NYC Renovation Chronicles

Ready, set, WAIT!

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The Situation:

At least once a week I get a call from a first-time buyer who is closing "in a few days," and wants to book a renovation to start "the day after closing."

This is where renter experience collides smack up against co-op realities.

Having survived the indignities of financial approval, a new owner must now submit to another round of approvals for their renovation. Owners need to allow a minimum of two months for such approvals.

What could possibly take so long?

Here's the Deal:

• If all you're doing is painting and refinishing the floors, no worries. Anything bigger than that, hire a designer or architect.

• You and your designer will likely need one to two months to assemble formal drawings and a written scope of work, detailing every single thing you wish to change about your new home. It's crucial to begin well in advance of your closing.

• Once you close, the plans are submitted, along with your completed "alteration agreement" (a 10- to 40-page document), and a security deposit (anywhere from $1,500-$25,000) to your managing agent.

• The managing agent sends the plans to the building's engineer for review. This person is hired to make sure that you and other owners do nothing that will harm the structure of the building, flood or otherwise inconvenience your neighbors. They also enforce rules particular to your co-op, such as no-laundry or no-whirlpool tub restrictions.

• The engineer responds with a list of caveats and requirements. While this document can sound intimidating, it's mostly boilerplate, and your designer will reply to it point by point. By the time the engineer signs off, usually three weeks have passed.

• The engineer is also the person who determines whether or not you'll be required to file plans with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) or with Landmarks (if your building is in an historic district).

• If DOB filing is required, you must hire an architect and expeditor to file. The cost will be anywhere from $3,000-$10,000, and the time added will be 2-3 weeks. If Landmarks approval is required, add 2 months to the expected wait.

• If DOB filing is not required, you can move on to submitting your contractor's insurance, licenses, and other documents, such as a lien waiver. That usually takes 1-2 weeks.

• Once all the plans, insurances, and permits have been okayed, the managing agent will then, and only then, forward your proposal to the board for approval.

• NOW you can start your renovation!