New Buyer In NYC & Looking To Renovate? Here's What You Need To Know

Get an expert point of view on best practices when buying in New York City with plans to renovate.

March 22, 2024


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New Buyer In NYC & Looking To Renovate? Here's What You Need To Know

Buying residential in New York City doesn't come easy, so make sure to consider all angles when renovating your new property.

Table of Contents

Purchasing a new home in New York City is both thrilling and daunting. While investing in your dream home offers peak excitement, fierce competition and distinct purchasing factors make the process far from straightforward. Plus, the prospect of renovating adds a layer of complexity. 

Before you get overwhelmed, read as we demystify the renovation process for new buyers, helping to alleviate common anxieties and empower you with the knowledge needed to navigate your renovation with clarity and confidence. Join us as we review the ins and outs of renovating amidst NYC's rigid real estate landscape, providing tangible tips for specific issues and practical insights into potential pain points. After all, renovating your prized real estate shouldn’t feel like a chore, rather an opportunity to find peace of mind within the home you’ve always imagined. 

[#Debunked]Common NYC Renovation Misconceptions Debunked[#Debunked]

Misconception #1: All Renovations Increase Property Value Equally

While renovations can indeed enhance the appeal and functionality of your NYC property, not all improvements yield the same return on investment. Market demand and the quality of workmanship are crucial factors that influence the value added by renovations. As mentioned in our blog 15 Facts & Stats To Consider Before Renovating, high-demand features such as updated kitchens and bathrooms often provide a higher return compared to niche upgrades. Additionally, poorly executed renovations can detract from the property's value and appeal to potential buyers. If budget is a factor, new buyers should carefully assess the potential impact of renovations on property value and prioritize projects according need over want. 

Misconception #2: The Permit Process is Simple and Straightforward

Navigating the permit process in New York City can be complex and time-consuming. From submitting applications to obtaining approvals, the rigid routine involves navigating bureaucratic hurdles and adhering to strict timelines. For those new to the market, attempting to navigate the permit process independently can lead to delays, fines, and even project setbacks. For smooth compliance with building codes and streamlined approvals, seek professional assistance from architects, engineers, and permit expeditors - or simply enlist a design-build firm who handles all board approvals and permitting as part of their all-inclusive renovation process. 

Misconception #3: Exterior Alterations Are Easily Approved

Contrary to popular belief, obtaining approval for exterior alterations, especially in landmarked or historic buildings, can be a challenging task. Since landmark preservation regulations aim to protect the architectural integrity and historical significance of these NYC staples, there are strict guidelines on exterior modifications. However, with the right expertise and assistance, even the most difficult approvals can become attainable. Ask the Gallery team. For our gut renovation of a landmarked brownstone in Carroll Gardens, all updates had to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee - including adjustments to the front door. Since the dated door wasn’t worth updating in full and possibly wouldn't be approved by the landmark committee, we created a templated new door that matched the old historic door perfectly, which we then painted a landmark-friendly constitutional blue to earn our LPC approval.

Living room from our Upper West Side luxury condo renovation on Riverside Boulevard. View full renovation before and after.

[#Points]Identifying Potential Pain Points[#Points]

Budget Constraints

As you can imagine, renovation costs in NYC may escalate quickly due to factors like high-priced labor, expensive materials, and unforeseen issues resulting from dated structures. For new buyers, it's crucial to establish a realistic budget and contingency fund to cover unexpected costs. Working with a knowledgeable renovation firm and conducting thorough research up front in the planning process will help mitigate budget overruns.

Regulatory Hurdles

As mentioned above, dealing with city permits and compliance regulations can be a major pain point for renovating in NYC. The city has strict building codes and zoning regulations that must be followed, and obtaining permits can be a time-consuming and complex process. New buyers need to understand certain preferences may be limited due to regulatory red tape. To avoid those issues and proactively plan accordingly, we highly recommend speaking with your potential renovation partner before cementing any details. 

Hidden Structural Issues

As discussed in our blog Common Surprises When Renovating A NYC Apartment, updates to older buildings in NYC may uncover hidden structural issues that can significantly impact the scope and cost of your project. Common issues include water damage, foundation problems, and outdated electrical or plumbing systems. Conducting a thorough inspection of the property before purchasing can help mitigate the risk of unexpected structural issues arising during the renovation. A design-build firm will uncover these issues during their preliminary walk-through and handle accordingly in-house, without you lifting a finger. However, if managing the project yourself, find an experienced structural engineer or building inspector who can provide valuable insights into the condition of the property and help identify potential issues early. 

Contractor Availability

As New Yorkers perpetually aim for their deluxe apartment in the sky, securing reliable contractors in NYC's competitive real estate market can be challenging. Demand for skilled labor often exceeds supply, leading to long wait times and scheduling conflicts. If a renovation is in your future and any pain points above resonate, start vetting potential renovation firms ASAP, before their schedule is full and you’re left leaning on less-reliable contractors for jobs that are over both your heads. Building a good relationship with the contractor and maintaining open communication throughout the project will mitigate potential issues.

