What it costs
Most designers don’t talk about money on their websites. I think that’s crazy.
People of all means want to know how much to budget and to be well prepared.
With that in mind, here’s a deep dive into potential costs:
Construction costs are a combination of materials and labor, and are separate from design and filing fees. Labor is the most expensive part of any renovation, and New York City presents contractors with an array of challenges that make working here more expensive than other parts of the country. These are general numbers. Specific labor prices are determined only by bidding contractors. We use a standardized checklist to facilitate a bidding process that allows you to compare bids apples to apples.
Construction costs for a typical kitchen renovation will fall in the $50-100K range, depending on the quality of the cabinets and other materials. That the size of the kitchen may be very small does not necessarily mean it will cost less, as there are still plumbing, electric, and construction issues to deal with.
On the low end, materials for a very small kitchen might run about $15K, plus labor costs. On the higher end, that amount would barely cover the cost of appliances. What’s important is to choose a level of finish that's appropriate to your home, and would be expected by buyers comparing homes of similar value. That means an Ikea kitchen may be the perfect solution to a starter apartment on a low floor, while a classic pre-war in a prime location merits a very high level of quality and finishes.
Bathrooms, even though they are often the smallest rooms in the house, can be the most expensive per square foot. That's because they're the “wet” rooms of a home. They involve major plumbing, waterproofing and tile costs.
The typical New York City 5′ x 7′ bathroom renovation generally costs about $30K—$55K, depending on materials and whether the tub is replaced.
The going rate for labor is $18-28K, and materials run from $6K on the budget end to upwards of $20K for better tile and plumbing fixtures.
There are many variables: Basically, a postwar apartment in good shape, with low ceilings, sheetrock walls, and simple moldings is much cheaper to paint than a pre-war apartment with high ceilings, damaged plaster, and lots of details. You can expect to pay, per room, $800—$1200 for the former, to upwards of $6000 for the latter, with every variation in between.
Pro tip: It’s cheaper, faster and healthier to replace heavily-painted over moldings and doors with new, especially if old lead paint is present. New wood will have a crisp, clean profile and can be closely matched to the originals. Wherever possible, try to refurbish original hardware and hinges; they can often be stripped simply by boiling in a pot of water. If the old finish is damaged they can be re-plated.
If you’re looking for the best VALUE, a gut renovation will provide the greatest payoff. If there are several areas you plan on changing, and you expect to keep the apartment for at least 4 years, getting it all done at once is your best bet. The cost of renovating will only rise later on, and doing it piecemeal absolutely costs more. If you have to be inconvenienced, better to do it once and enjoy it longer. Plus, the larger jobs are more attractive to contractors, and more likely to attract better talent.
For the level of finish that most homeowners will opt for, a gut renovation of a 1-bedroom apartment would typically involve construction costs of about $350K; a Classic 6 will typically run $400-800K; a Studio apartment will run about $125-300K. Naturally, it’s possible to spend much more, and there are many renovations in this city that run well over $1 million.
One of the biggest miscalculations first-time renovators make is not admitting they are doing a gut renovation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this exact statement: “It’s not like we’re doing a gut renovation or anything; we’re just redoing the bathroom and kitchen, fixing up the floors and painting.” Guess what? That’s what a gut renovation is.
Those tasks will necessarily precipitate reworking your lighting and electric plan, usually means you’ll end up changing your heavily-painted-over doors and hinges, and it often makes sense to rework traffic patterns at the same time.
It can be a budget buster to back into a gut renovation one addition at at time. The TV program This Old House has long pointed out the “While we’re at it” syndrome. My preference would be for you to anticipate the full project and know what size budget to set aside before demolition begins.
Beyond construction costs, be aware of these potential budget factors:
DOB and FILING FEES
The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) considers two types of renovations: A “Type II Alteration” or an “LAA” (Limited Alteration Application). I can advise which filing yours is likely to be.
Type II: Anticipate roughly $7–10K in filing fees, full architectural blueprints, and additional time for processing.
LAA: If your renovation is considered a “repair” you’ll only have to file the plumbing and electric, which is cheaper and faster.
LPC: In certain areas, you may also be subject to review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, even if you are not altering the exterior of your building. Anticipate additional time and fees.
In addition to other and official costs, anticipate the unspoken costs of tipping your super and building staff copiously before, during and after your renovation. Woe to the homeowner who neglects this tradition; you may find the service elevator frequently unavailable to your contractor when he needs to move materials upstairs. And to be fair, your doormen and package room will be dealing with an extraordinary level of deliveries on your behalf. Treat them well.
CO-OP SECURITIES AND FEES
Most co-ops and condos require a non-refundable fee to review your alteration application, usually a few hundred dollars.
In addition they usually require a refundable security deposit. These can range from $1,500 to a percentage of your construction costs, which means it could run upwards of $10K.
Certain buildings also require you to take on specific homeowner and liability policies. Check with your managing agent on all of this.
You may also have to undergo an asbestos test, which can run from $500–$3000.
While labor prices have barely kept pace with inflation, the cost to do a renovation in NYC has risen substantially over the last 20 years, largely due to the requirements of co-op and condo boards and DOB rules. Requirements for licensing, insurance, certifications, and workman’s comp add to construction costs.
Most buildings require $1-5 million in liability insurance to protect the interiors of the building from damage; they may additionally require riders to protect curbside trees and property.
If your building requires an “Action Over” policy, you may have a very hard time finding a contractor to take on anything less than a $1 million project.
RELOCATION AND STORAGE
You'll need to anticipate moving out if you are: Renovating your only bathroom; doing a gut renovation; suffer from chemical sensitivity; are pregnant or have young children; have pets that cannot be boarded.
Likewise, if the amount of possessions will impede construction, that will need to move to storage.
Initial Consultation: $350-575
Hourly rate: $225. Ongoing projects require a minimum 5-hour retainer.
Smaller renovations: Design services are provided by the hour, typically requiring an average of 3-5 hours per week (roughly $2-4K per month), for a process that may take 2 – 6 months.
Complex gut renovations: Design services are provided on a flat monthly basis, from $4-7K per month for 6 months or more.
Independent study: Some clients have the confidence to manage their own renovations with minimal guidance. If you just need a little help getting started, consider a stand-alone consultation or an occasional site visit, second opinion or product recommendation.
Please refer to the Services page for more information.