Apartment Renovations NYC
Renovating an apartment is a big deal. It requires planning and preparation. In this post I am going to cover a few items you may or may not know you need to consider before renovating your apartment in NYC. mostly we are covering architectural services during an apartment renovation.
Apartment Renovations In NYC
- Architectural Services
- Board & Building Management Requirements
- NYC DOB Requirements
- Choosing a Contractor
- Design Research
- Shopping Choosing Products and Materials
- Mental Preparation
Apartment Renovation Architectural Services
When you are ready to renovate one of the first steps will be to hire an architect. Always make sure to hire licensed and insured professionals. You can see another post we wrote on Registered Architects to learn more. We are a full service architecture firm and we know architectural services are a bit complicated. Not all architects offer the same services. Here are a few items to take into consideration when looking at architectural proposals and contracts.
What do architects include in their renovation design fees?
I always tell people: “Don’t ask what is included in someones price always ask them what isn’t included in their proposal”. I can tell you architects have some strange ways of pricing jobs and this can make your head spin. Some architects charge hourly, some on a percentage of construction, and some charge flat rate. We aren’t going to get into the fee structure here but we will discuss what you need to know is and isn’t included.
First thing, you may not need all of these design services especially if you are doing a small job.
On architectural services
- Design Options
- Engineering Consultants
- Architectural Plans
- Interior Design Services & Interior Decorating
- Construction Site Visits and Inspections
Design is a process and takes time. People ask me how long is it going to take to design the job. I always tell them “between two weeks and two years.” Now do get scared it shouldn’t take two years but I am trying to explain that I don’t really know. The reason is I don’t know you. I had a client once who changed his mind every single week for a year on what he wanted. I have had clients where we sent them our first draft they loved it and never made a single change. At my architecture firm in NYC we usually do 3 options in the beginning and assume up to 3 rounds of revisions, and after that there might be some fussing around that is usually best case scenario. We cannot predict how long this process will actually take because we may not really know exactly what you want. Communication is the key during design. Don’t be scared to critique your architect in a constructive manner. Ask your architect how many options and revisions are included before you sign a proposal. It’s ok to ask “what if I don’t like your design”. One service we offer is we can take a laptop to your apartment, have an online conference, or have you come to our office and actually make design changes in real time on a 3D model with you. Clients love this and it is very productive but it is time consuming. I doubt too many architects offer this kind of service.
You need to know what is and isn’t included In the preliminary design phase. Do you just want plans? Does the architect produce 3D drawings? We do by default on every project because we work in 3D building information modelling on all of our projects even the small ones (auto cad has been obsolete for almost 20 years but people still use it).
Are you interested in getting”photo realistic” renderings? Do you want an animated walk through? Do you want the architect to build a physical model? These may not be included in your architect’s fees. Also 100 different design options probably aren’t either. Discuss that with your architect. Remember to consider if the architect finishes the design and moves on to technical production they should charge extra if you want to make changes after they produce the more technical documentation.
Depending on the work you are doing you may need consultants or engineers beyond the architects in house staff. If there is structural work you will need a structural engineer. Replacing your HVAC systems may require a mechanical engineer. Make sure you know who is paying for these engineers. One architect might come in a lot cheaper but if he isn’t including an engineer you need then you aren’t comparing the prices fairly.
Every engineer is responsible for their own work but someone has to coordinate this work. Make sure you know who will take responsibility for that. It should be the architect. Also ask about the little things. If your building wants an electrical load letter who is going to do that. Are you hiring an electrical engineer do you need one?
What type of plans will the architect produce? Will they only produce filing drawings for the Department Of Buildings? Are they going to do a full set of construction drawings? If you want finish plans and electrical plans are those included? Finish plans show everything down to tile patterns and sizes. Will that level of detail be included.
The department of buildings drawings for approval are not the 100% complete drawings. They do not care about a lot of the details, but you and the contractor will. Ask your architect if full “construction documents” or “CDs” are included, also ask about finish and electrical plans. Not everyone includes those automatically. Finish and electrical drawings are very fussy and time consuming. They can also make a big difference on how smoothly the job goes and how good it comes out. Plumbing drawings and paperwork are also very important. Plumbing is the one thing that causes the most problems on a job in my opinion and is most likely to fail inspections and hold up signoffs.
Expediting and Additional Fees
Expediting means doing paperwork and filling with the Department Of Buildings.
At Fontan Architecture we do this in house but not every architect does. Make sure you know who is paying for this. Do you need to hire an expediter yourself or is the architect doing it. I think the architect should handle this but that’s just me. You should also know in my opinion people often greatly exaggerate the difficulties of expediting.
We never include any city agency fees in our proposal and I do not think anyone else does either. You will pay those fees or the architect will send you an invoice for reimbursement. The city fees on an NYC apartment renovation will be around 1% of the total job construction cost give or take.