Bathroom rendering from recent renovation on the Upper West Side. View our full Manhattan renovation portfolio.

[#Pros]Hiring The Right Professionals[#Pros]

Advantages of an Integrated Design-Build Firm

When embarking on a renovation in NYC, partnering with an integrated design-build firm offers numerous advantages. Unlike traditional approaches where clients must coordinate between separate architects, contractors, and designers on their own, the design-build model streamlines the process by providing a single point of contact from concept to completion. This ensures seamless communication, cohesive project management, and a unified vision, resulting in greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall project success. Here is an overview of our design-build renovation process at Gallery. 

Roles of In-House Professionals

When dealing with the uncertainty that naturally comes with renovating your residence, no one wants to play the role of a switch-board operator, constantly managing updates to the various parties handling your project. With a design-build firm, experienced in-house liaisons play a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth execution of your renovation. From navigating complex permit processes to securing co-op/condo board approvals, these logistics experts possess the knowledge and experience to overcome all regulatory hurdles. Additionally, the designers within the firm collaborate closely with clients to create interiors that not only meet their aesthetic preferences but also comply with local regulations and building codes. By leveraging the full-service expertise of a design-build firm, potential setbacks become an afterthought.

Importance of a Multidisciplinary Team

Beyond added communication gains, the full-service and collaborative nature of design-build firms means no renovation detail gets lost in translation. With so many intricate challenges within NYC renovations, having a multidisciplinary team composed of not only architects and contractors but also interior designers, structural engineers, and expeditors means no aspect of your renovation is stuck in a silo. Interior designers bring creative vision and functionality to the project, while seasoned project managers ensure the integrity of designs with their structural engineering expertise. Project liaisons navigate the expediting process, handling permits and minimizing delays. By assembling a diverse team of renovation pros, integrated design-build firms are equipped to handle complex projects with precision and expertise.

Kitchen from Sky Loft renovation at 145 Hudson Street. View the full renovation before and after.

[#Your]Budgeting For Your Renovation[#Your]

Main Cost Drivers in NYC Renovations

Renovating in New York City comes with its own set of cost considerations. Labor costs, which tend to be higher in NYC, typically make up a significant portion of the budget. Materials, especially if high-end or specialty items are desired, are the second largest contributor to the overall cost. Additionally, regulatory compliance costs, such as permits and inspections, must be factored in. Managing them separately can be cumbersome, while enlisting a design-build firm consolidates all cost considerations into one comprehensive bottom line number. 

Warning About Hidden Costs

Beyond the obvious expenses, there are several hidden costs new buyers should be aware of when budgeting for their renovation. These may include temporary housing costs if the property becomes uninhabitable during construction, storage fees for furniture and belongings, and fees for expedited permit services to minimize project delays. Without accounting for these potential expenses upfront, you could face unwanted financial surprises down the line.

Guidance on Creating a Detailed Budget

Creating a detailed budget is critical for ensuring your renovation project stays on track financially. Start by obtaining multiple quotes from contractors and suppliers to accurately estimate labor and material costs. Factor in regulatory compliance costs, including permit fees and professional services. Additionally, don't forget to include a contingency fund of at least 10-20% to cover unforeseen expenses or changes in scope. By creating a comprehensive budget and building in a buffer for unexpected costs, you can mitigate financial risks and ensure a smoother renovation process from start to finish.

For more detailed info on apartment renovation costs, read our most read blog NYC Apartment Renovation Costs In 2024: Costs Per Square Foot.


For new buyers, going on a renovation journey in New York City requires thorough preparation, realistic budgeting, and likely, professional guidance. If complexities surrounding NYC’s real estate landscape sound burdensome but necessary, consider taking the easy route and enlisting Gallery for your renovation. 

Whether you’re gut renovating a pre-war condo in Chelsea or transforming a brownstone in Boerum Hill, our full-service approach can make all the difference. We are an award-winning design-build firm in New York City offering all-inclusive renovations in Manhattan and Brooklyn that include everything from interior design and architecture services to filing permits and construction management. We’re experts in pre-war apartment renovations, apartment combinations, room creations, full gut renovations and all that falls in between. Let us bring your dream home to life.

Chief Revenue Officer

Alex Ushyarov

Alex Ushyarov is the Chief Revenue Officer of Gallery KBNY, a full service design-build firm specializing in the design and interior renovation of apartments, townhomes, and lofts in NYC. Recognizing the importance of differentiation in a competitive industry, Alex has developed a clear and compelling brand identity for the company. Through meticulous market analysis and a deep understanding of customer needs, he has honed the firm's unique value proposition, highlighting its ability to deliver innovative, sustainable, and high-quality design-build solutions.




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