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Brick Underground’s best advice on NYC apartment renovations

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Renovations are necessary from time to time, whether to keep your apartment up to date and in sale-ready mode, or to fix up your new place to make it your own.

But even the thought of renovations produce a lot of stress—and questions. Do you use an architect or not? How do you find competent contractors? How much should you spend?

At Brick, we’ve answered these questions and more. For a primer, listen to our podcast on renovations, with tips from the founder of Sweeten, a company that matches New York-area homeowners and contractors (and a Brick Underground sponsor), along with a guest who shares her highs and lows of a co-op renovation. You can also check out three things to figure out before you embark on a big apartment renovation.

For additional insights, read on for our best advice on NYC apartment renovations.

NYC Renovation Calculator

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About Bolster's NYC Renovation Calculator: Bolster's Renovation Calculator enables you to easily calculate the estimated cost of a major New York City renovation. All you'll need to know is 1) the scope, complexity, and type of your project, 2) the quality of your desired finishes, and 3) the area being renovated. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

About Bolster: Bolster is a New York City design-build firm that delivers a seamless, radically transparent renovation experience--beginning with a line-by-line cost estimate that empowers you to plan your scope, budget, and schedule.

Standard: The quality of the finish is acceptable with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc. 

Mid Range: The quality of the finish is good (grade A) with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc.

High Range: The quality of finish is high (grade AA) and customized with fine finishes and materials being used that can last years, if not a lifetime.

Upscale: The quality of finish is the highest possible (grade AAA) and labor-intensive, with every surface bespoke, new, and beautifully finished.

Low: Simple design, no layout or structural changes, elevator in building.

Medium: Average design, moving of some systems and/or structural changes, no elevator in the building.

High: Complex design, complicated engineering, lots of logistics (e.g. boom lifts, suspended scaffolds, etc.), dangerous working conditions.

Small: Changes to surfaces only (e.g. painting, tiling).

Medium: Small + Changes to the finishes themselves (e.g. removing plaster, replacing flooring etc).

Large: Small + Medium + Changes to the building's infrastructure (e.g. replacing all systems, walls, floor joists etc).

Design & Build: Full architectural services including schematic design, design development, construction drawings and approvals from the DoB and full build services.

Build with some Design: Full build services and some design with minimum compliance.

Build Only: Full build services with no design input (performed by another architect or not required at all).

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Start Your Project With Bolster

Hiring an architect

When you hire an architect for a renovation, you’re paying both for their design expertise as well as their experience navigating the city’s labyrinth of permits and paperwork. Most experts would recommend using them for large renovation projects. But they can come in handy, too, on smaller jobs.

Their charges can vary from a percentage of the total cost to a flat fee, which can mean big bucks on larger jobs, so be sure to read our piece on what to expect—and what you’re paying for—when you hire an architect. And find out whether it’s normal for an architect to charge a retainer fee.

Once you’ve gone the route of working with an architect, it’s important to make sure you understand their renovation plans before construction begins. Here are three tips to help translate those 2-D sketches to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Vendors and contractors

Hiring the right people for a project is paramount. Check out our nine tips from a high-end renovation manager for how to vet your vendors.

Sometimes, though, even after checking references, someone may not work out. We’ve all read or heard contractor nightmare stories—including those about poor quality work, taking longer and costing more than the original estimates, or walking away before the job is finished. Should this happen to you, find out what your options are for how to fire an incompetent contractor.

DIY tips

You can try to save money by doing certain parts of a renovation on your own but sometimes that move can cost you more than if you had a pro take care of it from the start. If buying your own materials, read our three tips on how to do this first. Also, check out our five NYC-area architectural salvage stores to avoid cookie-cutter décor.

When working out your design options, keep in mind that not all trends age gracefully. Here are seven trends to avoid if you don’t want your space to feel dated, fast.

Specific projects

Before embarking on a renovation, see if a similar project has been covered in one of our Reno Ready columns, in which experts weigh in on how best to update specific apartments. These cover a range of housing types, including studios and townhouses.

Bathrooms are arguably one of the most renovated rooms in an apartment. Here, three NYC bathroom-renovation veterans share what they’ve learned from the process.

Brownstones epitomize certain New York neighborhoods. Should you be lucky enough to purchase one, be sure to read our piece on the seven hidden costs of renovating a brownstone.

Ever wonder how best to utilize that nook under a staircase? Learn how to get the most storage out of that space.

And if you can’t afford to tackle all your upgrade needs at the same time, here’s advice on how to plan a piece-by-piece renovation.

General renovation questions

Our Ask An Expert column responds to queries from readers about renovations, including what kind of renovations do—and don’t—require co-op board approval; what happens to your home insurance during a renovation; if you’re already renovating, should you soundproof your apartment in the process; and if you have a large single bathroom, should you split it up into two smaller bathrooms.