Sweeten hand-picks the best experts for your renovation project

Last week, we looked at the upfront and behind-the-scenes costs of a basic NYC kitchen renovation. This week, we’re continuing with part two of the kitchen pricing guide series to break down options and costs for a high-end kitchen renovation.

Sweeten Expert Peter reiterated a few points from last week: you can go sky-high on luxury appliance costs but the real value of a high-end kitchen comes in the soft costs of precise design and infrastructure upgrades, and the investment of custom millwork and installation labor.


Design and layout

Peter explained that the first place you start to see a move toward a high-end kitchen is when the homeowner is looking to re-work or expand the layout of the existing kitchen. Dropping walls, moving gas lines, re-routing plumbing lines, and re-wiring electrical options automatically hit a cost threshold above the $20,000 you need for a basic kitchen gut. Homeowners looking to do that kind of transformative work in the kitchen need architectural designs from a registered architect that can add a minimum of $15,000 to $20,000 to the budget, and generally necessitate expensive permits, thorough building approvals, high insurance coverage requirements, and more involved management from a general contractor overseeing the project.

These “soft costs” – expenses critical to the success of the work but often invisible and unforeseen for the homeowner – can represent 15-30% of a high-end kitchen renovation.

Below: Luxe kitchen renovation with custom, white lacquer cabinetry and custom oak paneling by Sweeten Expert Peter


Custom cabinetry

Cabinets are generally the most cost- and labor-intensive physical aspect of a luxe kitchen renovation. Peter explained that many homeowners looking for high-end finishes tend to go in one of two directions: they opt for minimalist sleek cabinetry with concealed hardware, or they turn to decorative cabinetry with highly custom visual details. Either way, Peter explained that the starting point for basic custom cabinetry is $1,000 per linear foot (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Inspiration, Kitchens 0

In March, we took a look at the cost breakdown of the average NYC bathroom renovation. This week, we’re moving on to the first of a two-part series on kitchen renovation pricing. We talked with Sweeten Experts Valeria and Eduard as well as Sweeten Expert Peter for a transparent look at the basic and variable costs of a typical kitchen renovation.


The realization that struck me after talking with these experts is that homeowners have a lot of choice in managing costs on some material aspects of a kitchen renovation, but there are other costs that are less-obvious, labor-intensive, and tremendously critical to the work overall, no matter what you choose to spend on materials. Let’s take a look at both the straightforward and behind-the-scenes costs.

Straightforward Costs – Materials and Appliances 

Take a quick walk around your kitchen or any home appliance store and you can start to get a feel for the obvious costs of a kitchen renovation. You can expect to spend under $400 or up to $3,000 (and well beyond) on each of your stove, fridge, and dishwasher selections. You can find basic sink options for under $100 and up to $2,500, and faucet fixtures for under $40 and up to $1,200. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Kitchens 2

The last six months have brought big-time changes for Blaise, Kristin, and their family of five. After welcoming their third child and moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Blaise and Kristin were ready to prep their new home in Prospect Lefferts Gardens for the long run. First up: a kitchen and laundry room update. We stopped in to take some photos along the way, but the rest of this story is told by Blaise, himself.


“Sweeten made it easy to communicate our vision to contractors before they even set foot in our home.”

- Blaise C., Prospect Lefferts Gardens homeowner

When we moved into our new home six months ago, we almost didn’t notice how limited the kitchen was. Living out of boxes and welcoming a newborn, it took us a few weeks to realize that we were having trouble finding space for groceries and that we had accidentally made a habit of storing kitchen basics in the basement. The move just about doubled the total space of our home, and yet we were struggling to find a place for everyday kitchen stuff.

Our punch list was pretty classic: kitchen storage was sorely lacking and countertop space was a joke. We are working parents who don’t cook that often, but we were ready to move our pots and pans out of the oven. We also realized that the bar-height counter was inaccessible for our kids and wanted to create a central gathering spot with a more standard counter height.



