One of the hardest things about doing a NYC renovation is figuring out your timeline and budget, and how they’ll be determined by your needs. If you want new cabinets, will you need to find an architect? Do you really need a city permit to update that bathroom? What can you get done for $30,000? How much, in short, will that NYC renovation cost?

We spoke with architect and designer Alexandra Burr of AlexAllen Studio, a veteran of many NYC renovations, for a breakdown of the roughly four common levels of home renovation in NYC and what they cost. Every renovation is different, but this guide will give you a sense of what to expect based on your needs. And if you’re not sure what you need or want from a renovation, take this short quiz to find out.

Article continues below

Read More About Renovating in NYC

Light Renovation — You’re a Refresher

Great if you:

  • Want to update the look and feel of your kitchen or bathroom on a budget (or both on a very tight budget).
  • Don’t need high-end custom cabinets or structural, functional changes.

Budget: $25,000 to $50,000

Timeline: 3-4 Months

Professional help: Will need contractor, may want designer; no architect or engineer needed

Permits: May not need

Need to move out during work: No

There’s a lot you can get done with a relatively small renovation budget in NYC, especially if you’re willing to skip high-end materials, Burr says. A light renovation generally won’t include new cabinets, unless they’re from IKEA. “This is by far the most cost-effective way to do a custom kitchen,” Burr says, noting that many renovators also buy custom fronts for their IKEA cabinets from companies like Semihandmade.

At this level, you’re looking at a minimum of professional help and permitting hassle, and if you’re really willing to squeeze the budget — and maybe pitch in yourself, Burr says — you can resurface both a kitchen and a bathroom.

Brooklyn 3-5BRs Under $1.5M Article continues below

Medium Renovation — You’re a Renovator

Great if you:

  • Want to substantially redesign a kitchen or redo a bathroom with custom details, or do a more thorough update of both on a budget.
  • Won’t be moving walls or plumbing.

Budget: $60,000 to $110,000

Timeline: 4-8 Months

Professional help: Will need an architect and general contractor; may want designer

Permits: Needed from Department of Buildings

Need to move out during work: No

This is what most people probably picture when they think of a renovation: a major kitchen update, plus perhaps a bathroom, with a more roomy budget than above. Note that adding custom cabinets will boost the price considerably — “you’re spending between $50,000 and even $100,000 on millwork,” Burr says — as will adding high-end appliances.

For any major work like this, you’re going to need city permits, which means you’ll also want an expediter, though your architect or contractor may have one they recommend. Whether you need an architect and a contractor depends on whether your contractor is more of a basic labor manager or a design-and-build outfit. Either way, don’t expect to cook many meals at home while your kitchen is being rebuilt.

image of renovation cost

A big part of a gut renovation is deciding which existing elements of a home to remove or keep. (Courtesy AlexAllen Studio)

Major Renovation — You’re a Heavy Renovator

Great if you:

  • Want a custom kitchen, a bathroom update or two, and some floor refinishing or custom shelving in another room (low end of price range).
  • Want the above plus moving plumbing, adding central air, or exterior work (high end of price range).
  • Plan to leave some elements of the home untouched.

Budget: $125,000 to $250,000

Timeline: 6-18 months, depending on permitting and scope

Professional help: Structural engineer, architect, general contractor, expediter, and designer

Permits: Required from Department of Buildings, may be required from other bodies such as Landmarks Preservation Commission

Need to move out during work: May or may not

Once you get going on a renovation, it’s tempting to want to expand: If your kitchen and bathroom are going to look so nice, why not add some new shelves in the living room, or central air, or new or refinished flooring? Maybe even a second bathroom! This scope of work is a step up from a kitchen redo, but depending on how you stretch your budget, it can give the impression that the entire home has been reworked, even if you only lightly touch a few rooms.

One word of advice Burr has for larger projects: Be aware that many of the “soft costs,” for design, permitting, engineering (if necessary) and filing fees come upfront, before any work even begins. “You pay all these consultant fees and then pay the [Department of Buildings] and then wait,” she says. “It can be really hard for clients to handle.”

Manhattan 2BRs Under $1M Article continues below

Complete Renovation — You’re a Builder

Great if you:

  • Need to make structural changes to a home and/or plan to renovate the entire thing: new custom kitchen, updated bathrooms, relocated plumbing, central air, new entry points, rehabbed exterior.
  • Are rehabilitating a home that has been neglected or damaged.

Budget: $250,000+

Timeline: 12-24 months or longer

Professional help: Structural engineer, architect, general contractor, designer, expediter

Permits: Required from Department of Buildings and may be required from other boards such as Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Need to move out during work: Yes

Take the blinders off, because now you’re looking at a big job. If you’re rehabbing a total fixer-upper, you’re going to need a considerable amount of time, money and patience. Burr says that renovating a full townhouse can cost around $200,000 per floor, which sounds like a lot. But who among us hasn’t gawked at a gorgeously modernized townhouse? Some clients, Burr says, don’t even want to discuss the upper range of their budget — they just want it done well — though it’s always helpful for her to know: “It’s in their best interest to tell us everything.”

Feature creep is a temptation here, too, since if you’re pulling up the floors, maybe you should move some plumbing (adding $10,000 to $15,000, Burr says) or add central air (about $40,000), or move mechanicals (another $40,000). It’s easy to double or even triple the cost of a project this way. And the more substantial changes you make, the more professionals, like structural or geotechnical engineers and city inspectors, you’ll need to sign off on them.

The good news is that almost no matter what condition your home was in before, a complete renovation will transform it into something shiny, new, and ideally suited to your needs.

Go for it, and make that home your own. But have no illusions about the cost and duration of a full-scale rebuild.

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