Ask an Expert

How much should we budget for our NYC apartment renovation?

By Alanna Schubach  | March 18, 2019 - 10:00AM

You'll need to talk to a contractor and an architect to get a detailed cost estimate. 


My family and I are considering buying a 3,000-square-foot apartment in a prewar building on Central Park West, but it needs a lot of work. We want to do an extensive renovation, while still preserving some of the original details of the space. We've been quoted everything from $300 to $800 per square foot for this project. What should we budget, and how can we get clarity on the cost breakdown?

Getting a narrower estimate for your renovation will require you to meet with experts to discuss in greater detail exactly what you want, our experts say. And especially since the building you're considering buying is is older, the renovation could come with extra challenges. 

"Like many apartments built in the early part of the 20th century, traditional classic apartments don't always accommodate the needs of modern living," for example, maid's rooms and small staff kitchens that don't fit today's needs, says Anna Karp, COO and co-founder of Bolster (a Brick sponsor.) "These types of historic properties post unique challenges—some obvious, and some not so obvious." For that reason, "it's crucial to work with a team of professionals who have experience doing this kind of work," she says.

The project's cost, she adds, depends on the structural state of the apartment. The figure you've been quoted represents a wide range of possibilities for your renovation, from budget to high end, and you'll need to figure out what you're envisioning for your apartment, down to the fixtures and finishes.

Depending on how luxe you want to get, the price could even end up exceeding $800 per square foot. It could also become expensive if the apartment needs major upgrades to infrastructure, Karp notes, like its plumbing or electrical systems. 

"Similar projects Bolster has completed in terms of square footage range from $300 per square foot, with the addition of HVAC, a contemporary kitchen, and similar cosmetic changes to the project in question) to $600 per square foot, with a gut renovation, new kitchen, level 5 quality finish, and custom millwork throughout, depending on the finishes and the structural state of the property," she says. 

In order to get a more accurate sense of what to budget, you should consider consulting with an architect and contractor—and ideally, talk to both professionals together. 

"It’s hard to get a complete cost breakdown initially unless you ask for a detailed proposal, and even then I find that contractors vary in terms of what they present to a prospective client," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "Typically when you initially bring in an architect, and they talk about the cost in terms of the dollars per square foot, those figures are based on what they know historically has happened with other similar renovations." 

Meet with an architect and contractor together to discuss your wishlist for your renovation and get a detailed estimate, she adds. From there, you can determine how much you're willing to spend, and decide whether you need to scale back on aspects of your plan. Keep in mind that getting an estimate can itself be an expense. 

"I spend time with potential home owners onsite to go over budgets and expectations," says Jeff Streich of Prime Renovations. "For basic budgets, we don't charge, but for detailed budgets, we do charge depending on the scope of the work."  

It's also possible that even once you have established a budget for your project, you could end up going over it once the project is underway. 

"If changes are made along the way that end up increasing the work initially contracted, or if something unforeseen comes up, that could increase the cost per square foot," Kory says. "But if you are careful, establish a strict budget, and give people incentives to stick within the budget, you can usually feel fairly secure of staying in the range, barring anything unusual."

Aside from costs, there are other factors be mindful of to ensure your renovation goes smoothly and avoid unpleasant surprises. For instance, make sure to inform your insurance company about the renovations, especially if you will be vacating the apartment during the work, advises Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor.) In fact, you may need to replace your current policy with one that will cover potential renovation-related risks. 

You should also make sure the construction crew is mitigating the risk of pest issues. 

"Anytime you do these level renovations, you should incorporate pest exclusion measures, such as sealing kitchen walls to the floors behind kitchen cabinets and where pipes enter with sheet metal or hardware cloth," says pest control expert Gil Bloom of Standard Pest Management. "In addition, apply a pesticide silica gel product in wall voids and around service lines for insect prevention." 

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Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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