The kitchen had been recently renovated and we liked the look, so we initially entertained the possibility of a quick fix like purchasing a kitchen island, but ended up deciding to use what we had and expand on it. At first, I tried to juggle contractor bids on my own, but with kids and jobs, that turned out to be decidedly easier said than done. I posted the project on Sweeten and added to the plans to create a laundry room in the basement by enclosing our washer/dryer with built-out walls and solid doors. (more…)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Meet Kerry, Sweeten’s New Blogger


Renovations are expensive and messy, but more than that, a renovation can feel destabilizing because it challenges our sense of control over what few square feet we have. If you’ve been following along with the Sweeten blog during the last few months, you have seen us take on topics that demystify the renovation process and help homeowners and professionals build more informed partnerships. These blog posts can be more dense and less glamorous than our standard before-and-after features (we will keep those coming, too!), but we’re hoping to fill out the picture of what things cost and what to expect so that you can get more work done in your home on your terms. This week, meet the blogger behind these new blog posts, me, Kerry.


I bought a 340 square foot apartment in the East Village after a decade of living in apartments with classic city charm: sixth floor walk-ups, living room showers, and bedrooms without closets. The new place was already in good shape – kitchen and bath had been renovated within the last few years and I had taken the plunge with new floors after moving in. But in a space this small, I found myself fixating on details like damaged baseboards and wall marks, and my efforts to freshen the apartment with a new coat of paint were only semi-successful; you can see where I got tired of re-painting the white hallway walls and left an uneven strip of the old white paint along the top. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Before 7
Thursday, March 20, 2014

What to Expect When Combining Apartments



As a nomadic New Yorker who lived in ten apartments over twelve years, I used to have an oddly pleasant recurring dream: in the dream, I would “discover” a hidden room that I had never seen before in my otherwise tiny home. Without fail, I would wake up happily imagining all of the things that I could put in the new room – a perfectly natural closet-and-dining-room-and-guest-room-and-outdoor-patio all in one. For some New Yorkers, this dream is a real possibility. If you have managed to scoop up multiple adjacent apartments and are planning to combine them, you may be looking at a host of layout options and renovation decisions that are unique to the process of combining apartments. To help us envision what to expect, we connected with Sweeten Expert Andrew, an architect who partnered with Sweeten Expert Graham, on a Hell’s Kitchen  combination that created an open loft with stunning Hudson River views.   

Andrew first talked us through renovation issues that are specific to combining apartments. Homeowners with adjacent apartments have the unique luxury of multiple layout options but also need to work within a unique set of constraints to create the new space. “Clients often look first at how to capitalize on the overall flow of the space, exposures, and views of the apartments,” Andrew explained. The photos below demonstrate Andrew’s vision for unifying multiple entry points and living spaces in one open plan. 




With a general idea for entry and living spaces in mind, homeowners can make a decision that most of their neighbors will never have to face: which kitchen to keep! Andrew pointed out that you can decide between existing kitchens, or create a new kitchen space altogether, but you need to keep plumbing lines in mind because New Yorkers are generally (more…)

Now that we’ve taken a first shot at understanding the cost breakdown for a full home renovation, we’re digging in this week with a look at pricing a bathroom renovation. We’ll spare you the clichés about how bathrooms are zen sanctuaries – if you are a homeowner looking to re-do an outdated or less-than-functional bathroom, especially in New York (land of showers, sinks, and toilets that are three centimeters apart), you need a transparent look at the basic and variable costs of your project. To get started, we talked with Sweeten Expert Aleks, the man behind the scenes at Ben and Therese’s Brooklyn Heights bathroom upgrade, and Sweeten Expert Alan, the key player in Sanaya’s Clinton Hill kitchen and bathroom renovations (–Sanaya’s bathroom renovation pictured in this post).


Where do you start when planning your budget if you want to renovate your bathroom?

Alan explained that the bare minimum begins with swapping out an individual fixture or two. You can replace a toilet or vanity for a fairly limited cost, and pay a la carte for the cost of the new fixture and the hours of installation work. “The only way to stay under $5,000,” he explained, “is to focus on a straight swap of the toilet, vanity, and accessories like towel rods and hooks.” Aleks estimated that you could go one step up with new fixtures and some limited tile work and stay in the $8,000 or $9,000 range. Both Alan and Aleks agreed that the minute you decide you are opening walls or touching the plumbing, the job becomes a more holistic project and you will need an average of $16,000 to $20,000 to get it done. Alan noted that even if you are just re-doing fixtures and tile work, you may find that you need to replace the sheetrock on the wall and address issues behind the walls (old valves, ancient drain pipes, etc). These expenses can be surprising for homeowners who are just envisioning upgrades to visible fixtures and finishes.

Can you walk us through the material elements of a bathroom renovation that a homeowner needs to think about? 

