How Long Does an Apartment Renovation Take?

by Carol Wang

A step-by-step guide and timeline for a one-bedroom apartment renovation

We’ve covered the expected timelines for kitchen renovations and bath renovations, but how long does an entire apartment renovation take? Considering that the bath and kitchen are usually the most time-intensive spaces to redo, the timeline for a full one-bedroom apartment renovation is not much longer (whew!) Another bonus: the more spaces there are, the more opportunity there is to implement economies of scale and to multi-task, which saves both time and money. If you’re considering spacing out several projects (typically for budgetary reasons), you might want to consider doing them all at once. While it’s a larger sum up front, it’ll likely be a better value for your money. For example, while you’re waiting for your cabinets to arrive, your contractor can be painting the bedroom or installing the baseboards. And while they are waiting for the paint to dry, they can install tile in the bathroom…you get the picture.

As always, size and complexity determine how long an entire apartment renovation will take. If you are not moving walls or changing electrical or plumbing, your apartment renovation will be on the shorter end of the range. On average, you should allocate about two to four months for on-site work in a top-to-bottom one-bedroom apartment renovation. Sweeten, a free renovation service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, breaks down the process step-by-step.

Apartment Renovation Timeline: Pre-Construction Phase

While the attention is usually on the most visible construction phase, there is a lot to be done before picking up that sledgehammer. Here, the details on each box that needs to be ticked before you break ground on the project.

STEP 1: Close on your property (1-3 months)

While some renovators already own, there are also a significant number of homeowners who are in contract or preparing to close on a property when they begin the process of planning a renovation. As one Sweeten post explains, you should wait until you have closed on the property, with keys in hand, before doing anything. If you’re in a hurry—wait until you’ve at least signed the contract before beginning the design process.

STEP 2: Post your renovation project on Sweeten (1-3 days)

First things first. Once you’re in contract, you should post your project to Sweeten and begin soliciting bids. On the Sweeten site, add the details about the space you want to renovate, your inspiration photos (optional but useful for our matchmakers), and any other information that would help Sweeten find your perfect contractor. You will receive 3-5 matches within three days, with links to check out contractors’ profiles online. Now’s your chance to take a look at testimonials from clients and photos of their past projects to see whether they might be a good fit.

STEP 3: Schedule site visits and solicit bids (1-3 weeks)

Once you’ve previewed the Sweeten contractors’ profiles, and have decided you’d like to set up a meeting(s), our online scheduler will give you a two-week window to mark your available dates for a site visit. An email will be sent to you and the contractor(s) confirming your available times, by which the contractor(s) will reach out to you to confirm a date.

An on-site visit is the best way for a contractor to understand the scope of the project, the physical possibilities, and limitations of the space, and for the two of you to see if you hit it off! (This guide is a useful read for understanding the key info necessary to secure the most accurate bid.) After you schedule your on-site visit, check out our blog post about how to prepare for the meeting. You should expect a written bid within 5-10 business days after your visit.

STEP 4: Level bids and choose a contractor (1-2 weeks)

Once all the written bids have come in, it’s time to compare and contrast! This primer on leveling bids might come in handy, as well as this one about labor-only versus all-inclusive bids. If you have follow-up questions, now is the time to ask. You can also schedule time with a Sweeten project advisor to walk you through the various bids and weigh in on the selection.

STEP 5: Sign the contract and finalize construction schedule (1 week)

Once you’ve decided on a contractor, he or she will put together a contract for you to review. This will typically include a description of the work to be done, an estimated timeline for completion, as well as the timing of payments throughout the project.

STEP 6: Obtain permits and approvals (ranges widely)

Of all the steps where hiccups or delays might occur, this is it. Obtaining the correct permits and board approvals have held up many a renovation, but don’t be daunted: our experts are well-versed in navigating these processes and can advise you on how best to achieve your renovation goals with the least amount of hassle. If you’re moving plumbing or gas lines, you’ll need an architect and additional DOB permits. Sweeten homeowners have reported obtaining approvals in as little as two weeks—but it’s more common for it to take a couple months.

If you live in a stand-alone house, you won’t need to worry about building board approvals, but you’ll still need the requisite city permits for any electrical or plumbing work to make sure that everything is up to code.

STEP 7: Source materials (ranges widely)

If you are responsible for sourcing all or some of the materials in your renovation, be sure to place the orders as soon as the design plan is finished. Certain items have long lead times, and you don’t want that one faucet to hold up the entire renovation. If time is a concern, look at what’s currently in stock and ready to ship. Speak with your contractor about timing the product delivery to coincide with time of installation.

