The Hidden Costs of Renovating an Estate-Condition NYC Pre-War Apartment

Historic appeal of estate-condition pre-war apartments in the city is a major reason NY real estate is so special, but that charm has a price.

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The Hidden Costs of Renovating an Estate-Condition NYC Pre-War Apartment

The historic appeal of pre-war apartment buildings is a major reason New York real estate is so sought after, but that charm does have a price.

Renovating estate-condition pre-war apartments requires both specialty skills and an intimate knowledge of building codes and city factors. In pre-war spaces specifically, client tolerance levels and expectations also make a huge difference from project to project. If exact period specificity is a renovation goal, the added accommodations will impact costs accordingly.

One benefit to working with a design-build firm with expertise in estate-condition pre-war apartments, is we can offer budgetary insights to suggest priorities, helping to find the middle ground between client priority and staying within budget. In one estate-condition Manhattan pre-war apartment renovation, our clients took our recommendation to forgo new floors for refinished ones with a cost-efficient yet still attractive dark stain, all the better to hide 100+ years of wear and tear at a fraction of the cost.

The little things add up, but they don’t have to catch you off guard. Read the major factors behind the hidden costs of renovating estate-condition pre-war apartments in New York to be prepared for your own remodel.

Tech Specs

Unsurprisingly, pre-war buildings require a total overhaul of plumbing and electric. Some apartments are updated piecemeal throughout the years so not at all pre-war projects require the same level of these updates, but a true pre-war means thoroughly bringing all electrical and plumbing up to modern standards. Asbestos and lead abatement also play a role in many pre-war spaces, thanks to these materials being staples in pre-70s construction, appearing in everything from window caulking to heating pipes.

Skim Coats & Plaster Walls

Pre-war walls, especially in untouched estate-condition spaces, will almost always require multiple skim coats (picture the residue left behind by old wallpaper or wood paneling). Plaster walls are very common in pre-war spaces, and if you want brand new ones, that’s yet another consideration – both to purchase and install new materials, as well as to demolish and remove the old ones. When working on a 26th floor apartment, we can’t just toss old plaster into a dumpster out the window. The process of carrying out the demolished walls in buckets, two by two, is a classic example of a hidden cost.

GALLERY GLOSSARY: a skim coat is a thin layer of joint compound, which is essentially mud, applied to walls in need of repair to smooth them out.

Period Specificity

As mentioned regarding our clients in Manhattan, who chose to save money with a dark stain instead of new floors, maintaining period-specific details in a pre-war apartment renovation is yet another “hidden” cost. Costs can climb even higher when dealing with estate-condition spaces, as refinishing and restoring spaces that haven’t been touched for 80+ years in some cases requires a highly refined and specific skill set, one of our particular specialties at Gallery. As for the flooring, we can also handle all potential period-centric detail requests like millwork, decorative moldings, and high ceilings, but clients have to decide whether the nuance is worth the added time and cost.

Boards & Bureaucracy

Every project in a New York building requires working with that building’s board, whether a co-op or condo. Boards set the construction requirements that dictate everything from wet-over-dry restrictions when dealing with plumbing to redoing risers and branch lines. Buildings also impose limits on duration of renovations, and impose fines if exceeded. Other bureaucratic costs (all of which we handle for you when you work with Gallery) include filing permits with the city, as well as the building board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (if the building is architecturally significant, this is a common feature of pre-war buildings).

The Shape of Rooms to Come

Any renovation can include rearranging how spaces are laid out or building entirely new rooms, but the need for such changes is often more pronounced in pre-war apartments due to historic changes in how we live. Major room configuration in a pre-war space is not always a guaranteed need, but when required, the costs are too high not to plan properly. A design-and-build firm like Gallery is ideal for renovations that require rethinking spaces based on the modern needs of clients.

Everyone knows apartment renovations in New York City require a specialized skill set. That statement goes double for pre-war apartments, which usually need much more technical work as well as a keen design eye to ensure the aesthetic never slips out of sync with the pre-war sensibility of the architecture. If you’ve purchased an estate-condition pre-war apartment or brownstone in New York, contact us to get started on updating your pre-war space the Gallery Way: an homage to the original with a modern touch.


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