How to Successfully Renovate Your NYC Apartment: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Successfully Renovate Your NYC Apartment: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by
Nick Chatzigeorgakis
Published on
June 17, 2024
Read time


Renovating your NYC apartment can be both a thrilling and daunting endeavor. The allure of transforming your space into a personalized haven is exhilarating, but the complexities involved in such projects can be overwhelming. From securing permits to managing diverse vendors and adhering to stringent building codes, it's easy to get bogged down in the details. However, understanding the essentials right from the start can save you time, money, and stress.

For those looking for a quick guide, here are crucial points to consider:

  1. Set Clear Goals: Define what you want to achieve with your renovation.
  2. Create a Realistic Budget: Establish a comfortable range to account for unexpected costs.
  3. Understand the Scope: Identify specific areas and elements that require upgrades.
  4. Partner with Experts: Choose a reliable design-build firm for a seamless experience.
  5. Plan for Permits and Approvals: Be prepared to navigate NYC’s red tape.

Embarking on this journey with Intrabuild, a full-service design-build firm, ensures a smooth renovation process. With Intrabuild, you get a comprehensive package: meticulous design, a proprietary management system, and a guaranteed completion date. Their experienced team will handle everything from initial design concept to final construction, tailoring the transformation to your vision while navigating NYC’s unique challenges.

Important Aspects of Renovating NYC Apartments - renovating nyc apartment infographic pyramid-hierarchy-5-steps

Understanding the NYC Renovation Landscape

When renovating your NYC apartment, understanding the local landscape is crucial. The process involves multiple layers of approvals and permits, each with its own set of complexities. Here’s what you need to know:

Department of Buildings (DOB)

The NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) ensures all construction projects comply with local building codes and zoning regulations. Most renovations require filing an Alteration application with the DOB. Your architect will handle this, submitting detailed plans for approval.

Key Steps:- Filing Plans: Your architect submits the renovation plans to the DOB.- Review Process: The DOB reviews the plans, often requesting additional information or modifications.- Approval: Once approved, you can proceed to the next steps, such as hiring a contractor and obtaining permits.

Pro Tip: Patience is key. The DOB review process can take time, involving some back-and-forth communication.


Permits are essential for ensuring that your renovation adheres to safety and building standards. The type of permit you need depends on the scope of your project. Common permits include:

  • ALT1: Major alterations changing use, egress, or occupancy.
  • ALT2: Multiple types of work not affecting use, egress, or occupancy.
  • ALT3: Minor work not affecting use, egress, or occupancy.

The contractor usually applies for the work permit after the plans are approved.

NYC permits - renovating nyc apartment

Alteration Agreement

If you live in a co-op or condo, you’ll need to navigate the Alteration Agreement. This document outlines the building's rules for renovations, including work hours, noise control, and use of service elevators.

Key Points:- Architect Review: Some buildings require their architect to review and approve your plans.- Management Oversight: The management company may periodically check the project to ensure compliance with the agreement.- Footprint Restrictions: In older buildings, kitchens and bathrooms might need to stay within their original footprint.

Fun Fact: Bringing cookies to your neighbors can go a long way in maintaining goodwill during noisy renovations!

Co-op/Condo Board Approval

Securing approval from your co-op or condo board is often the first major hurdle. Boards are focused on maintaining the building's integrity and minimizing disruptions for other residents.

Tips for Smooth Approval:- Detailed Plans: Submit a comprehensive plan that includes timelines, scope of work, and noise mitigation strategies.- Respect Rules: Adhere strictly to the building's alteration agreement.- Communication: Keep an open line of communication with both the board and your neighbors.

Case Study: In one project, a smooth renovation was achieved by working closely with a board that had clear guidelines and open communication channels.

Navigating the NYC renovation landscape can be daunting, but with the right preparation and a trusted partner like Intrabuild, you can streamline the process. Intrabuild offers a comprehensive package, including design, a proprietary management system, and a guaranteed completion date. Their expertise ensures that every step, from DOB filings to board approvals, is handled efficiently, allowing you to focus on your vision for your home.

