image of buying a nyc fixer upper

Buying a NYC home you plan to renovate? Here are some things to keep in mind. (Sweeten)

Buying a fixer-upper is a great way (and sometimes the only way) for homeowners to get more square footage or a desired location at a more affordable price point than a turn-key home. When you’re searching for a house or apartment with the intent to renovate, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind. In New York City, especially, there are unique conditions that come into play.

For those in the market for a fixer-upper, we consulted the experts at Sweeten, a free platform that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors and monitors the project to completion. Based on the thousands of renovations Sweeten has done across New York City, here are five pointers on how to buy and renovate a home in NYC.

1. Ask About the Building’s Requirements for Renovation

First things first, are you renovating in a co-op, condo, brownstone, or a single-family home? If it’s a condo or a co-op you plan to buy and renovate, you’ll have to get your renovation plans approved by the building’s board. Be sure to ask about a building’s renovation policies (time of day work can occur, “wet-over-dry” rules, insurance requirements) before you start an application. Most co-op buildings also have “alteration agreements” that contain the required steps needed to make any changes. If you’re looking at a single-family or a townhouse , you may not have a board to answer to, but depending on the scope of construction (such as major layout changes), you may  have to get approval from the Department of Buildings before any work can begin.

image of buying a fixer upper in nyc

You’re working toward a total transformation. But there’s a lot to know. (Sweeten)

2. Know Which Professionals to Involve

You’re going to need a whole team by your side to buy and transform a fixer-upper. On the list? A real estate agent, real estate attorney, general contractor, and an architect, if you’re planning for a gut renovation or moving walls. Once the residence is officially yours, start speaking to and get estimates from at least three general contractors. Prepare a list of questions, ask to see their previous work, and call references from their past few jobs to get a sense if they’ll be the right fit personality-wise and project-wise. If you’d like help finding a prescreened general contractor, Sweeten will match you with general contractors best suited to your project based on budget, style, and scope. The Sweeten team is there to help establish a budget — and to monitor the project from start to finish, offering support along the way. Hiring the right professional for your project is the key to a successful renovation.

Manhattan 2-3BRs Under $1.5M Article continues below

3.  Get a Sense of Timing and Steps to Follow

Remember that everyone’s timeline for buying and remodeling a fixer-upper is going to look a little different. Think of six to nine months as a starting point for finding and closing on the right home, keeping in mind that mortgage and board approvals can have a significant impact (check out this timeline for a full step-by-step). Some overlap exists between your home search and renovation schedule, but the bulk of reno-related work that occurs prior to closing on the property is about preparation. It’s a little harder to get general contractors to come on a site visit when you’re in contract on the property, plus it can be a challenge to get access. In the meantime, educate yourself about costs and material choices, and start putting together a list of your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.”

image of renovating a fixer upper in nyc

4.  Keep Your Renovation Budget in Mind

In addition to the actual cost of the property, it’s wise to determine early on how you want to pay for your renovation. A construction-to-permanent loan will allow you to finance your remodel as part of your mortgage application in one go (rather than having to go through two separate processes). Taking into account the cost of the residence, how much of your budget will be left for the transformation? A good starting point for a full-home remodel in New York City is $100 to $200 per square foot. Some factors that will impact the cost include moving plumbing and electrical, material selection (high-end and custom finishes), and current conditions. Check out Sweeten’s cost guide to take a deeper dive into New York City fixer-upper costs. Another element to plan for: where you’ll stay during construction.

Brooklyn 2-3BRs Under $1.5 Million Article continues below

5.  Evaluate the Home’s Conditions and Focus on the Right Details

It’s so easy to get caught up in wall colors or cabinet finishes. Those are the least important details to focus on, especially if you’re going to gut the place anyway. Think about the floor plan and how it’ll function for your family’s lifestyle. Will you be able to add an extra bedroom? Open up the galley kitchen? Is there an HVAC system? If it’s a single-family home, what’s the condition of the roof? Put cosmetic details aside and focus on the more costly updates you may need to make. Of course, a home inspection will give you a better idea of the state of the plumbing and electrical systems, and for a single-family home or brownstone, the structural conditions.

If you’re on the hunt for a home that needs TLC, your journey will take a slightly different path than if you’re buying a home that’s already updated. When you do your research about costs and requirements and find the right team to help you renovate fearlessly, you’re one step closer to creating a home made for you.

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