Top 3 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Planning Renovations in NYC

Over the last year, we studied many of our Sweeten home renovations in NYC and spoke to our contractors and homeowners about their experiences. We gathered important info including the process of gut remodeling a kitchen, the costs for landscaping and flooring, and adding or revamping a bathroom. One discovery was that no two home renovations were alike. The other was every homeowner needing guidance for the renovation process, understanding the work ahead, and facing the same common mistakes. We surveyed our Sweeten contractors and design-build firms with a very open-ended question and discovered the top NYC home renovation mistakes:

“What are the most common things you find yourself explaining to homeowners who are starting the renovation process?”

We expected a wide range of responses from these experts and found the opposite.

1. Understanding timelines

More than 25% of our experts talked about how hard it is for homeowners to plan for the timeline of the project. Many homeowners make the mistake of thinking solely about the physical labor required, but the majority of projects involve a variety of stages before a hammer touches a single nail. The irony here is that in some cases, physical labor is actually the least time-intensive part of the project.

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As you are working with your general contractor and planning your project, be sure to think about the time needed for:

  • the design phase
  • Department of Building approvals
  • condo and co-op approvals
  • ordering and lead times for materials
  • site staging
  • debris removal
  • adjusting to issues behind walls and under floors that you can’t forecast until the work begins

A classic example: Clinton Hill homeowner Diane spent months getting approvals, ordering materials, and putting up with tiles and a toilet sitting in her dining room while she handled all of the prep work for her bathroom renovation. Once the actual project began, Diane had a brand new bathroom in less than two weeks.

2. Approvals

Forty percent of our Sweeten contractors highlighted how often homeowners underestimate approval steps when planning a renovation. This specific aspect of timing was the single most commonly reported misconception.

Between demanding co-op boards and Department of Buildings requirements, homeowners can spend three to four months navigating paperwork and reviews. Many homeowners are initially most worried about the cost of the project and then find themselves paralyzed and frustrated when they realize that the start of the project is weeks or months away. When one homeowner re-did the floors in their East Village apartment, she mistakenly assumed their building’s management company would process the straightforward approval request in a few days’ time. As new wood planks were being hauled into her living room, she learned that a required insurance certificate had not yet come through. As a result, the crew had to turn around until the paperwork was in place a few days later. The actual work was done in three days flat. The approvals? Probably three weeks of calls and emails and considerable follow-up before a final thumbs up.

3. Camping out

Homeowners usually can’t decide whether they should stay or go during their remodel. Almost 15% of our experts pointed out that homeowners fail to think through the implications of living without a bathroom or kitchen or stairs while work is underway. They also forget to account for children and pet schedules when planning for the temporary inconvenience of the renovation. Especially in space-deprived NYC homes, homeowners need to realistically plan for the disruption, assess whether they can stay in the space until the work is done, and budget for alternate accommodations if essential spaces will be blocked off. If you are planning a transformative renovation project that will last beyond a few days, or your project entails gutting walls and floors that will expose significant dust and materials, you should expect to live elsewhere until the work is done. Walking a fine line between both options, Sweeten homeowner Carly didn’t mind “slumming” it. However, she did move out during the messiest stages: demolition and when the ceiling was being raised.

Most homeowners prefer to visit the site daily to check on progress and provide visual feedback, so you may not want to leave town altogether. But do consider budgeting for alternate accommodations and maybe even a few days off from work so that you can be available.

Despite unexpected issues popping up or hurdles, homeowners are excited and motivated to go through the process for a completely upgraded space. With the right planning and realistic expectations, Sweeten contractors in NYC can help you navigate all of these steps. Post your project and let us introduce you to renovation professionals who can get your project done.

Originally published on July 10, 2014

Updated on June 28, 2023

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

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