Aleks noted that because of space demands, most homeowners start with ideas about the placement and function of the tub or shower. “Do you want to leave what’s there?” Aleks asked, “Convert an old tub to a new tub? Convert a tub to a walk-in shower?” Homeowners tend to focus next on the vanity and related storage (cabinetry, shelves, niches, etc). Aleks noted that he often sees homeowners opting to use the vanity and medicine cabinet to stretch their budget and pick higher-end, custom fixtures because these are focal points that can have a more immediate visual impact with higher quality materials. Next, you need to decide on the toilet, tile, faucets, lighting fixtures, and hardware accessories like hooks, towel bars, and cabinet pulls.

Alan helped to shed some light on the range of materials, noting that both toilet and vanity options can start as low as $250 (for options available from big-box retailers) and range up to $3,000 (for higher-end or custom pieces) and beyond (for highly specialized, European, or customized options). Alan noted that homeowners can add to their expenses if they decide on sinks that leave piping exposed under the sink, because they then need to spend more on decorative drain pipes. Specialized options like tubs with jets can also bring the cost up because they require more plumbing labor and have an electrical wiring component. Homeowners can opt to limit or stretch expenses for materials like tile and stone, which can start as low as $1.50 per square foot and range up to $35 per square foot and beyond.

Here’s a look at Sanaya’s bathroom, renovated by Alan after being matched on Sweeten:



Both Alan and Aleks agreed that homeowners need to look at the work holistically. “When you are renovating a full bathroom, you can plan for the right sequence and the most cost-effective methods,” Aleks explained. While it can be tempting for homeowners to try to apply a la carte prices to individual elements of the work, a full renovation is necessarily more integrated and it can be mis-leading to try to break up and price out each step.

What do homeowners get wrong when thinking about the cost of a bathroom renovation? Are there any unexpected costs that we might not anticipate?

One unexpected and non-glamorous theme that both Alan and Aleks flagged is that the requirements of individual buildings can play a significant role in dictating budget needs. Building demands can range from insurance coverage minimums, which limit your ability to work with professionals who aren’t carrying high-value insurance policies, to general alteration agreements that require anyone doing any work in the building to have far-reaching coverage for problems they may never encounter, like asbestos removal or explosion and collapse scenarios. The contractors that can afford to work in buildings with more extensive requirements tend to have higher operating costs and can meet higher insurance requirements, more stringent debris removal expectations, limited noise and hours-of-work requirements, and stricter parking rules.

In addition, Aleks explained that homeowners often don’t anticipate how expensive plumbing and permit costs are. Plumbing alone can cost $2,000 to $3,500 (or higher) and plumbing permits (when necessary, as required by the City’s Department of Buildings) can run to $2,000 per permit. If you’re removing an outlet or doing electrical work, you may need an electrical permit, which can run close to $900. You may also need an asbestos inspection, again depending on the building requirements and your plumbing plans, which can cost around $500.

 Finally, Aleks and Alan pointed out that homeowners need to factor in costs that ensure the success and longevity of the work, including prep work to protect floors and valuables (which can add $600 to $900) and waterproofing steps (which can add $1,000).

Does having a small NYC bathroom make renovation more expensive because the professionals have to maneuver in a tight space?

Aleks and Alan both agreed on one uncontentious point: bathrooms in NYC are small! Thankfully, this doesn’t directly correspond to higher renovation costs for New Yorkers. Aleks noted that small spaces require fewer materials, so you might see lower costs for material purchases that depend on volume, like stone and tile. That said, homeowners should note that small work spaces may mean that contractors need to use a separate area in the home for staging and prep. Alan pointed out that the challenges (and costs) of urban living can extend beyond bathroom size, and that contractors need to consider things like parking and elevator availability as they scope out the time and cost of a project.


Thinking about getting started? 

Both of our experts encourage homeowners to pick their fixtures upfront so that you can plan for installation specifics with your contractor as you are assessing the total cost of the work. Take a look at projects already posted on Sweeten and get yours going! Here is a quick snapshot of the cost considerations we’ve talked through to get you started.


Posted by: Categories: Bathrooms, Cost Guide 3


We know first-hand how daunting it can be to envision renovation options as you’re standing in a crowded open house. This week, we are beyond psyched to share a first look at our new partnership with Corcoran, New York’s preeminent real estate group. We’ll be partnering with Corcoran to help buyers and sellers demystify the renovation process, understand design options for particular properties, and break down potential upgrades at various price points. Over the next few months, you’ll see more information for first-time buyers about how to value renovations for properties on the market, ideas for new homeowners looking to undo the renovation decisions of prior owners, and guidance for sellers looking to maximize their re-sale value or refresh a property before it gets listed.