You will most likely need an asbestos test depending what year your building was built. Check who is responsible for that. We usually just bill it to the client as additional services or have the client pay the asbestos company directly.
Interior decorating and Interior Design Services
Interior Design can be an incredibly time consuming part of the job. Do not be surprised if these services greatly increase the design fees. Some architects do interior design in house some do not. Discuss this with your team. At our firm we will do interior design in house but you are also more then welcome to hire your own interior designer. We can also hire an outside consultant if you like and of course you can do it yourself if you do not want any interior design services.
Taking you to show rooms to look at plumbing, lighting, and tiles takes time. Producing drawings with that level of detail takes time. Custom kitchen cabinet design and closets may come at an additional cost by the architect. Often the installers or manufacturers can help with the design as well. You can always do additional services later if you want to start the job with the basics. When I write a proposal I will often do a base price for the job with the necessities and then list all the extras separately.
Construction Site visits and Inspections
Discuss with your architect their role during construction. Will they go to the job site, and if so how often? Do they charge extra per site visit or do they have an allowance in their budget. Besides the architects site visits will any of the engineers be coming if you needed any on your job. The DOB requires progress and special inspections to be done. You have to pay for these. Who is responsible for those inspections? We do not always include them in our proposal, it depends on the type of work. Sometimes in the beginning of the job the scope of work is not 100% defined.
Board and Building Management Requirements
I am not going deep into this subject here, but we have another blog post on Alteration Agreements on Co-Op Board and Condo Board approvals and reviews. The basic gist of it is that your board will need to review the work and the building may have certain specific rules you must follow. They will also have a third party architect or engineer review the work. Make sure they are 100% aware of what you plan to do, and always be forthcoming. I really want to emphasize transparency and communication. Also make sure the contractor plays well with the building super.
Choosing a Contractor
Choosing a contractor is not easy. This is a big decision. Here are a few things I have learned.
Hire the contractor you trust. I put a good amount of faith in how I feel about a person. If the contractor seems sleazy then maybe you shouldn’t hire him. It is good to get recommendations and talk to the super of your building. He can probably give you a list of contractors who have worked in your building. I personally am not a fan of recommending contractors but I will when asked. The final decision is yours.
In my experience as an architect, I can say there is a direct relationship with how much a contractor charges and how good they are. The best contractors I have worked with also are the most expensive contractors I have worked with. The cheapest contractors I have worked with always did a terrible job.
Make sure your contractor and architect work well together. I hear horror stories about architects not being respected by contractors and contractors not feeling respected by architects. This is childish nonsense. I assure you if you run into that it is because one or both of them are acting like insecure children. I have never had this problem on a job so I know mutual respect and communication between architect and contractor are key to a smooth job. My father was a contractor (I worked for him part time when I was in architecture school) and I think I have good insight on how to work with contractors. So yes I assure you problems with architects and contractors not getting along is a notorious issue in our profession and 100% stupid and unnecessary.
The most important thing to know is: choosing a contractor is up to you. You have the final say on the contractor choice.
If problems arise you can always replace the architect or contractor but when the job is underway I always advise against this. People call me all the time saying I want to fire my architect will you take over the job. This is not a good idea and I usually talk them out of it. Unless the individual is truly incompetent or impossible to work with don’t do it. On a job recently, I had a client who wanted to the fire the contractor on a small apartment renovation. The job was 75% finished but the client had enough with the contractor. I eventually talked them out of it and after we finished the job they thanked me for convincing them not to fire the contractor. Try to resolve project problems and conflicts before replacing someone on the team. By the way in that example i had no prior relationship with the contractor. I wasn’t taking sides I just know it was easier to reconcile with him then find someone new.
Apartment Design Research
I recommend you do some research. Many of my clients tend to be very hands on and involved. There are lots of websites like Houzz or Pinterest where you can get ideas and share them with your clients. Ask your architect to put together some images they think might help you. If you can put together some images for your architect that can be really helpful. I am not saying anyone should copy but it is good to see something you like before we start. You can also go to showrooms, NYC has many showrooms you can check out.
Shopping and Design Showrooms
Shopping for products and materials is a big part of the job. you may want to pay for help with this or you may not. There are many showrooms in NYC you can check out. I recommend you take a look at some, especially if you are the type of person who likes to be involved. Kitchens I think are the number one thing you want to look at.
Mental Preparation For Your Apartment Renovation
Renovating can be stressful. It can be fun and exciting as well. I have been in people’s apartments where literally a husband and wife are yelling at each other with me and the contractor standing around like what just happened. So please take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Communicate with your loved ones, so you don’t drive each other crazy. I don’t want to scare you I want to prepare you. Some clients enjoy the process and get involve, others just want me to call them when its done. Decide which client you are.
I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming apartment renovation.