Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

In the last two weeks, we’ve house-toured Elizabeth’s West Village stunner and Marissa’s Prospect Heights bath makeover. Part of the fun in seeing a truly transcendent renovation is that homeowners like these ladies make this process look like a cake walk – but as a commenter pointed out after last week’s post, it is hard work to pull these projects off and make them look positively effortless.

One part of the story you are unlikely to see on any “before and after” design blog? Specifics about contractor licenses. Sure, it is great fun to look at glittering new tile and fixture picks, but a successful renovation includes a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that generally requires specific licenses and expertise. Do you know what kind of work requires a license in NYC? Would you know where to look to find out if a contractor has a license for your project? This is not an intuitive part of a renovation, my friends, so let’s take a closer look at these questions.

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The stodgy legal language is all up at NYC.gov, but here is a quick rundown:

Anyone who provides home improvement work that costs more than $200 must get a home improvement contractor (HIC) license in New York City.  (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Before, Renovation Resources 5
Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marissa’s Sweetened Black and White Bath

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“I had my entire bathroom ripped to the studs – Sweeten Expert Mark took complete care to protect my apartment, which felt really respectful to me as a homeowner.”

–Marissa Y., Prospect Heights homeowner

At first glance, Marissa’s bath renovation looks as straightforward as they come: builder-grade fixtures and dropped ceilings, all aged over three decades, ripped out and replaced with gleaming tile, high-drama lighting, and old New York details. One look at the before and after photos and you would think you have the whole story. But, this before and after hides three surprise design decisions, and a little magic up the homeowner’s sleeve, that changed the game for this Prospect Heights bathroom.  (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Completed Projects, Inspiration 6

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I went in to this process totally blind. Sweeten Expert Gennadiy was fantastic – I knew he would get everything right, even down to the outlet covers. He was incredibly, incredibly detail-oriented and helpful.”

–Elizabeth N., West Village Homeowner

This week, I caught up with Elizabeth, a Manhattan homeowner who has spent the summer enjoying her newly-renovated and restored two-bedroom co-op on one of my favorite tree-lined West Village blocks. Elizabeth beat the spring real estate rush by closing on her new place in January. Pretty much right away, Elizabeth, who works in sales in the financial services sector, realized the unforgiving nature of buying in New York City – she had spent one visit, and a grand total of about 15 minutes, looking at the apartment before rushing in a bid. As she walked through on closing day, Elizabeth began to see how much TLC her new home needed.

Revamping the bathroom was her initial focus – the heavy tiles and cramped under-sink storage made the space feel unnecessarily tight and poorly lit. The bathroom door swung in, bumping up against the sink and vanity, and made for an awkward entry and exit. And that WALLPAPER! And that TINY sink basin! Suffice it to say that Elizabeth had no qualms about this overhaul. (more…)

Now that the peak spring real estate season is behind us, we are seeing many spring buyers become summer closers. Before you pop the champagne on your new home purchase, let’s talk about one potential hiccup: the closing and renovating squaredance. In the interest of keeping our  Sweeten summer interns on their toes, I say we pause for a little quiz. We don’t do nearly enough quizzes around here.

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(cover photo from Upper West Side townhouse renovation by Sweeten Expert Ivan)

If you are in the process of buying a home and you have immediate renovation plans in mind, when can you start designing and building?

A. When you make an offer?
B. When you have an accepted offer?
C. When you have an accepted offer and a deal sheet from your broker?
D. When your attorney is preparing the contract and conducting a due diligence review of the property and building?
E. When you have a signed contract and the deposit has changed hands?
F. When the condo or co-op board approves the transaction?
G. After you close?

To confirm the correct answer, I talked to James Jantarasami, a New York attorney with expertise in housing and real estate. James walked me through a few “Do’s” and  “Dont’s” of closing and renovating:

DON’T shop around for a contractor before you have a place. Maybe this is obvious, but we sometimes see prospective owners jump the gun and try to interview contractors about a theoretical project. You will not be able to have a productive conversation with (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Closing 2

This week, I got to live vicariously through a delightful homeowner’s Upper West Side kitchen transformation. Hafeeza and her husband made the big move from a 4,500 square foot home in suburban New Jersey to Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 2013. After raising five children, Hafeeza and her husband were ready for a retirement relocation that would put the City at their feet and free them from maintaining a large home. They spent a year in a temporary spot before finding the long-term city apartment where they planned to enjoy the essentials: family and friend get-togethers and nightly meals prepared by Hafeeza’s husband, the devoted family chef. The new space was ideal for those plans, except for the kitchen, which was functional but outdated and lacked the storage and prep space they envisioned. After talking to a number of contractors who weren’t available for or interested in the scope of the job, Hafeeza took to Sweeten to find a contractor for her list of simple and smart upgrades.

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“Our Sweeten Expert was a true professional from the initial meeting until the final payment.”

- Hafeeza M., Upper West Side homeowner

Usually, when I talk to homeowners about their renovations, I get a dose of renovation envy: I want THAT sparkling new kitchen, too! But after talking with Hafeeza, I ended up with something extra and unexpected: a renewed appreciation for New York City living and the William Morris mantra we recently explored on the Sweeten blog. One look at Hafeeza’s Sweeten project post and you can see why. Hafeeza started with a call for (more…)

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This summer, we’ve been fortunate to be joined by Josh, Ron, & Kevin — Sweeten’s summer intern fleet! These guys have been impressing our team with their enthusiasm and insightfulness for the last 6 weeks, and today, they’ve outlined some of their favorite discoveries so far about the notoriously obscure and daunting process of renovating in NYC.