In our first video take, Sweeten founder and CEO, Jean Brownhill Lauer, and Sweeten Expert Kent run us through kitchen renovation options, in under a minute, for a one-bedroom apartment on the market for $525,000.


To keep the budget in the $10k – $30k range, Jean focuses in on the most immediately visible elements of the kitchen: new tile and backsplash, under-cabinet lighting, painting cupboards, and a possible high-impact splurge on new countertops. With a $30k – $60k budget, Jean and Kent help us picture a more transformative project: opening the kitchen up to the living room, creating a custom prep and dining island, bringing millwork finishes from the living room to new kitchen cabinetry, and re-doing the kitchen floor. Now press play!

We’re just getting started with this new Corcoran collaboration and can’t wait to share more with you as the spring real estate market warms up. Stay tuned for more in the works from Jean and Team Sweeten.


This week, we connected with Sweeten Experts Chip and Mike for a nuanced look at the construction costs involved in a full home renovation. After glancing at a photo of work underway at a Sweeten project, Chip made an off-hand comment that struck us as interesting. “That is solid $400 per square foot work,” he said. That is what…? How did you…!? Intrigued by how Chip could distill such a key piece of information from a momentary glance, we asked him to help us understand the basic elements and variables of construction costs per square foot for homeowners undertaking a full home renovation.

Where should homeowners start when estimating construction costs per square foot for a full home renovation?

Chip and Mike: First, we need to understand the scope of the work. Is this a gut renovation, a renovation, or a la carte work?

Homeowners often confuse “gut renovations” and “renovations.” A gut renovation means that all interior walls come down. A renovation means that you are re-doing the space within existing walls, which is most common in NYC. It’s important to understand that difference because you can make costly mistakes if you aren’t planning for the right scenario.

Next, you need to plan for the material costs and labor costs. These can be fairly evenly split: almost half the cost of a renovation typically comes from the materials used in the finishes: tile, stone, millwork, paint, lighting fixtures, metal, glass, electronics, etc.

Got it. So if material costs and labor costs can be somewhat evenly split, that must mean that there is wide variation in the cost of labor, just like there is wide variation in the cost of materials that a homeowner might choose. How does that work?

Labor costs can vary significantly. We look at a scale that runs from AAA to C to classify categories of labor specialization. AAA, or “triple-mint,” is considered the highest quality and most labor-intensive work because (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Cost Guide, Renovation Resources 8
Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sanaya’s Sweetened Clinton Hill Kitchen



“Sweeten connected me with an awesome, smart, and honest contractor, which is all you need to make it happen.”

–Sanaya K., Clinton Hill homeowner

Like a number of her Clinton Hill Co-op neighbors, homeowner Sanaya spent years living with decades-old cabinetry, outdated appliances, and unnecessarily cramped spaces before taking the plunge with a complete Sweeten renovation of her kitchen. “The kitchen was incredibly outdated,” she explained. “The cabinets were falling apart and I’m embarrassed to admit that there were cans of food holding up the shelves in one spot!”

Sanaya and her husband, Chris, had to contend with missing shelves and work around what looked like water damage from a prior leak. In addition, the original layout included a wall between the kitchen and pantry, which closed off both spaces and served no functional purpose. “It was tight,” Sanaya recalled. “Totally unnecessary, and made the space feel like a maze of walls.” Because of the placement of this dividing wall and the location of the refrigerator, counter space was seriously lacking. In her project post on Sweeten, Sanaya did not mince words: “…everything must go.”

After meeting with her Sweeten matches, Sanaya chose to work with Sweeten Expert, Alan, who helped bring together the homeowner’s renovation game plan.




Sanaya took on three unconventional design choices to replace existing finishes: counter tops, the backsplash, and flooring. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens, Sweetened 4

This week, we chatted with Michael Vargas, President and CEO of Vanderbilt Appraisal Company, a Manhattan-based appraisal firm. Michael has 20 years of valuation experience and his company has completed over 50,000 valuations in the tri-state area. Michael helped us shed some light on one of the most fraught aspects of any home purchase or sale: the appraisal. While the appraisal itself generally occurs as an owner is preparing to sell or refinance a home, most homeowners in the Sweeten community have an eye on future appraisals as they are designing renovations, even when they plan to enjoy their project for years.

