Apartment Renovation Steps

by | Last updated Jun 9, 2023 | Apartment Renovations

Apartment Renovations require planning, collaboration, time, money, and a good team working with the home owner starting with the architect and a general contractor. Below are Apartment Renovation Steps for planning and executing a successful apartment renovation.


Think About What You Want

The obvious first step in renovating your apartment is to make the decision to do so. Think about what you want and do not worry about having everything figured out on day one.


Hire an Architect

It is never too early to hire an architect. As an architect I often get calls from people even before they put an offer on an apartment they are looking to buy. The architect will help you every step of the way so this is an important choice. I know that many people find hiring an architect to be a difficult process. I try to explain everything to my clients as best as possible, but make sure that you ask questions when interviewing architects. You will work very closely with your architect therefore this should be someone who you trust and can have a rapport with.

The manner in which architects bill can be complicated, especially since different architects follow different fee structures. Below are some of the different methods architects use to establish architectural fees for an apartment renovation: 

  • Flat Rate / Fixed Fee
  • Hourly
  • Percentage Of Construction
  • Cost Per Square Foot
  • Hybrid Fee Structure

At my firm we typically use a Flat Rate also referred to as a Fixed Fee method. You can read another post I wrote if you are interested in a more detailed explanation of architectural fees. You should also know that different architects include different things in their proposals so the prices may vary a lot. Make sure to understand what is included in the architectural proposal and more importantly make sure you know what is not included. I literally recommend you as architects: What costs are not included in your price?


Establish your Goals 

I find it is very helpful when people write a program. This is a list of all the things that must go into the apartment. You do not have to write it all out an give it to the architect but at minimum you need to have a detailed conversation to establish your goals, and hopes.


Set a Budget For Your Apartment Renovation

Apartment renovation costs will vary based on scope of work, apartment size, and quality. I am an architect in New York so we are accustom to NYC pricing.


Plan The Space

Design is a step by step process. Star with the big picture. When we work with our clients on their apartment renovations in NYC we always start with the overall apartment layout before getting deep into details.


Think About Details

After the apartment layout is finalized you should start getting into details like the kitchen and bathrooms. There are many things to select such as materials, fixtures, appliances etc…


Submit for Building Management Review

Whether you are in a condo or Co-Op you will need Board approval to renovate your apartment. Most building managers have their own architect review our plans and Scope of Work. This review must be completed and authorized before submitting an application to the Department of Buildings (DOB).  The reviewing architect will issue a recommendation to proceed after any questions, comments, or objections have been resolved. Some buildings do not require another architect to review your architect’s plans but most do. You specific building’s apartment renovation process may vary.


Sign the Alteration Agreement

Buildings have an alteration agreement that outlines the building rules for renovating and the legal responsibilities of the building and individual renovating. We have another post if you want to learn more about Alteration Agreements.


File with DOB

The filing process in New York City is a bit involved but not remotely as bad as people generally think it is. The architect submits plans and paperwork to the DOB which must be reviewed by a plan examiner. My best advice is to have a little patience during this process. And do not panic if you see the job is disapproved. In NYC if the plan examiner has any questions or comments no matter how small they must disapprove the job and issue the questions, comments, or objections, to the architect. Once the architect responds to the plan examiners satisfaction the job will be approved.

Apartment Renovations in Landmark Buildings will need additional approvals from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.



Bidding is the process of getting prices to renovate your apartment. During this process you are interviewing contractors, having walkthroughs of your apartment and reviewing proposals.

Do not hire the cheapest contractor. In my experience there is a direct relationship between how good a contractor is and how expensive a contractor is. Alternatively the cheapest contractors I have worked with have always been the most incompetent and unqualified. Put a good team together. It is worth the money to hire someone who wants to do a good job. Also make sure the contractor really understands the entire scope of work.

Do not try to be the general contractor yourself that would be a terrible idea. You want one person in charge that you can go to for anything. We do not work with DIY at my firm we only work on projects with qualified General Contractors.


Pull Permits

Getting an approval from the Department of Buildings is not actually a permit. After you get approval you need to pull permits this is a relatively simple process compared to the plan exam phase of the job. The permits will go on the contractor’s licenses so you will need to have hired the contractor before pulling permits.

In most apartment renovations you can get up to 3 or 4 permits depending on the work to be done.

  • OT / General Construction Permit
  • Electrical Permit
  • Plumbing and Gas Permit
  • Mechanical Permit (Heating and Air Conditioning)



The construction process can take a great deal of time. Ask your contractor to establish a schedule of work.



Please do not underestimate how filthy construction is. Sometimes the contractor will do a great job of cleaning when finished and sometimes they will leave a layer of dust on everything. Professional contractors should do a good job of cleaning.


Furnishing Your Apartment

As an architect we can help with furnishing by incorporating your furniture into the plan before you make the purchase. Furniture layout is important and should not be an afterthought. You can hire an interior designer or interior decorator to help. Some architects do this as well.


Steps To Renovating an Apartment

As an architect I study the process of remodeling, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article we reviewed some of the basic steps with regards to Apartment Renovations. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the apartment renovation process.


Thank you for reading our blog post on Apartment Renovation Steps.

I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect you can Contact Fontan Architecture directly.


Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.