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In the most recent Zillow Housing Aspirations Report, more than 83 percent of homeowners said they love their homes. About 76 percent said they would rather spend money renovating their homes than putting a down payment on a new place. The proof is in the rising rates of home renovations across the country, which have increased by about 4.7 percent every year for the past five years.
In New York, it makes even more sense to renovate than to try to find another home that matches your ideal aesthetic. But just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake. Renovation projects do come with some challenges.
We spoke with Aaron Popowsky, CEO of Gallery Kitchen & Bath, to identify a few key tips you can follow to get through your upcoming remodeling project without too much extra stress.
1. Nail down what you want to accomplish first
Before you even start to look for contractors to carry out your project, Popowsky recommends identifying your specific goals. “If you want to increase space in one or more rooms, improve the flow of your home, or create the aesthetic you’ve always dreamed of, then make that the prime objective,” Popowsky says. “If you don’t want to be left doing all of the legwork, then be sure to look for a contractor that’s equipped to handle the renovation you’re envisioning.”
2. Avoid hiring an architect right away
That doesn’t mean go straight to an architect to lead your project. “You’ll need one to draw plans and submit permits, but paying an architect’s full contract fee—which can start at around $15,000—just to fill out paperwork isn’t a good use of your budget,” Popowsky says. Instead, work with a turn-key design and build firm that works with architects to create and file blueprints with the Department of Buildings. That will save you some time and avoid headaches down the road.
3. Don’t piecemeal your renovation
Working with an all-inclusive firm also gives you the advantage of approaching your renovation as a single project, rather than piecemealing it into several different jobs. “You don’t want to buy kitchen cabinets off a showroom floor and have them installed, then go somewhere else for your stone and tile and a third place for your fixtures,” Popowsky says. Who will you turn to when a door is a half inch too small or large? Avoid this by letting one company handle all of it for you.
4. Beware of change orders
It’s one thing to decide that you want a few fancier finishes and fixtures; it’s another thing for your contractor to tell you mid-project that what you planned won’t work and you’ll need to pay more for something else. “When you’re interviewing contractors, pay close attention to the services included,” Popowsky says. “A low bid could mean your contractor is leaving some things out of the proposal, only to spring them on you when it’s too late to change your mind.”
5. Avoid the drama—it’s not reality TV, after all
Even when your home renovation goes completely according to plan, you’ll likely experience some stress and frustration. But it should never be as dramatic as reality TV. “Change orders are not normal,” Popowsky says. “Your contractors should know what’s behind the walls before they start demolishing them, and no reputable firm would ignore your building’s alteration agreement until the project is well underway.” If a contractor doesn’t seem down-to-earth, keep searching.
If you’ve got renovation experience and time to be really involved in your project, it’s certainly possible to work with a labor-only contractor. It would be up to you, however, to hire an expeditor to file all the permits, find all the materials and finishes, and coordinate everyone on the jobsite. But if you’re like most New Yorkers and don’t have the time to do that, these tips can help you find the right contractor for your project.
Case study: A renovation from start to finish
To dive deeper into what a full renovation entails, we asked Popowsky to walk us through a project he and his team had completed.
“When a client of ours purchased a co-op on the Upper West Side, they knew they’d have to upgrade the space for their growing family,” Popowsky says. Both were full-time professionals with children. Having a trusted firm handle everything from permits and board approvals to design and material procurement was the only way they could accomplish it.
The Gallery team worked closely with the client to create the space they envisioned. “Our process was similar to the process we follow with all of our clients,” Popowsky says. “First, we established a baseline design by showing them several examples of our previous renovations. They chose an overall look, and we provided details and suggestions to make it functional, but with plenty of their character infused into it.”
From there, the team offered suggestions for materials that would work with the design plans—that means cabinetry, countertops, tiles, handles and pulls, fixtures, grout and paint colors, flooring types and patterns, and more.
“Next up, we submitted the appropriate architectural filings and DOB permits, then handled the board approval process,” Popowsky says. “Once that was complete, we purchased materials and fixtures, coordinated their delivery, and managed the build from demolition to finishing touches.”
In sum, Popowsky’s team helped the clients follow his own advice. They started with a discussion about the client’s goals, then moved through the preparation and proposal process with thorough, transparent conversations about options and pricing. During your search for the right firm to help with your renovation, keep Popowsky’s tips in mind and ensure you find a contractor who will provide good service throughout your renovation.
Aaron Popowsky is CEO and founder of Gallery Kitchen & Bath, an award-winning, full-service design and build firm. Gallery KBNY specializes in the interior renovation of apartments, brownstones, and town-homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens. The team strives tirelessly to couple excellent craftsmanship with matching service and communication.
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