How do I get my apartment renovation started?
September 19, 2017 7:23 AM   Subscribe

I’m actually quite comfortable with the late-90s furnishings of my place, but I want to sell or rent it out soon, and I know updating everything would make it more appealing. Everything I’ve seen on the web says “start looking at design ideas” — but I care more about utility than appearances. I’d like to spend as little as possible to make it up-to-date. Where do I start? Can I just go to a contractor and say “give me your cheapest paint-by-numbers package”?

If it matters, it’s a 600 sq ft. studio loft in Manhattan.
posted by Borborygmus to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You only care about utility more than appearances, but what this isn't about you - it's about your hypothetical buyer or tenant. I don't know how different the NYC market is from others in this respect, but in other markets I've known people who engaged a real estate agency to look at their place and suggest the most cost-effective ways to increase market value.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:31 AM on September 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

Does it need a renovation, or just a decor facelift?

If it's the former, yep - you need a contractor.

If it's the latter, I agree with Tomorrowful that while you may only care about utility, your buyer/tenant wants to either see it empty or staged as a clean, updated, comfy home.

If it's a decor facelift, maybe you could try Havenly. I've never worked with them, but have friends who enjoyed the service.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:20 AM on September 19, 2017

Fix or replace absolutely anything broken, dinged, faded, worn-out. If there's carpet, get it cleaned. Fresh paint and polished flooring go a long way. Take well-lit pictures of every room. Post them in a new Tons of us love to give detailed advice about decorating.
posted by theora55 at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone who has rented for years: please, please get a new shower/bathtub unit. A worn out bathtub never feels fully clean no matter how much you scrub. I'd pay several hundred more dollars in rent for new bathroom units and fixtures.

A nice kitchen goes a long way as well. Good countertops, sturdy/clean cabinets and updated appliances are huge. Even a very basic update(just stick to neutral and clean colours) will add tons of value to the place and will attract renters who are willing to pay up-market prices.
posted by InkDrinker at 12:17 PM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you go cheap, it's gonna look cheap. You need to decide on an actual budget rather than just "as cheap as possible" and talk to a contractor about what they can do for you within that budget. You can save a bit of money if you do your own painting, but make sure you do a good job if you go that route because sloppy paint jobs are painfully obvious and give off a real "didn't give a crap" vibe.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:02 PM on September 19, 2017

Best answer: When you say furnishings I think of furniture, but I'm guessing you mean light fixtures, faucets, appliances, window shades, tile colors/shapes? You're not knocking out any walls in a studio, so I know you're not renovating the floor plan (unless it's got a nook type thing for the bed that you want to...expand?)

Before you hire anyone, go to Pinterest and make some boards of bathrooms/kitchens that you like. Spend a few weeks adding things to these boards. Then leave it alone for a bit. Then come back to the boards and look closely at what these spaces have in common. Maybe it's lots of exposed wood. Maybe it's a particular color. Maybe it's a layout. Maybe it's...well you get the idea. What you want and like is the easiest thing to communicate to and accomplish with someone. If you just say "make it look new" they'll maybe show you some pictures of work they've done and you might say "ya, like that." But if you take your pictures of what you like and compare them to example work, you have a faster idea of whether this person is going to be into doing your job, which is just as important. Also know what your budget is. Do not hire a tradespeople who won't tell you what specific jobs in their portfolios cost the client, and don't hire people who smirk at your budget.

I think you could do this without a general contractor. If you want to change the tiles, go to a tile store (um, maybe in Jersey, prices will be better over there), choose some tile and ask them who they suggest to lay the tile. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to lay your own tile, and do not hire a total stranger from Craigslist to do it. This goes 1000% for plumbing and electric.

If you want to change out the tub/toilet/bathroom sink/kitchen sink, a plumber will do that. The plumber can recommend a tile person. Some of these things may require permits. Do not have unpermitted work done. (I know this sounds obvious, but many trades people will try to get out of being legal by telling you that it increases the cost of the work to do it with permits. Yes, it does. And rightly so. If they don't want to pull the permits, consider that to be a huge red flag, and RUN! Also, check out the insurance information of anyone doing trade work in your home. Also seems obvious, but if they're going to break a water pipe you don't want to find out they don't have insurance after they've done it...) If you buy new appliances, they'll usually install the new ones and remove the old ones (usually for a fee). You can also craigslist the old ones. I don't know how robust the craigslist scene is here.

For renting in NYC, the things most people seem to most care about are proximity to trains, natural light, what size bed they can fit in it, and what infestations might be apparent/discoverable during a viewing. Bonuses include fresh paint, quiet upstairs neighbors, and useable kitchen appliances (necessary in my circle, but in general, I know a lot of people also who don't cook in the city, so you can probably get away with terrible used appliances and find someone to rent the place). If you have a premium location/building and need to compete to get top dollar for your unit, then sure, go for some upgrades. Just keep in mind that the time spent renovating is time without a tenant or buyer. Also be aware that tenants can be hard on a property. Your brand new tile might get cracked. They won't dry the shower walls which can lead to mold on your silicon bead, they might flood the bathroom. They might secretly get a dog that chews on all your doors. I would prioritize bathroom over kitchen. It's a smaller room, and feels like a more intimate space (to me). Well lit, clean, white, and very well ventilated.

If I were going to be picky about things in an apartment (and I'm in no position to be) I'd want a full size stove/oven, no carpet, and a deep soaking tub, and no moisture damage/mold in the bathroom. I'd pee my pants with joy if there was a w/d in the apartment. LED lighting would be nice.

Stage it with boring comfortable furniture, a plant or two, open the blinds/curtains to let the light in, and absolutely minimize the amount of stuff in the room to make it look bigger. Refresh the grout and caulk in the bathroom floor and shower/bath. Replacing the toilet might take you pretty far if the current one is gross. If the bathroom sink cabinet is a pressboard deal that's showing it's age, you can get a new one at Ikea, they sell sinks too, and have information about folks who install Ikea stuff (Ikea doesn't guarantee that work).

Many NYC buyers are going to want to do....something to a space to make it theirs, so adding to your price by adding granite or whatever is likely a waste of your money and theirs. This all goes out the window if you're talking about a very ostentatious 90's look in your apartment, but it sounds like you're not.

A broker/realtor might be a good person to talk to about some of these things, especially what's comparable in your building/neighborhood, but remember they don't really work for you. They want to make the sale/rental as quickly as possible, not necessarily at the price that best benefits you. Realtors who sell their own properties leave them on the market longer, and fetch a higher price than the homes they sell for clients. 3% of 1.1 million isn't that much different from 3% of 1 million*, and to put in an extra months worth of showings isn't worth it to the agent (and that 100k-3% might not be worth it to the seller, depending on the situation)

*Yes, there are some $1m studio apartments in this city. Lots. There are also some 750k 1 br apartments, so it's not completely outrageous. Who am I kidding, it's totally bonkers.
posted by bilabial at 7:14 AM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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