Remodeling an Apartment in NYC: A Comprehensive Guide

NYC apartment remodel

How to navigate a renovation in NYC including costs and permits with guidance from your contractor

NYC apartment remodel

Unique remodeling considerations in NYC

For a remodeling project in most New York City homes, you’ll be dealing with an older, high-density, multi-family building. Working with electrical, plumbing, and structural changes in those types of structures will be more challenging than in a single-family home. While Sweeten contractors can handle these complex projects, having an understanding of how to remodel an apartment in NYC will benefit you during the process.

Renovating in NYC means dealing with the Department of Buildings (DOB). Their job is to ensure that all building projects adhere to building codes and zoning. A project will go through the standard plan examination and permit process. Your contractor can help you connect with a Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA), who can act as the Registered Design Professional for your project. The PE or RA will submit your plan to the Department and work with them to gain approval.

Much of the city’s housing stock—old and new—is part of a condo/co-op/HOA model. This detail can have a major impact on your project. If this applies to you, check your building’s alteration agreement to know what you can do in terms of remodeling your home. You may have to submit your design to your board, as well as to the Department of Buildings.

Cost factors in NYC

The basic reality of remodeling in NYC is that it’s more expensive than in other places in the US. Contractors cover higher business insurance and labor costs, for example. All these costs contribute to a median home cost that’s more than double the median figure in the rest of the country. The cost of living index reaches 168.6 overall.

Average renovation costs in NYC

Your alteration agreement outlines the building’s logistical requirements that the contractor will need to follow. Allowable construction hours, protecting the common areas, or service elevator hours impact the cost and timeline of your remodel. 

Apart from logistical considerations, what are you dreaming of for your home? It’s important to know that the “wet” spaces—the kitchen and bathrooms—cost much more per square foot than the other rooms. In fact, you can plan on about $300 – $400 per square foot for these spaces. The other rooms, such as the living room and bedrooms, or the “dry spaces,” will be about $30–50 per square foot, depending on the level of finishes you choose.

Sometimes a “dry space” like a living room will surprise you in an older building and add value on its own as it did for Sweeten homeowners Emily and Dan. During the remodeling of their NYC condo, they found old brick hiding behind sheetrock. It turned out to be the perfect iconic New York touch they were looking for. The exposed brick wall is now an architectural focal point. 

How much a kitchen remodel costs

Here are some cost examples for a medium-sized kitchen of 90-120 square feet, excluding the cost of appliances:

  • Budget kitchen renovation costs: Starting from $24,500
  • Mid-grade kitchen renovation costs: Starting from $37,500
  • High-end kitchen renovation costs: Starting from $76,000

How much a bathroom remodel costs

If you’re planning a complete renovation of a standard full bathroom in New York City, with basic general contracting services and no layout changes, here are the estimated starting costs for your project:

  • Budget bathroom renovation costs: from $18,000
  • Mid-grade bathroom renovation costs: from $28,000
  • High-end bathroom renovation costs: from $40,500

Gut or non-gut renovation

With an extensive scope, a gut remodel involves taking the walls down to the studs or framing or when walls are moving for a new layout. 

A whole-home gut renovation is extensive. A project scope of work can include:

  • Electrical, including switches and outlets
  • Plumbing
  • Demolition
  • Framing, including new walls and repairing/reworking existing
  • New insulation and drywall
  • Heating and cooling system

Tina and Andrew’s Sweeten contractor tore down the wall between the kitchen and the living room—but only partially. A large seated countertop was installed in its place. The kitchen now has a view of the three living room windows making it the brightest space in the co-op.

In contrast, a non-gut renovation keeps the existing floorplan with no major repairs that need to be made. Barring any surprises, the cost will be less and be finished faster.

In a non-gut, a home refresh can include bathroom and kitchen upgrades with new materials and fixtures. The scope can also include whatever fits your vision for your new home, such as new closet builds and refinished hardwood floors.

Submitting permits

Experienced construction professionals help you manage the permitting process and the required paperwork for the board and DOB. Depending on your project scope, you’ll need to factor in permit costs. Major work like moving walls, upgrading or installing new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and gas lines require permits, as well as specialized labor, for the more expensive behind-the-scenes steps.

Film director and novelist Jan Eliasberg remodeled her 1,750-square-foot penthouse co-op in NYC. Installing a central air HVAC system caused months-long delays but her Sweeten contractor knew how to keep the project moving along.

Upgrading the electrical and plumbing

The cost of a gut renovation depends on the age and condition of the space and the structure it’s located in, whether it’s a building or a house. If the work is in an old building or a historic district, updating house mechanicals, such as electrical panels or old pipes, must also be considered. Pricing for the “unseen” costs of your renovation can be difficult to anticipate which are ususally found after the walls are opened. 