STEP 8: Tell your neighbors you’re renovating (15 minutes)

Be a good neighbor and warn yours that a renovation is beginning imminently. Tell them what to expect and how long the project is slated to last. It’s always easier to stomach the disruption when you know there’s an end in sight! It doesn’t hurt to bring some sweets, a bottle of wine, or a gift card for a local coffee shop. When the reno is over, invite them over!

Apartment Renovation Timeline: Construction Phase

While most of the steps under “Construction” are your contractor’s responsibility, it’s important to understand what should be happening when. The most important steps you’ll be in charge of here are making scheduled payments to your contractor (as outlined in your contract), and keeping your schedule open for several hours a week to answer questions about details or changes that come up over the course of construction.

STEP 9: Time for demolition (2-5 days)

Out with the old! Now that you’re done with the paperwork, it’s time for your contractor to pick up that sledgehammer. Be sure to protect the items that are staying with tarp or plastic, and get to work tearing out everything else. Depending on how large your apartment is, and how extensive the renovation, this shouldn’t take more than two to five days.

STEP 10: Reroute plumbing and electrical (2-4 days)

In a 2017 national survey conducted by Sweeten, 62% of respondents named finding hidden problems in their home as a top renovation fear. Now that you’ve stripped the space down to the studs, it’ll be easy to get new plumbing or electrical where it needs to go. Consider whether any plans need to be altered now that you can see what’s behind the walls.

STEP 11: City inspections and sign-offs (1-4 days)

If you needed city permits for your electrical and/or plumbing work, you will need inspections and a sign-off before closing up the walls. (Check out what the city has to say about plumbing permits here, and electrical permits here.) While a master plumber is typically allowed to sign off on pipework for water lines in the case of a no-show by the city inspector, an inspector must examine and approve any work on gas lines. You are not allowed to close up the walls and move onto the next phase of the project until this inspection happens. With electrical work, inspectors generally are scheduled for visits once the project is 100 percent complete, and they will check the electrical panel, junction boxes, and outlets. (Note that sometimes, because of city bureaucracy and delays, your electrical inspection may be rescheduled two or three times.) Check with your contractor or architect about what your project requires.

STEP 12: Floor installation (5-12 days)

To prevent having to redo the floors if you decide to reconfigure your space in the future, make sure that the flooring is consistent throughout, even if some of it will be hidden. After the floors are in, you’ll add new baseboards.

STEP 13: Installation completion (5-20 days)

Install the kitchen, usually in this order: cabinets, appliances, fixtures and lighting, counters, backsplash, and cabinet hardware.

Install the bathroom, including the tub, vanity and sink, toilet, and any built-in shelving. Tiling, lighting, and hardware usually come last.

In the hallways and bedroom, if you are doing basic painting and touch-ups, the work will be fairly minimal compared to the kitchen and bath. If you are adding custom, built-in shelving or paneling, plan to add a few extra days.

Possible delays: aspects of this may vary, depending on site conditions and the arrival time of the materials.

STEP 14: Clean-up (1 day)

Typically, contracts allow that the space is left in “broom-swept” condition. However, you may want to hire post-construction cleaning specialists to make sure that your new floor is clean enough to eat off. For a full apartment, plan on requesting at least two cleaners to work at the same time so that it can be finished in one working day.

Apartment Renovation Timeline: Post-Construction Phase

The finish line is in sight! But don’t forget these last—but important—steps.

STEP 15: Final walk-through with contractor (1-2 hours)

Review the work with your contractor: try all the drawers and doors, look closely at the edges and finishes, and make sure everything is working the way it should. If there are any problems, point it out and add them to the punch list. The contractor will either fix it on the spot (if it’s minor) or set up another time to return. Sweeten’s founder + CEO, Jean Brownhill, advises to keep notepads in each space, and do not speak to your contractor for two weeks during this time, but take notes of what needs fixing as you live in your new home.

STEP 16: Punch list items (1-10 days)

Depending on what the items are—this could be anything from straightening a cabinet door to waiting on installing that last out-of-stock item—it could take anywhere from a day to several weeks. When it’s on the long side, though, that is usually due to backordered items. Otherwise, your contractor should be able to return and fix everything in a few days.

STEP 17: The final payment (10 minutes)

You’ve been making installments throughout the renovation, but when the last item on your punch list has been addressed, it’s time to pay the remaining percentage to your contractor!

This timeline provides a detailed look at the various aspects of renovating and a range of how long each step should take. While some factors may be outside of both your and the contractor’s control, the key is isolating the steps that you think might be obstacles in advance, and allotting more time to get them done.

If you’re wondering how much your apartment renovation will cost, check out our guide on renovation costs per square foot.

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.

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