image fixer upper nyc

A NYC fixer-upper in a great location near Riverside Park, from a StreetEasy listing at 328 W. 96th St.

If you can comfortably pay top dollar for a recently renovated apartment, by all means go for it — save yourself the hassle. But if you’re a buyer who’s looking for a good deal and you have the time and budget for renovations, you’ll need to find an ideal NYC apartment to renovate. We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you find the perfect NYC fixer-upper for you.

Use Keywords and Terms in Your StreetEasy Search

According to Jed Bolipata, a real estate agent with R New York, and Amelia Gewirtz, a real estate agent at Halstead, the following are words and terms to look for that essentially mean the apartment listed is a fixer-upper:


Bring your contractor

Bring your architect

Estate condition

Create your dream home

Diamond in the rough


We also recommend searching the word “create” by itself, as well as “transform” and “potential” — all are often code words for “fixer-upper.”

Invest in Quality

“It’s better to invest in a quality building and a good view,” Gewirtz says. “You can upgrade the kitchen or the bath, but you can’t change the building or the view.”

Gewirtz shared a relevant story of a two bedroom on the Upper West Side that she sold this year with her partner at Halstead, Andrew Phillips. “It was a real wreck,” she says of the apartment. “But it was in a quality prewar building with a fabulous reputation and great views.”

Manhattan 2-3BRs Under $1M Article continues below

So they posted the listing by writing “Bring your architect and contractor…” to see this “diamond in the rough.” In their StreetEasy listing, they didn’t include any photos of the interior of the apartment. Instead, they used only the views from the apartment — one of which was a mostly unobstructed view of the Hudson River — along with photos of the elegant building entrance and lobby.

The strategy worked. They had 16 offers in one week, and it went for 20% above the asking price. “This was an apartment that needed everything,” Gewirtz says. “But it was in a well-run, service-oriented building.”

Less Is More

Gewirtz and Phillips didn’t post any photos of the interior of their listing, because the apartment looked awful. For the very same reason, Josh Carter, real estate agent at Nooklyn, says that if you’re looking for a real fixer-upper, keep your eyes out for listings with few photos. Usually, this means just an image of the floor plan and a photo of the exterior of the building.

Also, Carter says to look for a lower price per square foot than the neighborhood average — this can be an indication of an apartment that needs work as well.

Consider the Layout

“You should like the layout,” says Konrad Jankowski, founder of KJ Remodeling in Manhattan. “If you already like the layout, it’s better, because then you don’t need a lot of approval [to make significant changes].”

For instance, Jankowski says that if you plan to make a structural change to the apartment, including either building or knocking down a wall, you’re required to get a construction permit from the NYC Department of Buildings.

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More on Fixer-Uppers and Renovating From StreetEasy

But if you already like the existing layout, you can focus on changing only the finishes, like tiles, moldings and fixtures. Keeping the layout of an apartment as-is can also save you from having to hire an architect, which can cost $20,000 to $50,000 or more, Jankowski says.

If you buy in a co-op, you still need approval from the co-op board even for cosmetic remodeling, Jankowski says. But this is generally a lot more straightforward and less time-consuming than getting approval from the Department of Buildings.

Have an Imagination

“Don’t get distracted by the surface,” realtors and designers often say. If you see a living room with ugly wallpaper, for example, or a kitchen with old cabinets or appliances, remember that these surface elements are the easiest things to change.

Jessenia Toro, Chief Operating Officer of MyHome, a design and remodeling company in Manhattan, also recommends having an open mind about space.

“A lack of square footage does not necessarily mean a lack of function, style or organization,” Toro says. “For example, if you have higher ceilings in your kitchen, we recommend you take the cabinetry up to the ceiling. Higher cabinets are great for storing items you don’t use often, like holiday servers and party supplies.”

Avoid Big Problems

If you’re looking to pay less for an apartment with the intention of renovating, then of course the unit should have a lot of room for improvement. However, Keith Steier, owner and general manager of Knockout Renovation in Manhattan, cautions against jumping into a potential money pit.

Be wary of an apartment with floors that are severely sloped, Steier says, because leveling floors can be an expensive undertaking. Also, buildings with major cracks in the facade may be worth avoiding, he cautions.

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“A lot of people are under the misconception that the building is responsible for anything inside the walls,” Steier says. “Not true.” The owner of the unit must often pay for replacing pipes or improving the electrical system if they are in very bad condition, he says.

“Older prewar buildings have a lot more surprises,” Jankowski adds. Even for buildings built before the early 1970s, if you want redo the floors, it’s a very expensive undertaking, he says, because you need to hire a licensed asbestos-abatement company.

“Find [an apartment that’s] structurally sound and have a licensed engineer inspect it,” Steier says. “or an experienced home inspector who gives you a written report and not just a checklist. Also, consider how much time you have until you have to move in and what your budget is above the purchase cost.”

Inspired to find your next place in New York? Whether you’re looking to rent or to buy, search NYC apartments on StreetEasy.