Q: What’s the typical approval process from start to finish for renovating an apartment in NYC?
A:The approval process is almost always the same with minor variations depending on the ownership status of the particular dwelling unit and the work being proposed. Most typical in our experience is that the work being proposed will need the approval of a Condo or Co-op Board as well as a building permit.
First you must engage either an architect or an engineer licensed in New York State to prepare plans, written scope of work including basic specifications describing “what’s existing, what’s being taken out & what’s going back in”. Most apartment buildings have an architect or engineer that they engage (and you pay for) that review the work proposed & render their comments or questions that must be likewise addressed by your architect or engineer until all issues are resolved – usually in writing – this is then presented back to the Condo or Co-op for formal approval to move onto the next step, which is application to The Buildings Department for approval of the plans. If you are located in one of the many Landmark Districts, you must obtain their approval first in most instances, get their OK & then submit to Buildings Department.
Most renovations and apartment combinations are filed as an “ALT 2” application, which is the City’s most common type of filing. If demolition is involved, an Asbestos Inspection Report is required, waiver for new buildings might be possible, but not for the average project. You cannot file without this report and if the report identifies asbestos containing materials (ACM) present and intended to be disturbed by the proposed construction, this material must be removed by an asbestos contractor and air monitoring company before permits can be issued to your contractor(s).
Once all this is in place, most Condo’s and Co-op’s have you sign an Alteration Agreement, which identifies “house rules”, deposit money against damages to the building and contractors indemnification and insurance policies to name a few specific items. Also most buildings have time limits for construction after which penalties may be imposed or in some very strict buildings, the project must stop (these are “summer only” buildings) and be allowed to continue at a later date.
As your project progresses, it must be inspected periodically as noted on your approved application and each inspection “signed off” by the professional assigned for this or a Building Department Inspector if so required. This process involves a lot of “paperwork” and so we retain building department consultants (“expediters”) to do all this legwork.
At the completion of the project, the architect or engineer files for and obtains a “Letter of Completion” which is the formal document issued by the Buildings Department that closes out your application. Special note to building and apartment owners – don’t allow these applications to either lapse through inactivity or not be properly inspected and insist the Letter of Completion be obtained – not doing this can hamper future financing or sale of the dwelling unit affected. Most buildings will not release deposit money without this document, so do not offer full payment to your contractor without your inspections signed off and visible online at nyc.gov/buildings. Without the inspection sign offs, your architect or engineer cannot get you the L of C.
Q: What’s the time frame for a typical apartment renovation project from very beginning to the very end?
A: Typically, once you’ve engaged an architect or engineer, it takes a few days to measure, a few more days to get a drawing to work from & a few more weeks to get to a basic plan or layout. Upon agreement on a basic plan, it takes a month or so to complete drawings needed for the various submittals – this part totals 2 to 3 months.
Approvals from Boards, Landmarks and then Buildings Department may take 2 to 6 months, say 4 to 5 on average. Construction bidding would be done concurrent with the approval process, so there’s no lost time here. The construction always seem to take 4 to 6 months, which is all the time most Boards will allow, so just make sure your contractor is well staffed!
The last of the minor decorating & “punchlist” is usually considered not to be part of the “construction”, so there is some relief here – allow a month or two for this aspect to be ready to “move in”. Average time allocated is 16 months very beginning to very end.
Q: What does a typical apartment renovation cost?
A: This is usually the first question asked of most architects by almost all prospective clients. I approach this answer cautiously until I know more about what the client wants to do & the level of quality desired. It also matters a lot where the project is located and in what building. Projects in most of Manhattan are problematic for staging, access and deliveries & we see the cost reflecting this.
Some apartment buildings have more restrictive rules than others and/or limited hours in which not only construction may be done but “noise” may be generated and when! This may mean the workforce is only able to put in a 6 hour day – obviously this also adds to the cost. Most of our work is in Manhattan and we prefer “total gut” projects (everything is stripped back to the structure & the windows and doors replaced with new) of whatever project we get involved in unless the scope of work is truly minor in how much the apartment would be disturbed. We almost always recommend “clean it & paint it” or “gut it” for apartment renovations – getting caught in between can be frustrating to both owner, architect and contractor as the list of “hidden conditions” sends the budget into the unknown.
Regarding the average cost for what we consider excellent overall quality of workmanship, custom painted millwork, doors, casework, “reasonably” higher end finishes and fittings – no other decorating, special wall of floor coverings, fittings, furniture, media tech, security systems or window treatments to average $500.00 per net square foot as of this writing. It’s very difficult to get below this number for this product, if you’re considering doing this yourself. More exotic design & complex detailing can send the cost to four times this easily and also seriously affect the time in which this can be constructed to be forewarned.
Fees vary by architect or engineer, but it’s generally set by percentage of the construction cost – my knowledge of my peers is that the average for full services (which you may not need) is 18 to 25% plus engineering, consultants and travel expenses etc. My advice is to “shop around” for cost as much as “compatibility”.