The Real.Est List
Ask an Expert: Can I get approved for a wet-over-dry renovation before I buy?
Q. I am thinking of buying the studio apartment next to my one-bedroom and combining apartments, but I want to change the layout so that a "wet" room (an expanded master bath) would be over a "dry" room (my downstair's neighbor's living room). My co-op board has approved wet-over-dry occasionally as an exception to a general policy against it.
What can I or my architect do to persuade them this time? Can I get them to approve it in advance of buying the apartment?
A. In a typical apartment sale, boards rarely hand out preapprovals on something like this, say our experts.
"Generally boards will not take the time to approve anything in advance of a purchase, especially something that is controversial and may require significant discussions and time," says real estate broker Deanna Kory of Corcoran.
"The most we are usually able to get from a board in advance is a 'nod' from an influential member with the caveat that they are not the whole board," she explains. "This is not at all an approval but indicates one person’s willingness to go along with your request."
That said, as an existing owner, you may have an advantage here, assumin gyou are well liked in the building.
"Enlist the consultation services of the co-op’s architect to help," suggests real estate broker Shirley Hackel of Warburg Realty. "If you can show that you will keep the new fixtures in their original places--such as sink, tub, toilet and shower--and expand by enlarging the walk-around space to give you more elbow room, you might get lucky."
She also suggests checking to see how your successful wet-over dry neighbor managed to get that project approved and whether any problems occurred subsequently.
"Address all obvious objections in advance," says Hackel.
Co-op and condo attorney Robert Braverman of Braverman Greenspun says that you should also be "willing to agree that the 'pre-approval' of the alteration is not approval of your purchase and that you are willing to advance the costs of architectural review and other expenses the co-op may incur."
In addition, he notes, "showing plans that contemplate adequate waterproofing measures and the existence of flood alarms will certainly help."
The highest risk areas for leaks are in the bath/shower area where the water hits the walls, around the tub sill, and between the floor and the tub apron or shower ledge, says general contractor Avi Zikry, a co-founder of NYC-based online home improvement website Click and Improve.com.
"It's important to install a water and moisture barrier--a treated paper designed to help block and prevent moisture from entering walls and flooring--behind walls, and also to use Wonderboard, which is a cement based backer board used for wet areas like tile work in bathrooms, in all shower and tub areas," says Zikry.
Your plans are more likely to be looked on favorably if they include several protective measures designed to prevent leaks, says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager at Time Equities.
These include installation of a "dish" to catch water, a water proof membrane as described above, and water censors that go off when water is present, she says.
"If all three approaches are used together," says Axelrod, "many boards who otherwise would not permit it will feel comfortable permitting the wet over dry changes if there is evidence of insurance in place naming the owner and the co-op."
Co-ops want to be named on the insurance policy because they don't want to be involved in "lawsuits between neighbors if there's water damage," says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage. "They also doesn't want the building's master insurance policy invoked. If they are named as an additional insured on one owner's policy, that policy will provide a defense and indemnification if the building is sued."
That said, he notes, "Some insurance companies will balk at naming the condo or coop as an additional insured, so check with your insurance broker or agent."
The demographics of your building may play the biggest role in the board's decision.
"In buildings where owners typically have fine art and antiques that are irreplaceable and which would be vunerable if water came down, sometimes even these measures will not be deemed sufficient," says Axelrod.
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