Yankee Barn Rising
Grantham Post-and-Beam Builder Rebounds After 2011 Closing
Shop foreman Dan Turner finishes an insulated wall panel at Yankee Barn Homes in Grantham last week. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Timber framer Stephen Ripley measures a finished truss before moving it to the finished pile at Yankee Barn Homes in Grantham last week. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
An exploded view of a frame helps Yankee Barn Homes' timber framer Stephen Ripley know which joints to cut. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Grantham — After a rough couple of years and a road that’s still pitted with lawsuits, Yankee Barn Homes is on the way back, re-establishing itself as a homebuilder of national significance, lead from financial ruin by a president who’s made his own resurgence from a well-publicized business failure.
After briefly closing its doors in 2011, Yankee Barn has rebounded. The company has 20 employees and annual sales of $5 million. There’s a new owner, financial backing and direction from Andrew F. Button, 43, who gained prominence in 2003 by rapidly building Dean Hill Motors into one of the largest car dealership brands in New England, only to see it dissolve quickly into bankruptcy in 2006.
Now, Button is older and says he’s has learned from the “regrettable” mistakes he made during his late 20s and early 30s when everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. He plans to build Yankee Barn into a business that will last and continue to be a stable part of the community, he said, noting that he has no ownership interest in the business.
For more than 40 years, Yankee Barn Homes maintained a reputation for providing well-constructed, attractively designed houses on time and at the budgeted prices.
The family-owned business, started by Emil Hanslin and his wife, Suzanne, helped develop Eastman and built its custom, panelized post-and-beam homes all over the country, garnering glowing testimonials from happy homeowners, including some famous business and arts figures.
Emil Hanslin, who died in 1987, was recognized as one of the American housing industry’s most influential leaders by the National Association of Home Builders.
For almost a quarter century, under the guidance of his son Tony, the company continued to grow and sales soared, eclipsing $10 million in 2006.
But a couple of years ago, after hanging on through the most severe nationwide real estate recession in recent memory, Yankee Barn Homes was in trouble.
Tony Hanslin had mounting debts: the bank was pressing for the $2 million in secured debt it was owed; employee wages were three weeks behind; and he had a number of houses that clients had fully paid for but that he didn’t have the money to finish, court documents show.
In stepped Bill Silverstein, who had just sold his business in Massachusetts and had recently purchased Timberpeg and Real Log Homes, relocating them to Claremont.
He had a large production facility and room to expand under the banner of W.H. Silverstein Inc.
In March 2011, after refinancing options had failed and with his back to the financial wall, Tony Hanslin saw a way out for the family business. He signed a letter of intent with Silverstein, outlining the details of the sale to the Claremont company, according to court records. (Hanslin said last week he preferred not to comment for this story.)
The problem was, although Hanslin and Silverstein thought they had the approval of Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank, which had a lien on all the assets, they didn’t. The bank balked at the deal that included Silverstein hiring Yankee Barn’s employees, finishing the five or so houses under construction, making up the unpaid wages and paying for six years to Yankee Barn 6 percent of the company’s earnings before interests, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
In fact, although Silverstein had not consummated the sale, he thought the agreements signed with Hanslin, which included some fixtures and equipment, inventory, intellectual property rights, contracts and deposits, were so secure that he moved the employees, including Hanslin, to Claremont and began paying them, investing about $100,000, he said in court papers.
“In March and April, 2011, I had three sit-down meetings with the bank. … At each of those meetings, the bank encouraged me to do what I could do to salvage Yankee Barn. Specifically, the bank encouraged me to fund Yankee Barn’s payroll and to pay other obligations, including insurance obligations, to keep the entity alive,” Silverstein said in an affidavit filed Aug. 1, 2011, as part of the bank’s suit against his company.
By the end of April, the bank began to be uncomfortable with the deal, and the majority of Yankee Barn employees were on Silverstein’s payroll. He also was finishing the Yankee Barn homes that had been completely paid for, Silverstein said in the court records.
And before the month was out, the bank stopped talking to Silverstein and changed the locks on the Grantham facility. Yankee Barn’s production stopped in Grantham and moved to Claremont. (Silverstein and his attorney, Ned Whittington of Hanover, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.)
Woodsville Guaranty Savings Bank filed suit against Silverstein in July 2011, noting that the agreement between Yankee Barn and Silverstein did not provide for the repayment of the banks loans and jeopardized the bank’s security for the $2 million it was owed. The bank also said it had objected to the agreement in a March 31, 2011, letter, yet the arrangement between Hanslin and Silverstein went forward without its consent.
In early August, an injunction was granted in New Hampshire Superior Court against Silverstein, requiring him to return all Yankee Barn Homes’ assets and to stop using the company’s name.
A few weeks following the injunction, Silverstein, who had stopped using the Yankee Barn name, registered the name Yankee Post & Beam as one of his line of homes. The suit made its way through federal and state courts and was eventually settled between the bank and Silverstein.
Meanwhile, Hanslin transferred the deed to Yankee Barn’s property to the bank, a bank spokesman said last week, declining to make further comment.
In September 2011, the bank sold Yankee Barn’s assets, name and Grantham buildings to Hartland resident Paul Marinelli, who is operating the business under the ownership of Topek LLC. The company’s model home in Eastman, which had been used to lodge visiting prospective customers for a night or two as well as a sales office, was sold by the bank to a homeowner.
Button, who had been with Yankee Barn in a sales position since 2009, was hired to run the company as president, and many of the original employees returned to the Grantham operation.
Shortly after the purchase of the assets, Topek joined the bank’s suit against the Silverstein and continued to pursue a return of assets after the bank had settled. Topek and Silverstein settled in state court in December, agreeing to resolve claims of copyright infringements, wrongful use of intellectual assets and the return of disputed telephone numbers.
A version of the suit continues in federal court, with Silverstein counterclaiming that Topek is using false advertising with the Yankee Barn Homes name and by touting company’s 44-year history, customer testimonials prior to September 2011 and awards received by the company before Topek started in business.
“Topek is not Yankee Barn Homes Inc. or the successor of its interest,” Silverstein says in the federal suit. (Hanslin’s Yankee Barn Homes Inc. is now known as Grantham Kaput Corp.) And Topek claims Silverstein used one of its patented designs on a recent home being built in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Silverstein is seeking to have the seven of the eight claims in the suit that were settled in state court dismissed in federal court.
Meanwhile, the companies continue to build homes and sell them, not really competing for the same customers, Button said in a recent interview. No one involved with the litigation will comment about the suits, and legal fees will continue.
Yankee Barn Homes is on track to top the sales records of the old company, Button said, adding that the experienced employees have been essential to the successful rebirth.
The company was recently recognized by the daily trade publication Environmental Leader for its building practices used to produce energy-efficient homes and for its materials recycling program.
Yankee Barn has a number of homes under construction or planned in the Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., area and a sales office has recently opened in Maryland. Two spec houses are planned for Quechee in the next few weeks, Button said.
Yankee Barn builds custom panelized dried-in shells of the homes with post-and-beam construction for about $90 a square foot. Local contractors are hired by homeowners to complete wiring, drywall and all interior finishes, he said.
“Our business is up about 20 percent over last year. We’re building 25 homes a year, which we can do in eight to 10 working days.
“The company is back here to stay. The community couldn’t have been more supportive. We have loyal employees who have been tremendous through all of this. Now, we have a great opportunity to continue to grow and expand,” Button said. “I plan to put in a full career here.”
Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3216.