First-Time Renovators Share Their Stories, Vol. 2

Bypassing the butterflies to achieve their dream space

Renovating your home—from changing the layout of the kitchen to installing new flooring—is a process that relies heavily on balancing the big-picture vision with its finer details. Neophyte renovators may feel at a disadvantage to their more experienced peers, but with Sweeten on their team, they’ve got the best of both worlds: a fresh perspective paired with the support of a company dedicated to making sure the renovation goes right. Below, six renovators recount how they dealt with challenges during their first major renovation.

happy couple in their renovated home

Purchasing an apartment in Manhattan inspired Heather to begin dreaming about renovating while her boyfriend, Eric, secretly planned a proposal to coincide with the acceptance of their offer. Rather than putting any of their plans on hold, the newbie renovators—and newly engaged couple—decided to go through with the remodel before the wedding. Focusing on the kitchen and new flooring throughout, they prepared for a tight timeline. When the seller delayed the closing, Heather and Eric rolled up their sleeves to keep things on track. “With this delay, we, along with our contractor, had to personally roll our new kitchen cabinets across two New York City avenues!” Eric said. “Truthfully, we look back and are still unsure how we were able to sketch, design, renovate, and implement all of our changes without any background or experience in any of these areas.”

first-time renovator

Olivia and Greg kicked off the reno of their Upper West Side co-op while expecting their first child. With a list of must-haves that included the kitchen, two bathrooms, and closet build-out in the master bedroom, the couple learned to be patient and check on progress as often as possible to avoid problems later down the line. One smart tip they shared with us: identify a set of priorities and keep your eye on the prize. “Renovating can be addicting!” Olivia said, “Once you start, you’ll begin to realize all the imperfections in your home, which could add on tens of thousands of dollars to your project. But don’t get distracted. Stick with the original plan; you can always renovate again at another point.” The couple’s fierce determination helped them complete their remodel just in time for the birth of their son, Max.

Renovate to live, Sweeten to thrive!

Sweeten brings homeowners an exceptional renovation experience by personally matching trusted general contractors to your project, while offering expert guidance and support—at no cost to you.

Start your renovation

first-time renovator

One year after buying a 2,400-square-foot brownstone in Bed-Stuy, Bellamy and Zak found themselves planning their first major renovation. They relocated the rental unit from the top floor to the garden level and got to work on updates throughout the first and second floors. While staying on budget was critical in order to get everything done, there were a few things that Bellamy didn’t mind paying extra for. “Now that the house is done, I am so thankful we splurged on what we wanted—replacing the windows, skim-coating, and repointing the brick; those are some of my favorite things in the house,” she said.

gray dining space in a natural wood flooring and a dining table with man working after renovation

Ten years after winning the housing lottery for an apartment near Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, Kate and Saul returned to the apartment with the intention of making it their home. With an eye on future resale value, they painted walls, replaced flooring, and remodeled the kitchen and bathroom. Looking back on the reno, Kate let us know that she didn’t feel prepared for all the work that their contractor’s team needed to do on a daily basis. Another thing she learned: you need to be ready to explain what you want in each space so that the contractor can execute it.

first-time renovator

Lindsay and Roger replaced the cabinets, countertops, and appliances in their co-op’s outdated kitchen in Ditmas Park. In hindsight, Lindsay said she wishes she spent more time deciding on appliances and included items like the cabinet hardware, faucet, and sink in her budget from the get-go. “There’s always something you forget or didn’t know you had to pay for, like licensing fees just to get co-op approval,” she said. Plus, there might an unexpected wait to get plans approved. Lindsay said: “It took us six to eight weeks to get everything in order and get the final approvals.”

first-time renovator

Longtime renter Melissa became a homeowner after buying a 500-square-foot one-bedroom on the Upper West Side. Once her offer was accepted, her boyfriend proposed (we’re seeing a trend here!) which meant that the home would need some serious storage to accommodate the two of them. The solution? Adding built-ins to every inch of available space. To keep the custom storage from feeling bulky and making the apartment feel smaller, Melissa said: “All the materials were chosen with the idea of making the space feel larger, which seems to be driven by a more modern look.” A simple color palette and clean lines allowed her to incorporate some more traditional elements as well, like pendant lights, the kitchen backlash—reminiscent of old-fashioned tin ceilings—and faux-stone tile in the bath.

Read the first installment in our series on first-time renovators here.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

You may also like

Renovate with Sweeten!


We’ll match you with vetted general contractors and offer support until your project is done — at no cost to you!

Start your renovation

Customer review 5.0


“Sweeten provides a modern way to connect with contractors and greatly reduces the stress involved in this process.”

— Richard, A. from Brooklyn, NY

Read more reviews —>
Start your renovation

Subscribe to our
renovation newsletter