Top 3 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Planning Renovations in NYC

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.

1. Tick tock, tick tock

More than 25% of our experts talked about how hard it is for homeowners to plan for the timeline of the project. Many homeowners make the mistake of thinking solely about the physical labor required, but the majority of projects involve a variety of stages before a hammer touches a single nail. The irony here is that in some cases, physical labor is actually the least time-intensive part of the project.

As you are planning your project, be sure to think about time needed for design, Department of Building approvals, condo and co-op approvals, ordering and lead times for materials, site staging, debris removal, and adjusting to factors behind walls and under floors that you can’t forecast until the work begins. A classic example: Clinton Hill homeowner Diane spent months getting approvals, ordering materials, and putting up with tiles and a toilet sitting in her dining room while she handled all of the prep work for her bathroom renovation. Once the actual project began, Diane had a brand new bathroom in less than two weeks.

2. Approvals

40% of our experts highlighted how often homeowners underestimate approval steps when planning a renovation. While this topic is closely tied to the first mistake that homeowners make, this specific aspect of timing was the single most commonly reported misconception.

Between demanding co-op boards and byzantine Department of Buildings requirements, homeowners can spend three to four months navigating paperwork and reviews. Many homeowners are initially most worried about the cost of the project and then find themselves paralyzed and frustrated when they realize that the start of the project is weeks or months away. When I re-did the floors in my East Village apartment, I made the epic mistake of assuming that my building’s management company could process the straightforward approval request in a few days time. As new wood planks were being hauled into my living room, I learned that a required insurance certificate had not yet come through, and the crew had to turn around and walk out the door until the paperwork was in place a few days later. The actual work was done in three days flat. The approvals? Probably three weeks of calls and emails and considerable pleading (whining, really) before a final thumbs up.

3. Camping out

Homeowners often forget to make the right plans for living through the work itself. Almost 15% of our experts pointed out that homeowners fail to think through the implications of living without a bathroom or kitchen or stairs while work is underway, or forget to account for children and pets when planning for the temporary inconvenience of the renovation. Especially in space-deprived NYC homes, homeowners need to realistically plan for the disruption, assess whether they can stay in the space until the work is done, and budget for alternate accommodations if essential spaces will be blocked off. If you are planning a transformative renovation project that will last beyond a few days, or your project entails gutting walls and floors that will expose significant dust and materials, you should expect to live elsewhere until the work is done. I have found that most homeowners prefer to visit the site daily to check on progress and provide visual feedback, so you may not want to leave town altogether. But do consider budgeting for alternate accommodations and maybe even a few days off from work so that you can be available.

Thanks, as always, to our Sweeten experts for their insight on these roadblocks! Despite all of these pitfalls, I have yet to meet a homeowner who isn’t totally and completely psyched about the finished work. With the right planning and realistic expectations, Sweeten experts can help you navigate all of these steps. If you are thinking about getting a renovation started, post your project on Sweeten and let us introduce you to renovation professionals who can get your project done.

If you are a veteran home renovator, I’d love to hear about any mistakes you made along the way in the comments below!