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Let’s Talk Money- Budget for a Renovation Project

Updated: 4 days ago


Hanging on the stoop with some new reno friends!


One of the most stressful parts of a home renovation are the finances. Costs can add up quick, especially when you’re renovating a historic property. Many people go into it with either no idea or the wrong idea of what they are going to spend. While the costs can vary depending on the scope of the work and finishes, we thought we would share at least our experience with how much is needed, what some of the biggest ticket items are, and where some savings can be found. 


We’re renovating two floors of a three story 1880’s Brownstone. We demolished several walls, moved the kitchen, added a bathroom, added a deck, and redid most of the electrical and plumbing. Most of the walls (and plaster on them) are staying so it certainly isn’t a full gut, but it’s a lot of work and probably a common scope for many other historic home buyers.


The rule of thumb we’ve heard from several people when considering a property is $100,000 per floor. It might be possible to get the job done with that budget but we think a better rule of thumb would be $125,000-150,000 per floor for a typical Brownstone that is about 20x40 (or $175-$200 per square foot). 



Notice the recessed lights!

One of the first things you’ll do (read about how to get a project started here) is find an architect to draw up the plans and handle the filings. The city has made it increasingly difficult and as of July 2019 just added new regulation that requires the plumbing drawings to be filed separately from the architectural drawings. So now additional drawings need to be done. While this is probably a great thing to regulate large builders and big construction projects, this increases the costs and time it takes to get through the process for 1 or 2 family home owners. (There may be exception that will be in place at some point but right now there is a lot of ambiguity around it). Expect your architectural fees to be between $10,000-$20,000 and timing of 45-90 days depending on if you are filing an alt-1 or an alt-2. 


Hopefully by the time you have your plans approved you also have a General Contractor lined up and ready to start. This will obviously be your biggest expense. It will include demo, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, plaster, and paint...among many other things. Generally you can expect to get done what you need within the $175-$200 per square foot range. We aren’t talking about finishes yet because that won’t be included in your GC quote. Building materials and labor will be included and this is where a lot of your money will go: 


Reproduced original baseboards in the Brownstone

The new moulding in place of the missing slab in the ceiling.

Demo: $10,000

Demo is expensive in New York. Everything has to be hauled out of your beautiful tree-lined Brownstone street without a disturbance to your neighbors. You can plan on at least $10k of demo. Possibly more if you are removing all of the flooring. 


Electrical: $20,000-$35,000

It’s very likely that some or all of your electrical will need to be replaced. This could even include upgrading the amperage or even the main connection to the house. Adding electrical plugs, fixtures, switches...etc.  


Plumbing: $20,000-$30,000. 

Hopefully you’ll have the ability to keep your kitchens and bathrooms on existing wet walls. If so, that will help keep the expenses down a lot. 


General Carpentry: $100,000-$125,000.

Building walls, adding structural beams, fixing/rebuilding stairs, framing, door & moulding installation, drywall, flooring refinishing/installation, plaster and paint.


Kitchens: $20,000-$25,000.

If you’re buying a house in Brooklyn like we did, chances are it’s at least a 2-family. So you’ll need at least two kitchens! Installing cabinets, tiling, and installing counters. (This is just the construction costs and not finishes.)


Bathrooms: $30,000-$40,000.

As with kitchens, you’re likely to have at least 3 if not 4. You’ll need to build showers, add tubs, toilets, vanities, and lots of tiling. (construction costs)


We splurged a little on our woodwork. The detail is too nice to skip over.

Other stuff: Stripping paint off original woodwork? Adding in plaster moldings? Restoring original woodwork? There are a lot of specialists you’ll have come in for work you probably don’t want your contractor doing. This is where we added the most expense above our initial budget. These are tough jobs that require a lot of skill and patience, so they aren’t cheap. Wood stripping $10-12,000, plaster moldings $10-15,000, wood restoration $5-8,000. 


Adding a deck seems to be on most people’s list of priorities and we don’t blame them. If the duplex is upper you’ll want access to the backyard. Also, adding a deck and outdoor space adds a ton of value! There are a lot of Department of Buildings regulations (read about all things NYC deck’s here) and you might know that a legal deck in NYC needs to be non-combustible, which makes it considerably more expensive than building a deck in the suburbs. Although there are many ways to increase the costs, you should be able to add a deck for around $25,000. 


Radiators have been delivered. We love the look of these.

We love the baby radiator in the guest bathroom.

Roof - A new roof could cost you $13,000-$15,000 or you could get away with adding another layer on top of the existing for $5-$7,000. You wouldn’t want to skip this while adding new drywall, plaster, and beautiful finishes that will be damaged by a leaky roof. 


Windows - Are you replacing windows? If so plan on spending $13,000-16,000. 


Floor leveling - If your very lucky you’ll find one of the few historical buildings that still have perfectly level floors after 100 years of settling. Since that is unlikely, your next decision will be deciding if you are ok with it or if you want to level them. It’s a big job. All joists will be exposed and they will sister in at a slightly higher level to even out the floors. It’s possible to level certain spots but this can get complicated. It also creates work in other areas that you might not have been planning on like baseboards and more plasterwork. We would expect it to cost $10-12,000 per floor. It could be worth it. It just depends on how uneven they are and what you're willing to live with. 


We had install day with our appliances! Let's turn them on and start cooking!

Finishes - The fun part! The stuff you’ll see. Kitchen cabinets, flooring, tile, vanities, plumbing fixtures, doors, and light fixtures. Prices can vary greatly. But if you break it down into 3 levels: cheap, mid, lux we would say to plan for $50k, $100k, $150k respectively. 


You’ll want a contingency of about 10%. Hopefully you won’t need it, or better yet maybe you’ll get to use it on something fun rather than burying it in the walls to fix cut structural joists like we did. In any case, if you are buying an over 100 year old building save yourself the stress and expect to find a few additional items not on the initial list. 


Where to save: Has anyone skipped down to this section? We have been fortunate to pay the low end of each of the ranges we provided. First and foremost, find the right contractor. Shop around and know how much things should cost (see above!). Also consider a project manager. It might seem like an additional expense but it doesn’t have to be. Many times they can find efficiencies, make sure you’re not overpaying for things, and save money by preventing delays and trouble shooting as you go. We are managing our own project and spend quite a bit of time on it. 


Our steel fabricator putting the deck in. An important feature for us!

Here’s some other best practices we’ve found: 


  • Make sure your materials and finishes are ordered on time when your contractor is ready. 

  • Don’t overspend for things like cabinets and tile. You can achieve a high end look with low cost materials. 

  • Set priorities. We could have doubled our budget. For instance, instead of opening up a huge glass slider to the deck, we’re just putting in a door where a window was. 

  • Keep some of the character! Old wood work and things with some flaws give the place some cred. We chose not to level all of our floors and just took care of the worst parts. 

  • Keep kitchens and bathrooms relatively in the same place. We kept them as close to the wet walls as possible (but we were even able to add a bathroom where one didn’t exist). 

  • Don’t do everything now. We’re living with the 5-7 year old windows, but might change them in a couple years. Shop around! We shopped around like crazy. We sometimes got quotes twice as high as we ended up paying for things. 


So many people reach out to us weekly and we’re happy to help! If you have any questions about your project or just don’t know how to get started shoot us an email and we’ll point you in the right direction. If you have any cost saving tips we missed key us know!


A special door for the guest bathroom. We are trying to DIY as much as possible.

Custom Shaker Panel doors have arrived. A cost friendly solution.

The kitchen island has been installed. We will get measured this week for counters.

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Thanks for reading!