How much does it cost to renovate a historic Harlem brownstone?

Sometimes, home renovation is all about putting your money where your passion is.

That’s how Maria and Raquel Howard approached their renovation when they inherited a three-story Harlem brownstone that hadn’t seen an update since the 90’s.  

Rather than renovate while living in the home, they instead chose to stay in the building’s basement apartment and partnered with Bolster to transform the brownstone’s upper triplex into a home in which they could grow old together.

When we get homeowners like that, in their long-time family home, it’s both an honor and a big responsibility,” says Bolster COO and Co-Founder Anna Karp, “You owe it to them to get it right.”

Getting it Right

Bolster has pioneered the smart-renovation. Using predictive data, they can identify, measure, and quantify the performance risk on every project. The process allows Bolster to absorb 100% of that risk and re-introduce a crucial measure of trust back into the Renovation Industry.

The Howards approached the project with a sophisticated eye for design, a solid grasp of their “need-to-haves” versus their “nice-to-haves” and a firm budget of $350,000.

The Bolster team provided Maria and Raquel with a precise and comprehensive cost breakdown that clearly laid out all design and build fees.  The Howards could see where every dollar and cent were allocated. Transparency like this is empowering, and fundamental to the Bolster process.

Start With the Stairs

The most necessary of those need-to-haves was the staircase.  Because of an accessibility issue, the Howards required each stair to be wider, deeper and less-steep.   Bolster architect Agustin Ayuso and contractor Aaron

Borenstein designed and built a new staircase that met the practical ease of use requirements, without sacrificing anything structurally or architecturally.

"That was the heart of the project," Augustin says, "It was really all about different ways to configure it. After that part was figured out, all the other pieces fell into place."  The new staircase ultimately cost $59,132. Other necessary upgrades included a major plumbing overhaul ($28,000) and electrical corrections ($2,900).

Going Further

As Maria and Raquel progressed through the design process, they grew confident enough to expand their renovation wish list and increase the budget by $150K.  Soon enough, their updated scope included a contemporary kitchen, HVAC installation ($28,500), soundproofing ($4,600) and even a custom shoe closet.

"Because of their steadfast dedication to the budget, they were able to splurge on a few nice-to-haves that they knew were worth the extra cost," says Anna, “As a result, they’re getting the home of their dreams with no surprises along the way."  

Maria and Raquel we’re disciplined with their budget, being honest about their lifestyle in choosing where to spend and where to save.

They understood that they didn’t live in the kitchen, so they didn't need high-end appliances.  Instead, they opted a suite of name brand kitchen appliances ($3,974). They added decorative touches in the kitchen including backsplash tiles ($24/psf), and new countertops ($6,600).  The first-floor powder room incorporates a minor splurge of statement wallpaper featuring a modern Harlem toile pattern ($600).

The Final Costs

At project wrap, the final job cost totalled $551,360 - well under the original estimate of $572,860.  The cost included a $16K architect’s fee, $26,026 for insurances, $27,298 for project management, $45,497 for site management, and $21,527 for general labor.  The rest of the costs went to direct job costs, overhead and profit." Maria and Raquel took the process seriously. They did their homework every step of the way,” Anna says. “By the end of the design process, they were master ninjas of renovation."

About Us

Bolster is a data-driven team of experts on a mission to eliminate risk from major home renovations by being radically transparent across everything we do. We hire the industry’s best talent and use a continual improvement process to financially guarantee that your major home renovation is designed and built beautifully, on-time and on-budget. From the first sketch to the final handshake, our homeowners know the cost of every line item and have full visibility into project milestones.