Planning Your NYC Apartment Renovation

Set Clear Goals

Start by defining what you want to achieve with your renovation. Is it to increase functionality, add storage, or modernize the space? Maybe you want to create an open-concept layout or add a new bedroom. Your goals will guide every decision you make.

For example, a family on the Upper East Side needed three identical bathrooms for their children, but they wanted a grown-up aesthetic. This clear goal helped streamline their design process.

Establish Your Budget

Creating a realistic budget is crucial. Break it down into three categories: Scope of Work, Who You Hire, and What You Purchase.

  1. Scope of Work: This includes everything from demolishing walls to installing new fixtures.
  2. Who You Hire: Architect, general contractor, specialized labor.
  3. What You Purchase: Materials, appliances, finishes.

Always have a contingency budget of 10-20% for unexpected issues. You might uncover old wiring or plumbing that needs updating, especially in older buildings.

Define the Scope of Work

A clear scope of work will help you and your contractor stay on the same page. List all the areas that need renovation and the specific elements within each area, such as lighting, flooring, and cabinetry.

For instance, a gut renovation might include:

  • Electrical upgrades
  • Plumbing work
  • Demolition
  • Framing new walls
  • Installing new insulation and drywall
  • Heating and cooling system updates

A non-gut renovation might focus on refreshing the kitchen and bathroom with new materials and fixtures without changing the layout.

Design Your Space

Work with an architect to create a design that meets your goals and stays within budget. Architects do more than just draw plans; they help you make informed decisions about layout, materials, and finishes.

For example, Jorge Fontan, a Manhattan-based architect, emphasizes starting with big picture items and working down to the details. His firm can guide you from initial design to producing technical construction drawings.

Hire an Architect

Hiring an architect is a smart investment, especially in NYC where regulations are strict. An architect will:

  • Help you define your goals and budget
  • Create a design that meets your needs
  • Produce technical drawings for permits
  • Assist in selecting a contractor and getting bids
  • Oversee the construction process with periodic site visits

Having an architect on board from the start can save you time and money. They can anticipate issues and help you avoid costly changes mid-stream.

Involve Your Building's Management

If you live in a co-op or condo, you'll need to get approval from your building's management. Review your Alteration Agreement to understand what renovations require board approval. This document will outline the necessary steps and paperwork.

For example, installing a central air HVAC system in a 1,750-square-foot penthouse co-op caused months-long delays, but having a knowledgeable contractor kept the project moving along.

By setting clear goals, establishing a realistic budget, defining the scope of work, designing thoughtfully, and hiring an experienced architect, you can ensure a smooth renovation process.

Next, we'll dive into the key steps in the renovation process, guiding you through hiring an architect, reviewing your alteration agreement, and more.

Key Steps in the Renovation Process

Hire an Architect

The first major step in renovating your NYC apartment is hiring an architect. An architect will help you translate your vision into a workable design. Jorge Fontan, a seasoned architect, emphasizes that "an architect will guide you every step of the way," from setting your budget to designing your home and producing technical construction drawings.

Pro Tip: Choose an architect familiar with New York City's unique challenges, such as pre-war buildings and specific local regulations.

Review the Alteration Agreement

Your building will have specific rules for renovations, outlined in an Alteration Agreement. This document will detail what renovations need prior board approval and what can proceed without it.

Important: Make sure your architect, contractor, and you understand and comply with these rules. For example, some buildings have strict "wet over dry" rules, which can affect your plans for bathrooms and kitchens.

Building Management Review

Once your architectural design and drawings are complete, they must be reviewed by your building's management. This step can vary greatly in duration, depending on your building's policies and the scope of your project.

Example: In one case, a building required an on-site inspection of waterproofing and soundproofing before approving a renovation that included adding a bathroom and a laundry closet.

File with the Department of Buildings (DOB)

Your architect will file an Alteration application with the NYC Department of Buildings. This process involves a plan review by the DOB, which can take some time and may require back-and-forth communication to address questions and comments.

Tip: Patience is key during this phase. Delays are common, but thorough preparation can help mitigate them.

