When Will, Ada, and their three children decided to move back to Manhattan after living abroad and then in the suburbs for several years, they were thrilled to find a co-op apartment that they all fell in love with. The 1,738 square foot prewar four-bedroom, two-bath on Riverside Drive seemed like a perfect fit for their family—but it hadn’t been renovated in decades. It would need a major renovation to usher it into the 21st century while retaining some historical charm.
With an initial budget of $750,000 in mind, the couple contacted Bolster, a New York City company that has designed a transparent and enjoyable process for area homeowners doing major renovations.
Two days after visiting the apartment, Bolster presented Will and Ada with a detailed Cost Estimate. The couple learned that their renovation, as initially conceived, would cost $793,860. They also learned that it would take approximately $400,000 just to bring the apartment into livable condition, as the un-renovated abode presented some challenges not immediately apparent to the naked eye.
Among the biggest: dating to the early 20th century, the supports of the building's floors and ceilings were bowed, and would need to be reinforced before any work could be done. (The joists of both Will and Ada's apartment, as well as those of the downstairs neighbor needed to be supported, to prevent the plaster of the apartment below from being damaged and falling in—an annoyance at best, and safety hazard at worst.)
"This project is an excellent case study in the proper way to do pre-construction," says Anna Karp, co-founder of Bolster. "Very early in the process we raised a red flag and brought in a structural engineer to inspect. We did the due diligence and did the smart and responsible thing."
Additionally, the building’s electricity load was low—it was poorly-equipped to handle all the gadgetry and appliances that come with modern living. The appliances are of particular concern, as they require more electricity.
“After reviewing Bolster's Cost Estimate, they were immediately able to see that addressing these issues would require adjustments elsewhere, like forgoing central HVAC and bespoke millwork, in order to stay close to their budget,” says Anna.
The couple hired Bolster architect Agustin Ayuso, who began the design process armed with the information about the apartment’s particular challenges. Bolster contractor Aaron Borenstein supplied the winning bid of $793,860 (click here to view the bid in full), within the range of the Cost Estimate.
Read on to follow Will and Ada’s decision-making process in creating the classic Upper West Side home of their dreams on time.
Determining the layout and getting the go-ahead
Ayuso, along with Borenstein, worked with Will and Ada to determine which of their apartment’s prewar details they wanted to preserve, and which to revamp. Over a series of five in-person meetings, the group figured out the ideal layout for the apartment. Existing design strengths included plentiful exposures and no columns, making it easier to alter the layout. One limiting factor is that there are only two plumbing waste locations, restricting where the bathrooms can be located. Because the family wanted to keep the living room’s corner fireplace, design concepts that involved moving the living room were discarded.
“These two things—the fireplace and the plumbing waste lines—were the biggest driving elements in the layout design process,” Ayuso explains.
What will change: The location of the master bedroom will be swapped with the adjacent bedroom, and an existing bathroom will be revamped and split into two baths. The kitchen will also be redone, and a half-bath added to the fourth bedroom.
Ayuso produced several sketches, revising for both the couple and the building’s management, in order to gain co-op board and municipal approval for the project.
Working with an architect with a clear design vision is always an asset, Karp notes, particularly on a complex project like this one. Ayuso’s design fees will cost $51,259, and his design oversight—he’ll make twice weekly visits to the site throughout the renovation to ensure work is in keeping with his design—will cost $20,174. Compliance fees came to $16,720. This amount covers inspections (including for asbestos, a requirement given the age of the apartment), as well as paying for an expeditor to file for permits at the Department of Buildings.
Removing and installing apartment infrastructure
The work—which is expected to take about six months—will begin with the demolition of all floors and the ceiling down to the existing rafters ($12,166), as well as the removal of several walls. The latter is necessary in order to install the framing for the new layout, which will change the size and positions of some of the bedrooms, as well as the new bathroom and kitchen. As noted, additional structural reinforcements are needed in the apartment and the unit below, due to the age of the building and the fact that it’s brick exterior and timber walls in the interior.
