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Ask an Expert: The right price to skim coat a 2-bedroom apartment

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Q.  How much should it cost to skimcoat a two-bedroom, 1,100 square-foot prewar apartment with 9-foot ceilings?  I've had three estimates, ranging from $21,000 to $65,000!!  Should I just take the cheapest one?

A.  That all depends, say our renovation experts.

Manhattan architect Ethan Gerard says that bids can vary according to the condition of the walls (e.g. are they cracked and/or unstable in areas, requiring existing plaster to be removed and rebuilt), whether there are exposed concrete beams across the ceiling (labor intensive), and whether plaster (a slower process with a harder finish) or ready-mixed joint compound (quicker and easier but doesn't produce as hard a finish) will be used.  

"I see no problem going with the least expensive vendor," he says, provided you've checked their references and visited a previous job or at least seen some photos.

Yoel Borgenicht, a Manhattan general contractor, says that while his firm recently performed a similar-sized job for $21,000, you need to visit a prior job site before making a decision: "Skim coating quality is subjective and depending on  the level of finish the client expects, there can be a wide interpretation of the term."

Manhattan contractor Jeff Streich agrees, but notes that there could be other reasons behind the price differences.

"The biggest reason could be that the guy at $65,000 is swamped and really couldn't do the job right now--it would only be worth it if he made a lot of money," he says. "That same contractor could charge $30,000 for the same project in six months."

All that said, Streich thinks the lowest bid sounds in the general range of acceptability. As a point of comparison, Streich said his company recently skim-coated and painted a 3-bedroom, 1,600 square foot apartment for $30,000.  


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