Bid the Job

Bidding is the process of getting prices and proposals from construction contractors. This can be done earlier in the process, or you may hire a contractor directly. Your architect can guide you through this process to ensure you get the best value.

Hire a General Contractor

After receiving bids, you'll select a general contractor (GC). Jorge Fontan advises, "Ignore all the salesy crap the contractors are going to tell you. Pick the person you believe will do the best job and that you feel you can trust."

Warning: Avoid hiring the lowest bidder without thorough vetting, as this can lead to problems down the line.

Obtain Permits and Start Construction

Once you have a GC, they will pull the necessary permits under their license, allowing you to begin construction.

Pro Tip: Choose a contractor who offers a guaranteed completion date and utilizes a proprietary management system to keep the project on track.

By following these key steps, you can navigate the complexities of renovating your NYC apartment with confidence. Next, we'll discuss common challenges you might face and how to overcome them.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Renovating your NYC apartment can be a thrilling journey, but it's not without its hurdles. Here are some common challenges you might face and how to tackle them effectively.

Unexpected Costs

Budget overruns are a frequent issue in renovations. Always budget for at least 15% more than your initial estimate to cover unforeseen expenses.

Examples of unexpected costs:- Hidden damage: Like mold or water damage found behind walls.- Upgrading systems: Such as electrical panels or plumbing that don't meet current codes.

Solution: Plan for the unexpected by setting aside a contingency fund. This can help you manage surprises without derailing your project.

Outdated Plumbing and Electrical

Older buildings often have outdated systems that need upgrading to meet modern standards. This can be costly and time-consuming.

Case Study: Jan Eliasberg's renovation faced months-long delays due to installing a central air HVAC system in her penthouse co-op.

Solution: Hire licensed and qualified experts to handle these jobs. Cutting corners here can lead to costly issues later.

Structural Concerns

Structural issues can range from minor fixes to major overhauls. These problems often require the expertise of a structural engineer.

Common structural concerns:- Weak foundations: Especially in older pre-war buildings.- Load-bearing walls: That need to be modified or removed.

Solution: Conduct a thorough inspection before starting your renovation. An experienced contractor can help identify and address these issues early.

Wet Over Dry Rules

In co-ops and condos, adding a bathroom or kitchen can be tricky due to "wet over dry" rules. These rules restrict placing wet areas (like bathrooms) above dry areas (like living rooms).

Quote from David Ackerman: “Assuming your co-op or condo building allows wet over dry renovations, you need to pick a location somewhat near a plumbing riser where the drain and supply lines can be tied into.”

Solution: Work closely with your design-build firm to find feasible solutions that comply with building regulations. This can save you time and money on board approvals and permits.

By understanding these common challenges and planning ahead, you can navigate your NYC apartment renovation with ease. Next, we'll dive into budgeting for your renovation to ensure you stay on track financially.

Budgeting for Your Renovation

When renovating a NYC apartment, budgeting is crucial to ensure you stay on track financially. Here’s what you need to know about costs:

Average Cost Per Square Foot

For a gut renovation (taking the space down to the studs, plumbing, and wiring), you can expect to pay $250 to $300 per square foot using mid-range materials. For example, gut renovating a 2,500 square foot prewar apartment will cost around $625,000 to $750,000. If you opt for top-of-the-line upgrades, this figure can double.

Kitchen and Bathroom Renovation Costs

Even though NYC kitchens and bathrooms are often small, they come with high renovation costs:

  • Kitchen Renovation: A mid-range kitchen renovation typically costs $25,000 to $40,000. High-end renovations can exceed $90,000, depending on size and finish levels. Factors include cabinetry, appliances, plumbing, and electrical work.
  • Bathroom Renovation: Expect to pay for quality fixtures and tiling. Fixtures can range from $200 for a basic faucet to over $1,000 for luxury brands. Tiling costs range from $5 to $50 per square foot, excluding labor.