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Josh on how renovating is much more complicated than Home Improvement

Before starting at Sweeten, my knowledge of home renovations came from re-runs of Tim Allen’s 90’s sitcom, Home Improvement. I always thought that home renovations were an easy process that only required some time and money -but of course, I was wrong. I quickly learned that there is so much more that goes into the home renovation process, the foundation of which is trust.

Without trust, a general contractor will have hesitations while doing his/her job and a homeowner will be uncomfortable throughout the process because of a lack of confidence in (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Team Sweeten 3

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Over the last year, we’ve looked at some gorgeous NYC home renovations (see Exhibit A and Exhibit B) and we’ve rolled up our sleeves to get to the bottom of more technical questions like the costs of landscaping, flooring, and kitchen and bath renovations. For each of these blog posts, I get to talk to experts and homeowners about their experiences, and I’ve learned that no two home renovation stories are alike. I have also learned that virtually every homeowner plods through the same muddled process to plan and understand the work ahead, and virtually every homeowner has to face down the same mistakes before gleaming new surfaces are revealed. This week, we surveyed a small slice of our 300 Sweeten experts with a very open-ended question:

“What are the most common things you find yourself explaining to homeowners who are starting the renovation process?”

You would think we’d see a wide range of responses from these experts, and you would be wrong. 25 experts, who represent a broad group of design and build skill sets, revealed the top 3 mistakes homeowners make when planning renovations in NYC (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Renovation Resources 5

Clinton Hill homeowner Diane moved into an apartment in a large, residential co-op on historic Clinton Avenue about a year and a half ago. Diane was no stranger to renovation and hoped to bring lessons learned from renovating a kitchen in a previous home to make the bathroom in her new home more functional and comfortable. The bathroom layout worked for Diane but the small space was in rough condition: large floor tiles covered the walls and were starting to loosen and crack. More importantly, Diane needed to adjust the height of most of the fixtures and add a few other touches around the room to customize the small space and make each element more comfortable.

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“My Sweeten contractors were so great – I could not have found a better contractor. Best experience I ever had.”

- Diane, Clinton Hill Homeowner

I loved Diane’s no-nonsense approach to this project. After a series of “nightmare” interactions with independent contractors, and after two different contacts walked with Diane’s deposits, Diane posted her project on Sweeten with all of her bases covered: she had already purchased new fixtures and navigated her building’s renovation approval process – two huge time-savers. We matched Diane with Sweeten Expert Sean who brought in rave reviews for responsiveness, staying in touch with project updates, and carefully protecting Diane’s home while work was underway.

To restore a bright, clean, and classic feel to the space, Diane turned to white subway tiles, an all-time Sweeten favorite for a crisp and easy-to-clean finish. As Sean’s team gutted the bath and cleared out layers of old tiles, Diane discovered (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Completed Projects, Sweetened 1
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pricing Guide: Floors in NYC

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Last week, we looked at a range of gorgeous floors chosen by Sweeten homeowners over the past year. This week, let’s look at the numbers behind a transformative flooring project. I’ve heard over and over again that kitchen and bathroom upgrades are your best bet for adding re-sale value to your home, but new floors can be an infinitely easier and faster way to transform the feel of your home. Floors are an especially tempting project if you are a new homeowner and haven’t moved in yet: without furniture to move around, you can have a crew tear up old floors in minutes (really) and lay down new materials before the week is up. It’s about as close as you can get to instant gratification in the home renovation universe. For an insider’s look at the costs of re-doing or re-finishing your floors, I talked to Sweeten Expert Jamie about the materials, the labor, and the unexpected.

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Photos come from a Park Slope custom flooring & painting project by Sweeten Expert Jamie.

Material Costs

First things first, you need to decide if you will be putting in new floors or re-finishing your existing floors. So many New York apartments have original floors that are worth reviving, but Jamie explained that floors can reach an end point in their re-finish capacity – if your floors have already been re-finished numerous times, you might not have enough surface depth to sand down, and you can risk exposing nail heads, which will damage the sanding equipment. If you decide your existing floors still have life in them, Jamie noted that many homeowners are switching over to more eco-friendly stain and finish materials. These new products help minimize fumes and are more environmentally-friendly, but you may need to work with your contractor to ensure that you can successfully bond newer products to older floors for an even finish.

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All after photography: Paul Ober

If you have crumbling parquet or inherited linoleum from another era: new floors for you, my friend! There are endless options for flooring materials, starting at under $1 per square foot for laminate options, under $2 per square foot for engineered wood options, and under $6 per square foot for hardwood options. National retailers have dozens and dozens of options in these ranges, and are (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Floors 1
Thursday, June 19, 2014

Inspiration Underfoot: Flooring

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Each week, we aim to translate insight from Sweeten experts into information you can use to make better decisions about improving your home. This week and next, let’s take on flooring. I might be biased, because new floors were the very first step I took in renovating my tiny East Village apartment, but I cannot possibly think of a better way to get a bigger bang for your buck. If you are looking to transform the way your home feels, you can do it with new floors in less than a week’s time. For proof of its impact, scroll through these flooring selections some of our favorite homeowners have made in the last year. Next week, check back for the full low-down on the process and cost of re-doing your floors.

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In Williamsburg, Katie and Elliot renovated with Mirage Knotty Walnut floors throughout the first floor of their townhouse. The natural knots and irregularities serve as a counterpoint to the clean cabinet lines and modern lighting fixtures. I’m always amazed at how (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Floors, Inspiration 5