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Renovating a house in NYC? Don’t fall for these 8 common myths

You might think that buying materials yourself is cheaper and easier, but your contractor can get trade discounts and share them with you. 

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So you’ve decided to remodel your home in New York City—and you’re determined to be smart about it. You’ve heard the horror stories about contractors running off with five-figure sums and new kitchens being ripped out because they didn’t pass inspection. You tell yourself that none of that will happen to you! You’ll take precautions!

Sometimes, however, the things we do to avoid a certain outcome simply make that outcome more likely. Below are eight common tactics homeowners often take to avoid a renovation nightmare—and why they backfire.

Myth 1: Withholding funds ensures your project gets finished 

It seems like a sound plan at first — you don’t have a guarantee that your contractor will finish the job once you’ve paid the balance, so you’ll hold onto that last 5 percent as a guarantee. Not entirely true. If you say, “I’ll withhold 5 percent until I’m satisfied with the work,” the contractor can just price everything with a 5 percent increase, so if they don’t complete the project, they’ve still made their money. If a contractor needs to fix something at the end, he’ll do it on reputation. Plus, if you retain more than 5 percent, the contractor may struggle to finish your project.

Myth 2: Buying the materials yourself is cheaper and easier 

“But I can shop around and make sure I get the best price!” you may say. Not so. Your contractor can get trade discounts and share them with you. Some will even accompany you to the store. Trying to shop by yourself is just asking for a higher price quote. Plus when items don’t arrive, or arrive and they’re not what you wanted, the contractor loses coordination of the project, meaning pushed back schedules, late completions, and loads of aggravation.

Myth 3: It’s okay to plan some of your project now and leave the rest for later 

It’s hard to think about seemingly small details like kitchen tiles when your renovation hasn’t even started. Many people want the freedom to choose later on. Unfortunately, by not planning out your entire project from the beginning, you’re setting yourself up for serious hassle when you and your contractor get fuzzy on what was agreed upon two months later. Plus, it means you’ll be making decisions under stress in the middle of a renovation. It’s much easier to delay the start of a project, so you can take your time making all decisions in advance. 

Myth 4: It’s best to nail down your contractor first, then the project 

At the beginning, everyone focuses on the contractor: Who will give me the best deal? Who comes with the best reputation? Which one specializes in kitchens, since I want a new one but I’m not sure what kind? This is a common mistake. Instead, you should be focusing all your attention on precisely what your project is, down to the last detail. From there, look for the contractor who best understands your project, and only entertain bids based on what that full project is, so you have all the information you need to make an informed choice.

Myth 5: You know your home better than your contractor 

You may think you know more than your contractor about your own home. After all, it’s your home! Best to let this idea go entirely. Like any skill, construction expertise is acquired over time, with many contractors spending years in onsite training. Some are former architects, construction managers, and carpenters with decades of experience on big projects. These people know about your home. More than you do. Sometimes, much more.

Myth 6: Staying in your home during your renovation saves you money 

On the surface, you’re saving money—after all, you don’t have to pay for a temporary place to live. But here’s the kicker: your contractor is charging you more if you’re staying in your home. Why? Because every evening, once his team gets finished working, they have to put the place back together to make your home livable.

Myth 7: Your renovation experience will be just like your neighbor’s/friend’s/cousin’s renovation experience 

Every home starts out differently. As such, every remodeling project is unique, and so every contractor’s project is unique. So it’s a waste of your time to tell your contractor, “I want the exact same project as the guy across the street.” It won’t happen that way.

NYC Renovation Calculator

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About Bolster's NYC Renovation Calculator: Bolster's Renovation Calculator enables you to easily calculate the estimated cost of a major New York City renovation. All you'll need to know is 1) the scope, complexity, and type of your project, 2) the quality of your desired finishes, and 3) the area being renovated. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]

About Bolster: Bolster is a New York City design-build firm that delivers a seamless, radically transparent renovation experience--beginning with a line-by-line cost estimate that empowers you to plan your scope, budget, and schedule.

Standard: The quality of the finish is acceptable with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc. 

Mid Range: The quality of the finish is good (grade A) with attention to detail but reliant on big-box store sourced cabinetry, MDF etc.

High Range: The quality of finish is high (grade AA) and customized with fine finishes and materials being used that can last years, if not a lifetime.

Upscale: The quality of finish is the highest possible (grade AAA) and labor-intensive, with every surface bespoke, new, and beautifully finished.

Low: Simple design, no layout or structural changes, elevator in building.

Medium: Average design, moving of some systems and/or structural changes, no elevator in the building.

High: Complex design, complicated engineering, lots of logistics (e.g. boom lifts, suspended scaffolds, etc.), dangerous working conditions.

Small: Changes to surfaces only (e.g. painting, tiling).

Medium: Small + Changes to the finishes themselves (e.g. removing plaster, replacing flooring etc).

Large: Small + Medium + Changes to the building's infrastructure (e.g. replacing all systems, walls, floor joists etc).

Design & Build: Full architectural services including schematic design, design development, construction drawings and approvals from the DoB and full build services.

Build with some Design: Full build services and some design with minimum compliance.

Build Only: Full build services with no design input (performed by another architect or not required at all).

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Myth 8: You don’t really need those permits 

Yes, permits are a pain, and can be costly and slow a project down. But not having them could mean disaster down the line. If your plumbing doesn’t meet code, the city or county housing department can tell you to rip out the work, with no compensation to you. So deal with the hassle, even though it may seem easier to skirt around it. And of course, be sure to close any open permits with the proper inspections. Otherwise you’ll get a nasty surprise when you put your house on the market...and discover that you’re unable to sell.

The Bolster Smart Renovation Zero-Risk Guarantee

How can a design-build firm guarantee a Zero-Risk renovation?

Bolster has pioneered Smart Renovation. We apply quantitative analysis along with our  proprietary technology solution to identify and quantify the performance risk on every renovation project. The result is a personalized strategic approach to each renovation that allows us to absorb 100% of the homeowner’s risk. Your home will be beautifully designed, and delivered on-time and on-budget. That is our guarantee.

Smart Renovation & Zero-Risk means that Homeowners are now free to dream.

To start your major home renovation project visit bolster.us

The Bolster Promise video