How To Start an Apartment Renovation In NY

by | Last updated Apr 14, 2021 | Apartment Renovations, Renovations

Starting an apartment renovation in New York City can be a complicated process. However, if you take it one step at a time, put together a good team, and have a solid game plan, you will be just fine. Renovating your apartment means you need to hire an architect and general contractor. Always work with qualified professionals that you feel you can trust! Putting together the team that will bring your project to fruition is the most important step you can take as a homeowner. Aside from hiring the team you need to establish your project goals and budget. Be prepared: there is a lot to do, but in the end it should all be worth it. Below we will review the general process for getting to the point of being able to begin construction on your apartment renovation.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Manhattan based architect firm Fontan Architecture. This blog post will be focusing on the key steps for starting an apartment renovation NYC.


Set goals

The first step to renovating the apartment is to make the choice itself. Once you commit to doing the project you need to establish your goals. What do you need in your renovation? What do you want in your apartment? Start with big picture items and work your way down to the details. One of the other most important decision is to establish the budget for your project. This can be difficult to accomplish without help from experienced professionals. You can see another blog post I wrote on How Much it Costs to Renovate an Apartment in NYC, but be aware that there may be numerous additional factors to take into account.

You do not need to have everything figured out on day one. It is ok to feel overwhelmed and to need help. It is never too early to hire an architect to work on your project, so you may want to start there.


Hire An Architect

In order to renovate your apartment, you will need an architect to help throughout the process. The architect will work with you to put the design together and produce a set of drawings, but that is not all we do. An architect such as myself will guide every step of the way. We can help with figuring out the budget and establishing the project goals. Then we work together to design the home, from basic layout to minute details. At completion of the design, we produce a set of technical construction drawings. Your architect will assist you in selecting a contractor and getting bids on the work.

During the construction the architect stays on the job to perform administrative roles and periodic site visits. At completion the architect will work on punch lists, quality control, and prepare the sign offs to close out the permits.

Architectural Plans for NY apartment renovation

Architectural Plans for NY apartment renovation


Alteration Agreement

Your building will have its own set of rules and specific requirements for the renovation. They will have a contract for you to sign, which is known as an Alteration Agreement. I have another post explaining Alteration Agreements if you want to read more about that particular part of the process. The alteration agreement should outline the general building regulations. Some buildings have more detailed alteration agreements that may be many pages long, while others are a bit more basic. Either way the building will have rules and you are responsible for your team complying with those rules.


Building Management Review

When the architectural design, drawings, and specifications are complete, the architect provides these to the building management company for their review. The building management company must approve the proposed work before you can file for permits with the Department of Buildings. This review process will vary based on your building, management, and reviewing architect. In most cases, the building management will have another architect review and provide a report this can be quite a process with a lot of back and forth. The reviewing architect will typically issue questions or comments and requests for more information. The architect will provide a response and may need to make drawing revisions at this time, usually to add specific information or house rules on the drawings.

The building management review of your apartment renovation can go quickly with little hassle or can be a bigger ordeal depending on your building. Try to have patience and remember that, while the building management works for you, they have to look out for the building and board’s interest first.


Condo or Co-Op Board Approval

Once the management review is complete, the board can approve your renovation. If you are making any special requests or proposing something out of the ordinary this may require the board as well. Someone from the board or the building management company will be cosigning the DOB paperwork with you and, therefore, you cannot file until this process is complete.


File With DOB

In most apartment renovations your architect will file an application for an Alteration Type 2 with the NYC Department of Buildings. This will be reviewed by the DOB and it may take some time. As with the building review process the plan examiner from DOB may have questions/comments and requests for more information. This can result in a little back and forth and, as always, the best thing to do is have a little patience.


Bid the Job

Bidding is the process of getting prices and proposals from the construction contractors. This may be done earlier in the process or you may even hire one contractor directly. The architect can help guide you through this process.


Hire a General Contractor

After the bids are in you will select a general contractor. The most important thing I can tell you is that you need to ignore all the salesy crap the contractors are going to tell you. If they seem more like a salesman than a contractor, you should be wary of them and act with caution. Pick the person you believe will do the best job and that you feel you can trust. I am a big fan of going with my gut. Please also try not to hire the lowest bidder, as this is just asking for trouble.


Obtain Permits and Associated Documents

The architect files the job and gets approvals on the submitted plans. The permit itself goes under the contractor’s license, so you will not actually get a permit until you have a GC. Once the Contractor pulls the permits, you can begin construction.


Start Construction

Construction is a long and arduous process, but hopefully you have managed to find a good team to help you through it.


Starting an Apartment Renovation in NY

Apartment renovations have many steps and can be quite daunting. Hire qualified professionals that you can trust and you will be fine.


NYC Apartment Renovation

NYC Apartment Renovation


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on the Renovation Process for NYC Apartments

I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project you can contact us directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture


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.