When I finished, he and I took another picture, and he was like, "Congratulations. This house is beautiful. I knew you could do it." It was my first house, and he knew it was my first house! So I’ll never forget that. I still have the prints. I’m going to frame the front page of the rendering and hang it in my office. It means a lot to me, and he and his wife’s reactions meant a lot to me. They always give me shout-outs whenever they’re in any write-up, interview, or blog. My first means the most.

Barnhouse Athens during the build process, via Jeremy Mayr. 

From your perspective, what do you think a homeowner or home buyer should know about the DEN process?

Always do your homework. Definitely know who you’re working with, whether it be a BuiltBy DEN partner or a General Contractor in the area. It’s a process, and you have to know that you’re in good hands with whoever you’re trusting to do this.

What are your thoughts on the DEN partnership?

I prefer to build DEN homes throughout the year. It’s helpful because DEN’s project management services take away my workload of everyday tasks throughout the build, so I’m able to focus on more things. It helps all of us. I have more time in the field or am able to take on a project that’s further out (location-wise) because DEN handles the municipal paperwork.

If you like the idea of building your own DEN house but feel overwhelmed by the construction process, check out BuiltBy DEN, our new streamlined home building service exclusively available in New York’s Hudson Valley.