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…)
“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…)
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!
“Renovations can be painful. Sweeten takes the hassle and guesswork out of the process. Overall it was a very pleasant experience and we are thrilled with the end product.”
-Ben C., Brooklyn Heights homeowner
What do you do when you realize that your bathroom is just not working for you anymore? Ben & Therese’s Brooklyn Heights bathroom wasn’t even 10 years old before they recognized that the space was ugly, outdated, and felt cramped — even little Enzo (pictured above) didn’t want to bathe in what he regarded as a cheap, generic tub — it was time for an update.
The couple took a savvy approach, collecting enough inspiration and research online that, together, they were ultimately able to design the bathroom of their dreams and a space that would reflect their personal tastes. They even built a 3D model of their ideas using Google SketchUp to help them plan and visualize the space; according to Ben, ”we didn’t want to leave anything to chance, and we wanted to make sure we utilized every square inch as best we could.” With their very real vision, Ben & Therese were more than ready to renovate, so they posted their project on Sweeten to be matched with a contractor who would help them finish the job.
Ben & Therese moved forward with their first match who was just the right fit for the project, and in just 4 weeks, Sweeten Expert Aleks and his team were able transform the generic bath into the homeowners’ inspired vision. Here’s their space before & after:
The couple took a universal ideal of clean, simple and modern, but made a space that is uniquely theirs by incorporating industrial elements like cement tile & shower doors on sliding hardware, and adding a splash of color with Moroccan-inspired flooring tiles. Ben even says that it feels bigger and more open after renovating (a big plus in BK), not to mention that it’s much more functional. I love it, they love it, their friends love it, and little Enzo couldn’t be happier — sounds like a win!
Great work to Aleks & his team — and big congrats and many thanks to Ben, Therese & Enzo!
Jealous? Post on Sweeten to get matched and start renovating!
Yesterday we launched our new, interactive renovation maps on Sweeten! We’re super excited about the project, and, already, so are our friends at Curbed, Brownstoner, & Gizmodo! We’ve mapped all of the projects posted on Sweeten along with the last 10 years of alterations permits filed with the NYC Dept. of Buildings.
Each dot on the map represents one building address, and by clicking on an address you can view the full record of each renovation in that building — including the owner, permit applicant, a description of work, the estimated cost of construction and filing fee, along with a link to the original DOB digital filing. Go to your building and see all the renovations on file …or on your block, in your neighborhood, or zip code!
We designed these maps to help the entire Sweeten community better understand the current renovation market, as well as how it changes over time, and we’ll be creating followup posts highlighting renovation investment trends that we see in neighborhoods across all five boroughs. We are also offering an email alert service for our “insiders” to receive monthly email updates on any new renovations filed in your list of watched addresses. Insider accounts are $10 per month. You’ll be automatically informed of work in your building, or any building on your watch list.
A fun fact for anyone curious about the map’s color palette: after a few trials that weren’t quite right, Jean used the orchid on her desk as the final color inspiration— doesn’t it look great?!
The new maps are just one of the many educational features we’ve been developing at Sweeten to help our community better understand the renovation market here in NYC. Check out the project and let us know your thoughts in the comments below! http://sweeten.com/maps
Ever since Billy & Sally came to us with their cramped Clinton Hill kitchen last year, we’ve spent a lot of time Sweetening homes in the Clinton Hill co-ops. One of the most remarkable things about these projects is that they all start with the exact same, 1940′s bones, but by the end, no two of these spaces ends up anything alike. I personally cannot decide which of these kitchens I love most, but one thing is for sure, they have all come a very long way! Have a look at these three renovation outcomes and let us know which you like best.
Kitchen #1: Billy & Sally’s Stylishly Curated Kitchen
Kitchen #2: Kyle & Angela’s Mid-Century Inspired Kitchen
Kitchen #3: Light & Modern, Family Kitchen
Let us know which you like best in the comments below (–and check back in a few weeks to see how this one finished up)!
This is certainly one of those renovations that I have been anticipating with bated breath. Partly because the amazing homeowners, Kyle, an IT professional at a law firm, and Angela, a freelance illustrator, have the style and the je ne sais quoi to totally charm; but also, I love projects like this one, where the homeowners have lived in the space, dreamed about what it will be one day, and saved up for years towards the goal of making that dream home their real home. It gives all of us who may still be far from that goal, a sense of possibility.