Adding or upgrading any electrical and plumbing would be considered a gut renovation and an architect would be required to draw up the plans. Keep in mind that different forms of labor can be priced very differently, with wiring and plumbing work, for example, tending to be more expensive. Saving money on these types of infrastructure is not recommended. It is important to hire licensed and qualified experts to handle these jobs. Cutting corners could result in costly issues in the future.

You can save money by mapping out a clear plan. Getting an architect or designer on board early for a major transformation can help you avoid costly changes mid-stream. 

Improving hardwood floors

Another way to save time and money is to include hardwood floor refinishing or replacing in the scope, if this was something you were thinking about. Since the renovation crew is already on-site, and the contractor has access to flooring subcontractors, you can take advantage of their services and streamline the process.

Floor repair is challenging, and matching the existing flooring is unlikely to be perfect, even for skilled professionals. To achieve a consistent result, replacing planks and refinishing the entire floor is necessary. If more than 30% of the floor requires repair, it’s recommended to get a quote for a new floor instead of repairing it.

One Sweeten contractor recently refinished the hardwood floors for a 1,600-square-foot apartment in NYC for $12,800 or $8/sq ft. Another Sweeten homeowner replaced the floors of a smaller 616-square-foot one-bedroom apartment. The project installed engineered wood and soundproofing for $8,770. The budget for materials and labor worked out to $14/square foot.

Creating an open concept

If you’re looking to create a new layout and move or bring down any non-structural walls, this will require architectural services. 

Removing walls for an open concept is still in demand but flex living provides versatility. The popularity of open-concept living has been impacted by the shift to working from home. Sliding doors and partitions help control sound traffic, offer an open view, and define separate spaces. Claire and Dan’s Sweeten renovation turned their NYC co-op studio into a junior one-bedroom with a custom sliding partition.

Another option is half walls, which visually create another “room” for privacy. This is the best of both worlds without feeling walled in or blocking natural light.

Skim coating for smooth walls

Skim coating is a technique that can make the walls of your home look perfect. Nicks and scratches are filled in and bumps are sanded down. While skim coating is not necessary, it gives your walls a flawless look under any lighting. It can be expensive but many find the results worth the cost. The expense is due to the physical labor of hand-sanding the entire vertical surface of the walls.

Contingency planning

Homeowners should allocate an extra cash reserve for unexpected issues that may arise during a gut remodel, including those that surface after walls have been demolished. It is not unusual for this to occur. For a non-gut remodel, it’s recommended to add an additional 10 to 15 percent above the expected budget. Add more than 15 percent if your project is a gut remodel.

The contractor and the homeowner both sign change orders. These are regular adjustments made to the original contract to address additional work and associated costs. This process ensures that all extra cost issues are documented in an orderly manner.

Who should you hire for your NYC apartment remodel?

Finding a general contractor with experience in your specific project scope, budget, building type, and location in NYC can be a challenge, although they are readily available. It’s also important to consider their communication style and level of professionalism to ensure a good match.

You have three primary routes to choose from: hiring an architect/interior designer alongside a general contractor; opting for just a sole builder or contractor; or partnering with a full-service design-build firm. Each option offers its own set of advantages depending on your specific needs.

Partner with an architect/interior designer and contractor

An architect/interior designer and your contractor can pinpoint any potential issues and help distribute the budget to get what you need. Most Sweeten contractors can refer you to an architect who they’ve worked with on past jobs if your scope requires their services. Depending on the scope, an architect can supply drawings for permits or the board, if required.

More comprehensive working drawings complete with MEP information can be drawn up if walls or the layout are being altered. Set aside 10-20% of your project funds for this service. Sweeten homeowners, Ilene and Neil, brought in architect, Aaron Davis, to renovate their whole NYC condo. The project transformed the home located in a building constructed as a department store into a residential space. Some of the scope included relocating the front door, installing a new primary bathroom, and swapping a bathtub for a walk-in steam shower. 

Renovate with a general contractor

Sweeten general contractors in NYC have the expertise to upgrade your home with a rip-and-replace project or full gut remodel. Some GCs may be able to help with limited design work. It’s best to meet with multiple firms on-site to get a good sense of their experience and their communication style.  

Every renovation project requires a general contractor to oversee the daily construction work. Hiring a general contractor may best suit your job if there are no layout changes or tearing down walls; gas, electrical, and plumbing remain the same; and there are no changes that require DOB approval. You would also have a general idea of what you’d like to do with the space.

Work with a design-build firm

Working with a design-build firm means you will work with designers and contractors, all in one place. This increases efficiency and unity throughout your renovation project.

A smart move is to connect with a contractor early on to look over your home as is and talk about what you would like to achieve. A skilled contractor can spot the challenges that older buildings present and can also connect you with an engineer or architect that may be needed as the Registered Design Professional for your project.

The first step to getting started when planning your renovation is working with an insured and licensed contractor. At Sweeten, we can connect you with vetted apartment remodeling contractors in NYC who have experience with projects similar in scope to yours, familiarity with your neighborhood, and expertise in your budget.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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