Renovating a Fixer-Upper in NYC: What You Need to Know

Renovating a fixer-upper in NYC can be both rewarding and challenging, but it doesn't have to be stressful as long as you know where to start.

“Location, location, location.” The maxim applies to any place you might buy a home, but it rings especially true in New York City. Fortunately, your house hunt will often turn up spacious options in your neighborhood of choice, but they might need some major renovations to be move-in ready.

Of course, renovating a fixer-upper can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the process. We know it can be filled with uncertainties and that overcoming them can feel daunting. But in this guide, you’ll be able to ease your worries with information on where to start a renovation, what you can expect to pay for it, and how a quality contractor can help you create a space you’ll love living in for years to come.

Where Do I Start?

The first step to a successful renovation sounds simple: Figure out what you need. But you must go deeper than, “I need a place for my family to live.” Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to tackle this project? Do I need more space for my growing family? Do I want to achieve a specific aesthetic?
  • What lifestyle do I foresee having after my space is perfect?
  • What changes to my space’s layout are necessary to make that lifestyle a reality? Do I need additional bathrooms, a home office, larger bedrooms, or something else?
  • What other elements, such as natural light or premium closet space, do I value?
  • Will this be my forever home, or do I envision selling this in the next five to seven years?

Considering these questions and anything else you might think of along the way will help you get a better picture of what your renovation will entail.

What Are My Next Steps?

Once you have your goals nailed down, you can start preparing to hire a contractor for your fixer-upper remodel. Before you can do that, you need to complete the following steps:

  1. Create a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves for your project.
  2. If you’re renovating a co-op or a condo, obtain a copy of your building or condo board’s alteration agreement to share with potential contractors.
  3. Decide what type of renovation approach will work best for your project.
  • Tip: A full-service firm like Gallery Kitchen & Bath can handle your entire project from start to finish, which can be attractive to busy professionals. On the other hand, if you prefer to be in the thick of your project, you can opt to manage the various trades, vendors, approvals, and more yourself — though if you’re not adequately prepared to do all that, you might find yourself with a major headache.
  1. Compile a list of questions you want to ask your contractors before you meet them in person.
  • Tip: Any reputable firm will want to speak with you by phone first to get a sense of your project and give you the opportunity to ask questions. It should be a two-way interview as the contractor gets to know you and you get to know them.
  1. Research renovation firms and identify two to four that you would like to speak with. From there, you can schedule site visits with at least two firms to discuss your project in detail and review proposals.

How Do I Choose a Contractor?

At this point, you’ll be faced with one of the first major choices of your renovation: which contractor to trust with your project. It can be an anxiety-inducing decision without a clear direction.

But based on the work you did in the last phase, you already have a place to start. You’ve chosen the kind of renovation approach you would prefer, and that will narrow down your search quite a bit. If you want someone to take care of the process for you, you’re looking for a full-service design and build firm. If you would prefer to do the organization on your own, you’ll be on the hunt for a labor-only contractor.

Either way, you need to look for a few key things in every potential contractor. First, you can judge contractors’ efficiency by whether they’re on time for calls and meetings — or, at least, aren’t usually late. The last thing you want is a renovation that lasts weeks longer than expected, so punctuality is one of the first things you should look for.

From there, you should evaluate whether potential contractors act like partners who will work with you to achieve your goals. If a contractor you’re vetting immediately writes off something you’d love to do as impossible, you might want to move along to the next candidate. Instead, go with someone who accepts your idea and offers suggestions on how to make it possible within whatever budget or space limitations exist.

A good contractor is one who will listen to even your wildest ideas, suggest ways to bring them to life, and guide you through the process objectively. They should recommend finishes and materials that you’re not aware of that can meet your design needs without a sky-high price tag. They should answer questions you didn’t even think to ask. And ultimately, they should make it clear that they care as much about your project as you do.

What Will My Project Cost?

The final element of preparation you must do before you can truly begin to bring your project to life is to determine what it will cost. But just how much does it cost to renovate a fixer-upper? The complex answer is that it depends on the project scope, but the key to maintaining control is to start out with reasonable expectations.

For instance, if you fall in love with the idea of a certain finish, you might not be able to include other things you want in your budget. Seeing the price points for every element of your renovation laid out in a proposal together can move your mindset toward compromise. And even though an $80,000 kitchen remodel won’t magically change into a $30,000 one, small changes can make a big difference.

Once you have this established, your contractor can then move on to providing a cost range for what the entire project would cost without scaling back on anything. The ideal situation for everyone is that those figures fit within your budget. But if the entire renovation comes in above your price range, your contractor can recommend alternative finishes, more affordable appliances, and additional adjustments to bring costs down without compromising the project. When you’ve got a proposal that both parties can agree on, you can start putting your plans in action.

How Can Gallery Help Me?

We pride ourselves on our ability to work closely with our clients to bring their ideas to life, no matter how much renovation experience they’ve had. We believe in our ability to act as consultants to our clients, and we can help you make the right choices for your project. If you think our full-service process for renovating a fixer-upper is right for you, reach out to get a call scheduled with someone from our Gallery Kitchen & Bath team.

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