It's all about doing your homework and setting your expectations.
Apologies in advance for being a bit of rain on the parade, but discovering your dream home–one that is priced at your budget, in an ideal neighborhood, and designed to your precise specifications–is a bit like finding a unicorn on the subway. Maybe it could happen, but probably not.
Typically, New Yorkers make some concessions once they see what’s available on the market, given the limited availability of properties in the five boroughs. They might spend a bit more than they’d like or opt for a neighborhood a few subway stops past where they imagined their home to be. Some 1-bedroom seekers might quickly embrace the coziness of a studio.
Alternatively, many soon-to-be homeowners choose a spot at the right price and on the right block, but they use the space as a springboard to create their perfect abode. In other words, they roll up their sleeves and renovate.
So then the question is this: if you’re buying a property with the hopes of renovating the space, what should you be on the lookout for? You guessed it: there’s a lot to consider. Let’s get into the specifics.
See your future
Not literally, but what we mean is that you should know, roughly, how long you want to be in your new space. What exactly are you building for? Is it a short stay, or are you ready to start a family in your new home? Is your family getting bigger? They key here is to understand the flexibility and the limitations of the space that you’re buying so that you can have a keener sense of how the space will fit your lifestyle–today, tomorrow, and maybe for years to come.
Get a sense for the scope
Are you ready to commit to a gut renovation in order to see your dream home come to life? Or you more in the mood for a one day paint-a-thon, just to touch up those walls? Knowing the kind of work you’re willing devote to your project is key. On the flip side, if you see a property you love, you should get a sense for what kind of work the space needs to really come to life. In other words, managing expectations is critical.
Check out the bones and the guts
For standalone properties like brownstones, it’s helpful to hire a third-party to take a peek at how things are holding up, structurally. Is the foundation secure? Are the beams sturdy and unbroken? How’s the facade holding up? Was your plumbing and electric designed and installed during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency? Hiring a qualified home inspector will help you uncover what exactly needs to be re-built or modified, from an engineering perspective.
This will also help you manage budget expectations, when you factor in the cost of buying the property in addition to the cost of bringing the home into the twenty-first century. The report produced by your home inspector will be critical information to relay to an architect down the road.
Understand the condition inside
It’s important to do a full sweep of the space to understand what fixtures and materials you like and do not like. For instance, does the kitchen have enough cabinets to fit your needs? Is the floor scuffed or covered in weird shag carpet? Does the layout work for you? Getting a sense for what needs to be changed inside will help you understand the relative scope of your project. Obviously, the more you salvage, the less you spend in renovating. And the moment you begin reconfiguring the walls is the moment costs will increase dramatically.
Do your homework
If you’re in love with a property, do a little homework to understand what similar renovations have cost homeowners in the past. Is your current budget realistic based on similar successful projects?
Also think about how this work will tie into the value of the property. If you’re not planning to stay in this home for too long, are you willing to live with the capital loss of renovating and quickly selling? If your project is also quite customized, you may also have difficulty quickly selling to another potential buyer–one whose desires exactly match your own. In other words, are you willing to spend money and risk not recouping your costs?
Talk to the neighbors
If you’re looking in a co-op or condo, it’s useful to do a bit of reconnaissance in the building. Have any of the neighbors renovated and, if so, how was their experience? Is the building super easy to work with? How accommodating is the board?
Take the plunge if it feels right
At this point, you should be empowered with enough knowledge to know if buying the property in question is the right move. You’ll have a working understanding of your budget, (and if you don’t, you can use tools like our handy Estimator to help you get a clearer picture of what the renovation will cost.) If all looks ship shape, go forth and conquer! You got this.
And, of course, after you get the keys to the castle, you’ll want to engage the professionals as soon as possible. Obviously we’re biased, but we hope you’ll reach out and tell us a bit about your project and your goals. From there, we’d be delighted to help make your dream project a reality!