Unexpected Renovation Costs

Renovations often come with surprises that can inflate your budget. Here are some common unexpected costs:

  • Architect Fees: Some buildings require you to pay for an architect to review your plans and oversee the project, adding $1,000 to $2,000 initially and potentially another $8,000 to $12,000 if continuous oversight is needed.
  • Daily Fees and Penalties: You may be charged a daily fee (e.g., $50) for crew movements and penalties for project delays. Incorporate these into your contractor agreement to avoid unexpected charges.
  • Fabrication and Installation: The cost of templating and cutting materials for countertops and shower walls can add an extra 10% to initial material prices.
  • Temporary Housing: If you need to vacate during the renovation, budget for short-term rentals, which can cost at least $3,000 per month for a furnished one-bedroom.

Planning for Contingencies

Experts recommend padding your budget with a contingency line item, equal to an extra 5-10% of the total estimate. This prepares you for unforeseen issues, especially in older buildings where outdated plumbing and electrical systems are common.

By understanding these costs and planning accordingly, you can manage your renovation budget effectively. Next, we’ll explore the permits and approvals needed for your NYC apartment renovation.

Navigating Permits and Approvals

Renovating an NYC apartment involves navigating a maze of permits and approvals. Let's break down the key steps and what you need to know.

DOB Permits

Most renovations in NYC require permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB). These permits ensure that your project complies with building codes and regulations.

Types of Permits:

  • ALT1: Major changes that affect use, egress, or occupancy.
  • ALT2: Multiple types of work that don't affect use, egress, or occupancy.
  • ALT3: Minor work, such as plumbing or electrical, that doesn't affect use, egress, or occupancy.


  1. Architect Files Plans: Your architect submits the plans to the DOB.
  2. Plan Examination: The DOB reviews the plans. They may ask for additional information or changes.
  3. Permit Issuance: Once approved, your contractor pulls the permits under their license.
  4. Inspections: After construction, a DOB inspector will sign off on the work.

Co-Op/Condo Board Approvals

If you live in a co-op or condo, you need board approval before starting your renovation. Boards ensure that renovations don't disrupt the building or other residents.

Steps to Gain Approval:

  • Submit Detailed Plans: Include timelines, scope of work, and how you'll minimize disruptions.
  • Respect Rules: Follow the building's alteration agreement.
  • Communicate: Keep an open line with the board and neighbors.

Alteration Agreement

The alteration agreement is a contract between you and your building management. It outlines the rules and requirements for your renovation.

Key Points:

  • Scope of Work: Defines what you can and cannot do.
  • Insurance Requirements: May require additional homeowner's insurance.
  • Inspection Rights: Management may inspect the work periodically.

Landmarks Commission

If your building is landmarked, you need approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). This ensures that renovations preserve the building's historical integrity.


  1. Consult an Expert: Work with professionals experienced in landmark preservation.
  2. Submit Plans: Detailed plans must be reviewed by the LPC.
  3. Approval: Expect more paperwork and a longer timeline.

Navigating permits and approvals is complex, but with the right team and preparation, you can manage it effectively. Next, we'll discuss how to choose the right team for your renovation.

Choosing the Right Team for Your Renovation

Renovating an NYC apartment requires a skilled team. The right team makes all the difference between a smooth, stress-free renovation and a chaotic experience. Here’s who you need on your side:

General Contractor

A general contractor (GC) oversees the daily construction work. They ensure the project stays on schedule and within budget.

Key Points:

  • Licensed and Insured: Always choose a GC who is both licensed and insured. This protects you from liability in case of accidents or damage.
  • Experience: Look for a GC with experience in NYC renovations. They will be familiar with the unique challenges and regulations.
  • Communication: Good communication is crucial. Your GC should keep you updated and be easy to reach.


An architect is essential for major structural changes. They help design the space and ensure it complies with NYC building codes.

Key Points:

  • Design Expertise: Architects bring your vision to life, from layout to minute details.
  • Technical Drawings: They produce detailed construction drawings required for permits and contractor bids.
  • Project Management: Architects often assist in selecting contractors and overseeing the project to ensure quality.

Interior Designer

An interior designer focuses on the aesthetic and functional aspects of your space. They help choose finishes, colors, and furnishings that align with your vision.