Featured photos come from a Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn renovation by Sweeten Expert Alexandra B.


What are the elements that you assess when calculating the value of a home?

Michael: The most important factors in the New York City market are location, size, architectural style, number of bedrooms, and overall condition of the home. We also consider kitchen and bath renovations, amenities, view, and natural light.

What do homeowners get wrong when thinking about the value of their own homes?

Owners tend to think about their homes in an emotional sense: there are often elements of a home that an owner treasures that may not necessarily translate to the value that the owner has assigned. For example, extras like a fireplace, balcony, storage, or custom-designed walk-in closet may indeed enhance value, but the gain may not correlate directly to the original cost of the work or to the owner’s sense of emotional worth. An individual owner may have been willing to spend a significant premium for a special amenity but the general market of buyers may pay far less of a premium upon resale.

That makes sense. The New York Times recently published an article about how very personal renovations can be hard to sell. What can you tell us about appraising those kinds of properties?

Anything a seller does to limit the pool of potential buyers can lead to a discounted sale price. When a homeowner creates a highly personalized style, buyers tend to treat the property in the same way that they would an un-renovated property; they seek to extract the cost to re-do the renovation so that they are not over-paying for a property that will ultimately require significant work.



Tell us more about how you would factor a more typical, straight-forward renovation into the value of a home.

The level and condition of a renovation is one of the most vital components in determining the value of the home. We look at the cost of the renovation, consider typical costs for a similar renovation, and assess the time frame since the renovation was completed.

A newly-renovated property can carry 100% of the cost of the renovation to the overall value of the home. As time progresses, the value of the renovation tends to diminish on the scale of approximately 20% every three to five years. After you pass the ten-year mark, the value of the renovation tends to drop dramatically.

What can homeowners do to increase the value of their homes?

The most value-enhancing renovation projects are kitchens and baths. A newly-renovated kitchen and bath can increase the value of a home by as much as 100% of the cost of the renovation.

So, if I renovate my kitchen for $30,000 and my apartment was last priced at $330,000, can I assume that the new value of my home is $360,000?

Yes – you can make that assumption, but remember that the market is not static; market prices can fluctuate. If market prices are rising and you spend $30,000 to renovate your kitchen, the new value of your home is $360,000 plus the amount (or percent) of market price inflation. Of course, the reverse can be true, during a market downturn, the value attributed to a renovation can decrease along with the home’s selling price.


Homeowners renovating with Sweeten want to gain and maintain that value in their home after a renovation. Do you have any tips on how to do this? 

Most owners will see an immediate increase in value upon completion of a renovation project. During an appraisal, the owner should clearly call out the scope of the renovation as well as the related costs to the appraiser to ensure that the appraiser is accounting for the value of the work in the assessment.

We’ve been hearing for almost two years that New York City has very low inventory. Can that affect the appraisal?

The market in New York City is at historically low inventory levels. This situation tends to lead to rising prices, but it can also contribute to stagnation in the rate of sales. Demand can dissipate when buyers have such limited choice and are unimpressed with the quality of the properties on the market. Over the long term, however, we tend to see value escalate when inventory is low.


What determines the value of a home in Manhattan versus Brooklyn? Is there a difference that you can attribute to neighborhood?

The value of any home – whether it is in Manhattan or Brooklyn – is determined by the “principle of substitution”: the notion that the price of a home is set in accordance with other comparable, or “substitute”, properties. Market prices are ultimately localized, so owners and buyers should not directly compare homes in these two markets.

However, we have seen that what transpires in the Manhattan market can have an impact on the Brooklyn market. When market prices rise significantly in Manhattan, prime areas in Brooklyn also tend to rise. Although there has been recent convergence of value – some Brooklyn areas have comparable values to some Manhattan areas – there is still a large variance in value between the most valuable homes in Manhattan versus Brooklyn.

So, is now a good time to renovate or sell? 

Given that inventory remains so low, market prices are likely to continue to rise over the next six to twelve months. This is a great time to renovate a property with an eye toward a future sale because by the time you complete the project, the net gain in value will be higher than the cost of the renovation.



Photos: All featured photos are from a Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn renovation by Sweeten Expert #2901, Alexandra B.

If you’re ready to start your own renovation project, post on Sweeten to be matched with Experts who are perfect for the job!

Posted by: Categories: Appraisal, Inspiration, Renovation Resources 3