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Inside Story: My Manhattan renovation shocker

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After two years of pounding the NYC pavement looking at every imaginable apartment – co-op, condo, condop, new construction, apartments we couldn’t afford (loved them!), apartments in our price range (underwhelming), apartments with recently deceased owners, apartments with owners we thought would soon be attending that big open house in the sky – we finally found It:  A three-bedroom, zoned for a great public school, in a financially sound co-op, close to shopping and public transportation.

Could we close in 30 days, asked the broker?  You bet! 

It was early-March, and we were scheduled to take possession in April.  Our lease was up at the end of May so we even had some time to do some minor renovations. 

But would we be able to find a contractor that quickly?  Sure.  While I had been crunching the numbers trying to figure out how we would pay for our dream home (mansion tax?!?) my wife had quietly been interviewing contractors.  Well, more to the point – she had hired somebody and planned a major renovation.

Our closing date approaching, we sat down with our contractor, whom I thought we should get to know since we were going to be paying his kids’ college tuition. We discussed the timeline and confirmed the work could be completed before we moved in.

“No problem!" he assured us.

And when our closing date was pushed back a week?  “No problem!”

Another week? “No problem!”

Early May? “We can get it done!"

We eventually closed in late-May, and once we factored in the “no working on weekends" rule, the “no working on holidays” rule, the “9AM-4PM” rule, and the unwritten rule of “it's going to take 2 hours to get you up on the elevator, and 2 hours to get you out at the end of the day, plus an hour for lunch," we had about 16 hours to renovate an apartment. 

The solution was obvious, my wife told the contractor:  “Do whatever it takes.”

And so, on our first day as NYC homeowners, we had 30 people working in our apartment.  Moldings were coming down, floors were going in, doors were being replaced.  Our contractor seemed happy – invigorated, even, by the challenge of his task.  He went home happy.  And covered in sawdust.

The good spirits continued for the rest of the week.  I bought pizza and soda for the crew, my wife and I discussed where we would hang pictures and place the furniture.  I put on the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” and everybody started dancing around the kitchen. 

Okay, that last part isn’t true.  But all was good.  They were painting the walls, building the archway between the living room and foyer, punching holes in the walls for the electrical. And - Hey, wait a minute.  You just painted that wall ?  Why are you punching holes in freshly painted walls? Who’s in charge here?  Our contractor did not go home happy that day.

Week two:  The soda tasted flatter, the pizza grease was a little less pleasing, and our contractor was….missing.

The crew was there, repairing the holes and repainting, replacing all of the baseboard moldings in the apartment because they had ordered and installed the wrong ones.  But the man in charge was nowhere to be found. 

We called him at his office and on his cell phone.  We even called some of his previous clients to try to track him down. 

No luck.

He was still missing on moving day, by which time, amazingly and with the exception of a few touch ups, all of the work was done. 

A Manhattan renovation miracle? For sure, but there was more to come.

We said goodbye to the team who worked their own miracles to get us in to our apartment.  They hadn’t heard from our contractor, either.

For weeks we tried, unsuccessfully, to reach him and say thank you for the fastest renovation in the history of NYC.  

Then one day we realized that he hadn’t billed us for a substantial amount of the work--enough to keep my ex-wife at bay for a year.  We made one more half-hearted attempt to reach him, and then gave up. We never heard from him again.

This year, we decided we needed built-ins in the living room.  Our new contractor went six months over schedule. 

We were billed in full.

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