Key Points:

  • Unified Vision: Designers ensure that all elements of your renovation work together seamlessly.
  • Sourcing Materials: They have access to a wide range of materials and can help you find the best options within your budget.
  • Personal Touch: Designers incorporate your personal style into the space, making it uniquely yours.

Skilled Labor

Skilled labor includes electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and other tradespeople who execute the detailed work.

Key Points:

  • Quality Workmanship: Choose laborers with a proven track record of quality work.
  • Specialization: Ensure they are experienced in the specific tasks required for your renovation.
  • Coordination: Skilled labor should work well with your GC and architect to ensure a cohesive project.

Design-Build Firm

For a more streamlined approach, consider a design-build firm like Intrabuild. They offer an all-in-one solution, providing design, construction, and project management under one roof.

Key Benefits:

  • Design Included: Your design is part of the package, ensuring a cohesive vision from start to finish.
  • Proprietary Management System: Intrabuild uses a proprietary system to keep your project on track.
  • Guaranteed Completion Date: They promise a completion date, reducing stress and uncertainty.

Choosing the right team is crucial for a successful renovation. Next, we’ll discuss living through a renovation and how to manage the process effectively.

Living Through a Renovation

Renovating your NYC apartment can be a challenging experience, especially when you have to live through it. Here are some key considerations to make it smoother:

Temporary Housing

Finding a temporary place to stay during major renovations is often necessary. Dust, noise, and disruptions can make staying put impractical.

  • Start Early: Begin searching for temporary housing as soon as you know your project timeline. Options include short-term rental platforms, extended-stay hotels, or even staying with family or friends.
  • Budget for It: Temporary rentals in NYC can be expensive. Expect to pay at least $3,000 per month for a furnished one-bedroom apartment.

Protecting Belongings

Renovations can be messy. Protecting your belongings is crucial to avoid damage from dust and debris.

  • Cover and Store: Use plastic covers for furniture and pack smaller items in boxes. If possible, move everything to a spare room.
  • Professional Storage: For extensive renovations, consider hiring a moving company to store your items. This might cost several hundred dollars per month but ensures your belongings are safe.

Health and Safety

Renovations can pose health risks, especially with dust and toxins. Protecting your family is paramount.

  • Dust Containment: Contractors can set up plastic barriers to minimize dust spread. However, it's not foolproof, especially for young children, older adults, or pregnant women.
  • Consider Vacating: For tasks like floor refinishing or plaster wall repairs, which generate a lot of dust, vacating the premises is often necessary.

Staging Construction

If vacating isn't an option, consider staging the construction to minimize disruption.

  • Sectional Work: Renovate one section or level at a time while living in another. This approach can increase costs but allows you to stay in your home.
  • Partial Renovations: If only renovating the kitchen, you might stay and work around it. Similarly, renovating one of multiple bathrooms or adding a new one might not require you to leave.

Living through a renovation requires careful planning and flexibility. Next, we’ll explore navigating permits and approvals to ensure your project stays compliant and on track.


Renovating your NYC apartment can be a daunting task. But with the right partner, it can also be a seamless and rewarding experience. At Intrabuild, we pride ourselves on delivering exceptional results by focusing on three key areas: design, project management, and timely completion.

Design Included

Our approach starts with understanding your vision. We include design services in every renovation package. Our in-house design team collaborates with you to create a space that reflects your style and meets your needs. This ensures that every detail, from layout to finishes, is tailored specifically to you.

Proprietary Management System

To keep your project on track, we use a proprietary management system. This tool allows for real-time tracking and updates, ensuring transparency and efficiency. You’ll always know the status of your renovation, reducing stress and uncertainty.

Guaranteed Completion Date

We understand the importance of timely delivery, especially in a busy city like New York. That's why we offer a guaranteed completion date. This commitment ensures that your renovation is completed on time, allowing you to plan your life with confidence.

By choosing Intrabuild, you’re not just renovating your apartment; you’re enhancing your lifestyle. Our dedication to high-quality craftsmanship, advanced technology, and meticulous project management ensures your home is beautiful and functional.

Ready to transform your NYC apartment? Explore our NYC apartment renovation services and let us help you bring your dream home to life.

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