Installing this new infrastructure constitutes a big portion of the budget: New walls and metal joists for support will cost $22,155; new doors and windows amounts to $36,807.
Because the apartment’s electrical load is low—an issue that impacts the whole building, and requires management applying to Con Ed to increase the load—Will and Ada faced some difficult decisions. They opted not to install a central HVAC system so that they could maintain enough power for the use of modern fixtures and appliances. Heating for the apartment will be supplied via the building's existing system. Replacing the current electrical system—which means relocating the electric panel and installing new lighting, switches, and outlets—will run them $29,140.
The plumbing system will also be completely replaced back to the risers, and the Bolster team will put in new toilets, sinks, showers, and tubs, as well as a dishwasher and washing machine. Supplying and installing these accounts for a large portion of the project budget, at $83,394.
The floors will be soundproofed and brought to code, and herringbone-patterned oak flooring will be installed throughout, plus new tile in the bathrooms, powder room, and along the fireplace ($42,368). They are not doing bespoke furniture such as shelving.
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Choosing fixtures and finishes can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of a renovation, the point at which your sense of style really comes into play. After reviewing kitchen design elements in line with their ideal proposed budget, the couple realized they would need to spend more to achieve the look and feel they wanted. They elected to install a SieMatic kitchen, and custom tiles in the bathroom from Mosaique Surface.
"That part of the project was more lifestyle-driven than budget-driven," says Anna. "The homeowners ultimately decided that to have the special materials and fixtures they personally selected and loved, they would need to spend a more."
In the end, the homeowners visited several showrooms and asked for an additional $54,775 of client-led change orders during construction to cover the upgrade of their kitchen, which was way over the limit of their original allowance.
“Bolster steers homeowners in the right direction when it comes to limits on their allowances, and homeowners are fully aware of the cost of change orders in advance of having to effect them. That is, that they can opt not to go ahead with changes without disrupting the programming of the project and during pre-construction. If a family, such as this one, chooses to splurge, they do so knowing other value-for-money alternatives,” Anna says.
The kitchen is being specified by the homeowner, supplied by Siematic. The purchase and the installation will be done by the general contractor, meaning the product is already priced by the kitchen supplier. The team will install cabinetry ($21,000), and stone countertops ($9,200). Upscale new appliances include a Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer ($14,570), Wolf gas range and hood ($7,843), dishwasher ($1,420), and washer and dryer ($1,709).
Fine-tuning the budget at the click of a button
With most traditional renovations, homeowners hire architects and contractors separately, only to have contractors’ bids regularly come back at 90 percent over their original budget. In this case, because Will and Ada were collaborating with an architect-contractor team, there was a constant feedback loop as Ayuso drafted designs, Borenstein provided cost information, and the homeowners gave the okay on each line item. At the same time, the Bolster process was adaptable enough to facilitate the client-initiated upgrades, as on-budget materials and fixtures were provided and reconsidered.
This meant the process from cost forecast to design proposal to bid was painless, and the homeowners were in control and could see clearly where they chose to spend additional funds.
The challenges presented by the apartment’s structural and electrical issues pushed the initial bid to $841,461, which was 11 percent over Will and Ada’s budget of $750,000. Using Bolster’s new bid editing feature–which enables renovators to turn individual line items “on” and “off” to see in real time how changes in specifications impact the bottom line—the couple easily edited out some less essential aspects of the renovation to bring the final price down.
They chose, for instance, to do without pricey door casings and to skip the application of a level 5 finish to the walls (that is, multiple layers of drywall, primer, and spackle that creates a flawless finish).
"Working with Bolster enabled Will and Ada to manage their budget, choosing where to cut costs and where to splurge to create the new home they envisioned," says Anna.
Every year, New Yorkers waste over $700M following the usual renovation process. Bolster is different, using a scientific approach to match you with the highest-quality professionals and financially guarantee your project is delivered beautifully for a fair price—all at no extra cost.
To start your major home renovation project, visit bolster.us
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