“We’d been living here for eleven years and things were starting to get a bit shabby. When we moved in, the apartment had been freshly renovated with all the cheapest materials available at Home Depot, which was fine back then, but we really wanted to make it ‘ours.’ We saved up for renovations all the while and put a lot of thought into what we wanted to do.”
When the time had arrived early this year, Kyle and Angela (and their “mean, little chihuahua”) posted to Sweeten to get started on renovating their 900 sq/ft, 2 bedroom Clinton Hill co-op apartment. The road to selecting ‘the perfect contractor’ was made a whole lot sweeter by our three suggestions; according to Angela, “we feel confident that any of the contractors Sweeten selected for us would have done a great job, but we’re really happy that we chose Famurat Builders.” Kris Famurat’s team was able to take the homeowners’ dreams of extra counter space for baking and a place that showed off their personal mid-century style, and turn them into a reality, on-time and within-budget!
The Famurat team worked closely with Kyle and Angela to meet their main objectives for the project: to create a modern, open apartment AND stay on budget. First order of business was making the ‘big moves,’ which meant tearing down the non-structural interior walls and tearing up the outdated and damaged parquet flooring. With just these changes, the homeowners could already begin to anticipate their moment of, “I can hardly believe it’s the same place we’ve lived for the past decade!” (more…)
When it comes to shopping real estate, we’ve all heard the classic rule of thumb, “location, location, location!” So, what happens once you’ve got location covered? What other qualities of a home can help determine its potential – especially when we’re dealing with a fixer-upper?
Whether you’re currently in the market, the deal is done, or you’re just a design-conscious renter, we’d like to help you on your path to home improvement. For this Home School giveaway, we’ve teamed up with the lovely ladies of Remodelista, the creatives behind Design Brooklyn, one of our favorite Brooklyn-focused architecture and interiors blogs, and the folks at Breuckelen Berber, the only shop in Brooklyn with a dedicated collection of killer Moroccan carpets, to bring you an amazing post and prize package:
–A copy of Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry by Anne Hellman and Michel Arnaud (ABRAMS/Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, October 2013), *signed by Mike D of the Beastie Boys!
–A copy of Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home by Julie Carlson with the editors of Remodelista (publishes Nov. 5, 2013).
–An amazing, vintage Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpet from Breuckelen Berber. The carpet measures 12’5″ x 6’5″, is handmade of 100% wool, and is in excellent condition. With stippled lozenge motifs containing chains of diamonds within (symbolizing fertility), this vintage Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpet shifts from a more open to closed structure as the piece progresses; the carpet features a natural, undyed dark brown pattern with side borders. On the reverse site, its creation date, “1982,” is evident, as woven by the artist.
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Tips for Finding a Great Place to Renovate
1. Work with a broker who has both market knowledge & creative vision.
There are many benefits to renovating a new home, which is why more than two-thirds of all home renovations occur within that first year of purchase. We recently chatted with our friend Lindsay Barton Barret, a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker at Corcoran, whose distinguished career has landed her countless awards, including, recently being named one of Wall Street Journal’s 2013 top 250 real estate professionals by transaction volume, nation wide. (more…)
Around the end of last year, Elliot, a Graphic Designer, and Katie, a Benefit Specialist, decided that the time had come to take the scary but sensible plunge and become first-time homeowners of an older 1,800 sq/ft, 2-story townhouse in Williamsburg. The couple fell in love with this house’s lovely bones, plus it had a backyard for their dog, Desmond; but what they did not love was that it had the common NYC problem of disjointed spaces caused by a layout of many smaller rooms, not to mention the interior’s outdated everything.
Though the couple had never done a renovation before, they were excited by the idea of fixing up an older home. So the next task was to find their general contractor, which wouldn’t be easy (they thought) since they didn’t know many other homeowners, and therefore word-of-mouth was out of the question. After hearing about our resources at Sweeten, Katie & Elliot posted their project right away to get matched with members of the Sweeten Network. After comparing their matches, the young homeowners chose to put their project in the trustworthy hands of sustainability design build experts Ecostruct, who worked with the renovation newbies to think through everything from the practicality of materials to overall design concepts, before beginning construction on their 4-month project. (more…)