It’s hard enough to find the right studio or one-bedroom apartment in New York City. But if your family is growing or you want to entertain more guests, you’ll need more space — and you probably aren’t looking forward to the house-hunting struggle.
Instead, you might consider combining your current apartment with an empty adjacent one. You get the square footage and number of bedrooms you need at a lower cost per square foot, and you can avoid having to start all over in a new building.
That’s not to say that combining two apartments is a walk in the park. Several factors could make it a fairly large project. However, it can be much more cost-effective than moving, especially if you work with a turnkey design and build firm to do it.
What Are You Signing Up For?
Expanding your apartment by combining it with another might be a great idea, but it won’t be a breeze. After doing it for the first time, most apartment owners admit they made mistakes or took things for granted that ended up costing more than they budgeted.
For example, even though the main point of the project is to combine your current unit with the unit next to or above you, that doesn’t mean yours will be untouched. You might also underestimate the extent — and cost — of electrical work needed, especially if your building doesn’t allow you to channel the ceiling.
If you don’t know what to expect, then you won’t know where to start. Should the architect come first or the designer? Who has to file the right paperwork with the Department of Buildings? Between 20 and 30 percent of people get this part wrong when renovating their apartments and end up going way overbudget as a result.
Instead of going in blind, consider these cost estimates for each phase of an apartment combination project:
1. Architectural drawings, DOB filings, and permit procurements
Estimated costs: $10,000 to $70,000
This first step has one of the largest price ranges because architects come in all shapes and sizes. Those who typically work directly with customers are design-driven and costlier. They subcontract tasks like filing plans to secure Department of Buildings permits, focusing their own efforts on design plans, finish schedules, and procuring contractors. The cost of an architect through a firm that hires him or her to file plans and acquire permits, however, will cost significantly less.
2. Designing the space
Estimated costs: $0 to $50,000
Even if you choose an interior designer based on price, you can still expect to feel the costs. Designers charge either a percentage of your renovation — 10 percent is customary — or a flat fee for their work. And going back to the previous point, choosing a designer means you’ll also have to pay an architect to file the plans because interior designers can’t obtain the proper permits. Design and build firms, on the other hand, don’t charge extra for the design stage.
3. Prepping the building for construction
Estimated costs: $1,000 to $3,500
Along with the extent and length of your project, the distance between the elevator and your apartment also affects the cost range for this phase. In most NYC apartment buildings, condo and co-op boards impose several renovation requirements, including time constraints that limit how much work you can complete in a day. The time it takes to carry materials up to your units every day eats into this schedule and, therefore, the overall costs of prep and construction work.
4. Tearing down walls and removing debris
Estimated costs: $7,500 to $20,000
A bit of demolition will be necessary for this project, of course, but how many walls you tear down and how much debris you have to remove will differ. For example, in addition to combining apartments, are you also renovating the bathroom or remodeling the kitchen? If you’re planning any significant layout changes, then prepare to see a lot more dust and debris than you would expect from just tearing down the wall between apartments.
5. Electrical work
Estimated costs: $7,500 to $40,000
Layout changes also mean more complicated electrical upgrades, such as channeling walls and re-routing new lines. Electrical work is automatically one of the more complex parts of an apartment combination project. In some cases, a skilled electrician might help you save some costs by keeping each unit on a separate panel instead of integrating them into one. However, changing the layout of one or more rooms could still complicate the process, increasing costs along the way.
6. Plumbing work
Estimated costs: $1,000 to $15,000
Technically, you only need to remove and cap one unit’s kitchen and open the wall between the two apartments to consider them combined, as long as the plans are approved. Most projects, though, are significantly larger than that. Besides capping the second kitchen, upgrades like flooring, kitchen expansions, new paint, bathroom renovations, and more can add to your project’s basic plumbing costs.
Estimated costs: $125 to $1,000 per square foot
Even if you keep costs low for every other phase, the finishes you incorporate into your new space will still impact your budget. Spending $1,000 per square foot might seem absurd on paper, but it’s easy to exceed that if you choose luxury finishes for every inch of your home. Fortunately, most combinations can be completed with mid- to upper-grade finishes and a few higher-end touches and still remain in the range of $150 to $375 per square foot.
Space is at a premium in NYC, so holding on to what you have and expanding it might be more practical than hunting down a brand-new apartment. Before doing so, be sure you’re aware of the scope of the project. And do your best to keep costs minimal. You can do just that by following the steps outlined here — and working with an experienced, all-inclusive design and build firm won’t hurt.
Aaron Popowsky is CEO and founder of Gallery Kitchen & Bath, an award-winning licensed, bonded, and insured full-service design, selection, and build firm. Gallery KBNY specializes in the interior renovation of apartments, brownstones, and townhomes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens. The [...]