The Do’s & Don’ts of Closing and Renovating

You’ve got big dreams and big plans—but are you actually ready to start your home renovation?

Facade of a house before renovation

So you’re in the process of buying a home and you’re already making renovation plans. Congratulations! This is an exciting time and we understand you’re eager to get going right away. Sweeten outlines the do’s and don’ts of closing on a home and planning a renovation.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

The big question: When’s the right time to start talking to contractors and design professionals?

A. When you make an offer?
B. When you have an accepted offer?
C. When you have an accepted offer and a deal sheet from your broker?
D. When your attorney is preparing the contract and conducting a due diligence review of the property and building?
E. When you have a signed contract and the deposit has changed hands?
F.  After you close?
G. When the condo, co-op board or town DOB approves the plans?

We talked to James Jantarasami, a New York attorney with expertise in housing and real estate to explore the question. James walked us through a few do’s and don’ts of buying a home and renovating.

Own your property before finding a contractor.

DON’T shop around for a contractor before you have a place. Maybe this is obvious, but we sometimes see prospective owners jump the gun and try to interview contractors about a theoretical project. You will not be able to have a productive conversation with an architect, designer, or general contractor without knowing the exact details about the space you will be undertaking. Don’t start this conversation without an existing layout.

DON’T look for a contractor at the offer stage. An experienced general contractor can put together a detailed estimate in 1–2 weeks. Many will only commit to that pricing for 30 days. Therefore, finding a contractor at the offer stage is too early in the process.

Start bid leveling when in contract

If you are “in contract” to buy a place, you can bring your architect or contractor to take measurements and start planning. However, in order to begin the work, you’ll need certainty of ownership, confirmation of condo or co-op building requirements, and confirmation of your city or town’s department of buildings’ requirements. All building and city or town DOB requirements have to be satisfied whether you’re buying a condo, co-op, or a single-family home in the suburbs.

Make the most of your time when “in contract,” since access to the home is readily available. Set up site visits with general contractors and receive at least three estimates. This will provide you with a low, medium, and high bid with some variation in services. Just as important, meeting multiple contractors allows you to view different personalities and to experience who would be the best fit as a collaborative partner. Sweeten’s in-house team can provide personal support in breaking down and comparing renovation bids (both Sweeten and non-Sweeten).

Start your designing after contract

DON’T start designing until, at a minimum, you are already in contract and the deposit has changed hands. Anything can happen between an accepted offer and a signed contract. You don’t want to spend money on design only to have the purchase fall through. The safest play is to wait until closing before you engage an architect or design pro. But, if you can’t wait, a signed contract at least gives you a reasonable expectation that you are going to own the property.

Wait for the board approval process to complete

DON’T touch anything until you have closed and formally own the property, have approval from your city or town’s DOB, and have made it through the approval process with the building’s board for co-op and condo purchases. No major alterations and no cosmetic changes until the deed changes hands and all paperwork is signed!

Consider renovation costs

DO consider your home renovation plans before you make your offer. As a prospective purchaser, you can build the cost of the work needed into your offering price. Check out Sweeten’s renovation cost guides to factor into your overall budget.  Alternatively, ask the seller to handle some renovations or repairs before you close as part of the offer negotiation. However, keep in mind that this is rarely a viable option (unless the seller is a developer). Most sellers aren’t going to be interested in doing home renovation work prior to closing. Even if they are, you’ll have to be willing to wait potentially months for permits and sign-offs to be obtained prior to closing.

If your seller agrees to handle a few upgrades, you might save time and effort by letting them navigate the building’s and/or DOB’s requirements and completing the work before you close. The same goes if you’re purchasing a single-family home. But instead of dealing with a building’s requirements, the seller will only need to meet the DOB’s requirements.

If your seller agrees to a discount so that you can cover certain repairs or renovations, you’ll need to handle the logistics and wait until you close. Having control over the process means you and the seller can avoid disagreements over the quality of the renovated work.

Plan for delays in the process

DO plan for delays and variables during the contract and closing process. Delays from the lender are one of the most common reasons a closing stalls. Condo and co-op board approvals can also add a month or more to your closing date, and you’ll still need approval from your city or town’s DOB. If you’re buying a single-family home, you’ll only need approval from the local DOB, so there’s one less step for you as the buyer.

Your attorney should be looking at everything that can go wrong: debts or liens against the seller, judgments or mortgages against the home, damage to the home that occurs between contract signing and closing (a water leak, floor or wall damage, appliance issues, etc.). If buying a condo or co-op, watch for any fiscal problems in a building’s financial reports that might spook the lender. Hopefully, none of these issues will derail the closing altogether, but you won’t be able to begin any work until all signatures are in.

Will you need accommodations?

DO budget for the in-between time. Since you can’t start home renovation work on a new home until you close, you may need to find another place to live while work is underway, or account for a period of time without rental income if you are renovating before tenants move in.

So to recap, when can you start truly planning your renovation? The correct answer (in most cases) is E.  This means that generally, you can start:

  • Designing once you are in contract
  • Building once you close and have official approval from your city or town’s DOB
    • If you have a co-op or condo, you will also need to get approval from your governing board

If you’ve closed on a new place (congrats!) and are ready to find your general contractor, post your project on Sweeten to get started!

A note on fixture and appliance deliveries: If you’re on a tight timeline, Appliances Connection has over 50,000 items in stock and ready to ship nationally. If you’re in the NY/NJ metro area, in-stock items typically deliver within 2-3 days.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 31, 2014, and updated recently. 

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.

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