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The renovated kitchen in a Park Slope 2-bedroom converted into a 3-bedroom.

Everyone has their own idea of a perfect home, but in New York City, fulfilling that ideal can require keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box. You’re going to have to make some trade-offs. To help you spot the true potential of any NYC apartment — what the home could be before and after a thoughtful renovation — we consulted the experts at Sweeten, a free renovation platform that matches homeowners with vetted general contractors and monitors projects to completion.

Don’t Be Scared Away By a Floor Plan

While searching for a home, you may want to expand your notion about what you really need and how you can achieve it. Floor plans, for the most part, can be changed, so don’t shy away from places that aren’t exactly what you were hoping for. There is a lot you can do at all different budget levels.

Manhattan 1-3BRs Under $1.3M Article continues below

Sweeten renovators Katherine and Chris knew that their dream of a fully updated 3-bedroom in Park Slope within their budget was not realistic. Instead, they bought a 2-bedroom and got creative. “We set up alerts on StreetEasy for sales in the neighborhood within a certain price range and saw this listing come up: A 1,000-square-foot condo in a prewar greystone building,” Katherine says. “Although it was a 2-bedroom, we immediately recognized a floor plan that we could reconfigure to get the three bedrooms we needed.”

With the help of their Sweeten general contractor, they were able to move kitchen plumbing from the back of the apartment to the front, creating an open living room/kitchen space. Then they converted the former kitchen into their master bedroom.

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Katherine and Chris turned the former kitchen of their Park Slope condo into a master bedroom.

If your budget doesn’t allow for a major remodel, there may still be ways to rethink your space to match your lifestyle. “We made a portion of our long dining area a ‘kid zone,’ with child-sized furniture for reading and playing,” says another Sweeten renovator. “The kids use it daily for drawing and reading, and we could see it transforming into a space with desks for homework when they’re older.”

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A ‘kid zone’ carved out of a long NYC dining room.

Do Be Open to a New Neighborhood

We know it’s all about “location, location, location,” but if you’re only focused on one area, you may be missing out on other opportunities. There are areas of all five boroughs that offer great value for their price — especially after a little TLC.

Having been born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen, Yila wasn’t looking to move from her neighborhood, and neither was her husband, Andre, who had enjoyed living there for 15 years. But they needed more space, so Andre headed to Washington Heights and found a place that was larger than anything they had looked at in their current neighborhood.

Brooklyn 1-3BRs Under $1M Article continues below

Because the apartment needed renovating, they could customize it to meet their growing family’s needs, which excited them. They knocked down a wall between what was once the housekeeper’s quarters and a bedroom to create a large master suite. They also razed three walls to provide a more open layout between the kitchen and the main living area.

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The renovated kitchen in Yila and Andre’s Washington Heights apartment.

This is just one example of how stretching the search area for a home paid off. Give some thought to your immediate needs and your future ones. In the next few years, will you be starting a family, and thus want to be in a better school district? Do you anticipate needing more space as your kids grow, or room for an in-law suite as your parents age? Or will you be thinking about downsizing? Think ahead and plan accordingly.

Make a Small Space Work With a Kitchen Renovation

Chances are you are not going to find a place that checks all your boxes. But you might realize you don’t need absolutely need everything you thought.

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It’s not fully open, but the pass-through dramatically transforms the function of this typical NYC galley kitchen.

In New York City, the most common trade-off is space, and kitchens are one room where city dwellers often feel the pinch. But good planning can result in a smaller kitchen that is highly functional and stylish. For the six-foot-wide galley kitchen above, the contractor made it easier to entertain by creating a pass-through window with an extended counter, and two stools on the non-kitchen side.

You can also make a kitchen feel larger by utilizing open shelving in place of upper cabinets, like this renovator did in Jackson Heights.

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The open shelves above the sink make this galley kitchen feel more airy.

For Brooklynites Janet and Jerry, the challenge was to streamline and modernize the interior of their 1910 brownstone while paying homage to its roots. “We tried to keep as many of the old architectural elements as possible,” Jerry says. The initial plan for the sitting room was to remove the fireplace — although the mirrors were original and in good shape, its doors were damaged and the pillars didn’t suit the room’s aesthetic.

Queens 1-3BRs Under $1M Article continues below

Instead, they decided to repaint the fireplace and open it up to the brick in the bottom area. The original wood flooring was stained and discolored, but they endeavored to preserve as much of it as possible. In the end they were able to bring their home into the 21st century without giving up its historic beauty.

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Janet and Jerry brought their brownstone’s historic fireplace into the modern age with a little paint and flooring.

There are always trade-offs in the New York City home search. But by looking beyond the not-so-perfect floor plan, widening your search area, and renovating a space to meet your specific needs, you can find an affordable home that will work well for you and your family in NYC.

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