How to Plan Your NYC Condo Renovation
In NYC, condos are particularly appealing. They don’t come with the same restrictions as most co-ops, and they aren’t burdened with the same maintenance responsibilities as private homes. However, that’s not to say owning or renovating a condo is a stress-free proposition. Many of them require significant renovations and layout changes to fit their owners’ needs.
For example, older Manhattan condos often have galley kitchens that lack storage, so condo kitchen renovations are par for the course. New owners want to open up small kitchens into the dining or living room to create more light and space. They need to add or renovate kitchen closets to maximize storage and the kitchen’s functionality.
Even newer condos still have some large-scale renovations in store before they meet their owners’ specific needs and preferences. Perhaps yours has great functionality but lacks the style you prefer. Or perhaps your family is growing and you really need more storage and another bedroom.
As a property option, a condo is usually a great fit for the average New Yorker. Fortunately, you don’t have to give up personality and style to benefit from its advantages. It just takes a few creative condo renovation tips, a checklist that includes everything you need, and solid knowledge about what to expect throughout the process.
Preparing for Your NYC Condo Renovation Project
One of the biggest benefits of condos is that they aren’t co-ops, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely restriction-free. Condos have boards, and boards have rules they will impose on your renovation project. For example, most of them won’t allow you to create a wet space over a dry space, so you’ll have to carefully plan any kitchen or bathroom layout changes.
Many condos come with alteration agreements that impose work such as installing a new waterproof membrane and replacing plumbing even if you’re just upgrading plumbing fixtures in the bathroom. In some cases, your board might also impose a limit on how long your renovation can take before penalties start to kick in. Some projects are so large that you have no other choice to account for the penalties as part of your project cost or break up the project into multiple stages. (Pro tip: A good contractor can provide a lot of valuable input on how to best approach this.)
On top of these rules, you’ll have to account for site conditions such as parking, elevator usage, daily working hour restrictions, and more. NYC condo renovation costs are naturally higher than those for renovating private homes because of such conditions, so plan for additional costs if you’re on the fifth floor, you live in a walkup, your building has narrow hallways, or you have other site constraints.
Finally, your building might have a concrete ceiling that you’re not allowed to penetrate. If you want to remove a wall, add a new one, or install recessed lighting, you might have to sacrifice some ceiling height to do so. You’ll also have to budget for electrical line channeling down existing walls and skim coating to hide the updates.
Your NYC Condo Renovation Checklist
Now that you know what to expect, these condo renovation tips will help ensure you properly plan your project and keep it on track:
1. Read every line in your alteration agreement.
Your board’s alteration agreement helps ensure that your condo renovation project doesn’t go on indefinitely or cause extensive damage to the building. It will contain important details such as contractor requirements, accepted types of projects, additional work needed, and so forth.
If part of the agreement is vague or confusing, don’t hesitate to ask the board for clarification. The slightest misunderstanding could leave you vulnerable to costly penalties and could even put your whole project in jeopardy. Pro tip: A contractor experienced in condo renovations can help you navigate this process.
2. Join the condo board, or at least get familiar with it.
Even if you’re perfectly clear on the alteration agreement, get familiar with the members of your condo’s board. If possible, sit on the board yourself. Having good relationships with the board members will prove advantageous in many ways, especially if part of your renovation ideas fall into a gray area of the alteration agreement.
Also, selecting a contractor who’s also familiar with how condo boards operate will avoid straining your relationship with board members. Everything from rules, red tape, and politics to logistics and site conditions are different for Manhattan and Brooklyn condo renovations than for a typical home remodel. Having a partner who’s well-versed in these differences will pay dividends.
3. Make as much use of natural light as possible.
It’s true that having a concrete ceiling will restrict your lighting options (unless you are willing to lose some height to install recessed lights). But if you’re lucky enough to have access to some elusive natural light in your condo, you can plan your remodel specifically to pull in as much light as possible.
If you’re thinking about adding a bedroom to your space, for example, consider using pocket doors, sliding doors, or glass walls with curtains instead of a typical swing door. While these alternatives do cost more and require more work to build, they help keep the light flowing throughout your space — which is more than worth the investment.
4. Double-check everything; try to avoid change orders.
If you’ve ever heard a renovation horror story from friends or family members, it probably involved mid-project change orders. Sometimes, these are unavoidable: You might decide to upgrade from porcelain tile to a marble slab in the bathroom, for example. But your project shouldn’t be planned around a change-order model.
Unfortunately, many contractors still follow this model. Attractive initial proposals are offset when contractors say, “Oh, we didn’t realize the alteration agreement required a waterproof membrane in the bathroom and kitchen — that will cost extra.” Make sure the proposal your contractor gives you is very specific and includes all the work you’re requesting plus any additional requirements that the alteration agreement imposes.
5. Choose an experienced and cooperative contractor.
The best way to check all these boxes on your list is with the help of a contractor who not only knows the ins and outs of a Manhattan condo renovation but also emphasizes cooperation in your partnership. Choose a contractor who takes the time to ask you questions and understand your goals, not just deliver a sales pitch.
A contractor who will act as a true partner during your renovation is one who doesn’t dismiss your goals as unrealistic but instead offers you ways to get there, or at least get close, within all the parameters in play. If you have a maximum budget of $250,000 for your renovation, for example, a great contractor should help you create a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves and then find a way to deliver everything on the first list and at least a few things from the second. That often includes pulling alternate material choices, offering different layout configurations, and avoiding work that would create additional hassles.
Realizing that the condo you found in the perfect location and price point doesn’t quite meet your personality isn’t necessarily a bad thing — especially if you have a contractor like Gallery Kitchen & Bath on your side. At Gallery, we want to work with you to make your space reflect your personality while sticking within the bounds of any requirements your condo board might throw our way. We have years of experience in condo renovations and would love to set up a consultation to discuss how we can bring your vision to life.