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
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…)


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.

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
Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Kitchen, Three Ways in Clinton Hill


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

03_sweeten_carrieKitchen #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)!

Posted by: Categories: Inspiration, Kitchens 8

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.”

 –Angela, homeowner

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…)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Home School Giveaway #8


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.


* * *

Tips for Finding a Great Place to Renovate

1. Work with a broker who has both market knowledge & creative vision.


03-Cheever after 2-credit
After renovating. Photo (above, bottom): From Design Brooklyn (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 2013). Courtesy of Michel Arnaud.

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…)

Posted by: Categories: Contests, Inspiration 0


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…)

Posted by: Categories: Completed Projects, Inspiration, Kitchens 1
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gowanus House Renovation, Complete!



You know that sort of childish feeling of being so excited about a future event that it actually seems to slow down time, and the only way around it is to put it out of your mind until the moment finally arrives? Whether the timeline is 2-weeks, or 20-months, renovation projects epitomize this trial of patience — and in following so many of them at Sweeten, we always have so much to anxiously await!

For me, Milktrout’s gut renovation in Gowanus has been the ultimate test. We’ve had this project on our radar since construction began last fall, and I made my last visit to the site while it was under construction back in January, at which point, things were really taking shape… and I already, seriously, could not wait. The project finished up on time this past spring, which meant between moving in, getting settled, and the natural slack brought on by summering, this fall would be it! At long last, after a very patient run (–I’m just kidding, I’ve been totally impatient), Milktrout firm owner Kent Johnson along with homeowners JD & Meaghan recently invited us back to check out the finished space, and I couldn’t be happier to say that this home fully exceeded my expectations. (more…)

Posted by: Categories: Completed Projects, Inspiration 3