Construction Costs

custom-oval-tiles-and-caesarstone-counter-with-embedded-mirror-chipsConstruction costs are a combination of materials and labor, and are separate from design fees. Labor prices are determined by the contractor, who is a separate entity from the designer. Bids are obtained via my standardized checklist, so that all bids can be directly compared, apples to apples. Labor is the most expensive part of any renovation, and New York City presents contractors with an array of challenges that make working here more expensive than other parts of the country. For more about contractor costs, please see a few of my published articles.  So that you can accurately anticipate a workable budget, here are some general prices to anticipate:



The big thing few owners anticipate is the time involved in getting approvals for any renovation. Plan for a minimum of 2-4 months for the simplest project, and up to a year for more complicated jobs. If you’re buying a new apartment, you may need to cover “two rents” for quite some time before your new home is ready to live in.

If your home is located within one of the city’s landmarked districts, anticipate increased filing fees and an additional 1-4 months for those approvals. It does not matter if you won’t do anything to the outside of your building, you still need that approval.

If you already live in your home, anticipate relocation costs and potential storage of furniture. While you may be willing to tough it out with no kitchen, there’s no way to live in a one-bathroom apartment while that room gets renovated.


Construction costs for a typical gut kitchen renovation will fall in the $50-100K range, depending on the quality of the cabinets and other materials. That the size of the kitchen may be very small does not necessarily mean it will cost less, as there are still plumbing, electric, and construction issues to deal with.

On the low end, materials for a very small kitchen might run about $15K, plus labor costs. On the higher end, that amount would barely cover the cost of appliances. What’s important is to choose a level of finishes appropriate to your home, that would be expected by buyers comparing homes of similar value. That means an Ikea kitchen may be the perfect solution to a starter apartment on a low floor, while a classic pre-war in a prime location merits a very high level of quality and finishes.


Bathrooms, even though they are often the smallest rooms in the house, can be the most expensive per square foot. This is because they are the “wet” rooms of a home. They involve major plumbing and tile costs.

The typical New York City 5′ x 7′ bathroom will generally cost about $30K—$55K to renovate, depending on materials and whether the tub is replaced. Handmade tile or an intricate layout can add $10-20K. The going rate for labor is $18-25K, and materials can run anywhere from $6K to upwards of $20K.


In my experience, one of the biggest miscalculations first-time renovators make is not admitting they are doing a gut renovation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this exact statement: “It’s not like we’re doing a gut renovation or anything; we’re just redoing the bathroom and kitchen, fixing up the floors and painting.” Guess what? That’s a gut renovation!

Those tasks will necessarily precipitate reworking your lighting and electric plan, usually means you’ll end up changing your heavily-painted-over doors and hinges, and it often makes sense to rework traffic patterns at the same time. It can be a budget buster to back into a gut renovation one addition at at time. The TV program This Old House has long pointed out the “While we’re at it” syndrome. My preference would be for you to anticipate the full project and know what size budget to set aside before demolition begins.

If you’re looking for the best VALUE, a gut renovation will give you the greatest payoff. If there are several areas you plan on changing, and you expect to keep the apartment for at least 4 years, getting it all done at once is your best bet. The cost of renovating will only rise later on, and doing it piecemeal absolutely costs more. If you have to be inconvenienced, better to do it once and enjoy it longer. Plus, the larger jobs are more attractive to contractors, and more likely to attract better talent.

For the level of finish that most homeowners will opt for, a gut renovation of a 1-bedroom apartment would typically involve construction costs of about $225-$350K; a Classic 6 will typically run $300-500K; a Studio apartment will run about $125-300K. Naturally, it’s possible to spend much more, and there are many renovations in this city that run well over $1 million. On top of construction costs, add design, filing, and possible storage/relocation costs.


There are many variables. Basically, a postwar apartment in good shape, with low ceilings, sheetrock walls, and no mouldings, is much cheaper to paint than a pre-war apartment with high ceilings, damaged plaster, and lots of details. You can expect to pay, per room, $800—$1200 for the former, to upwards of $6000 for the latter, with every variation in between.

My advice: Don’t try to save heavily-painted over moldings. It’s cheaper, faster and healthier to replace old moldings with new wood (which won’t be coated in lead paint). The plasterer will have an easier time skim coating large flat areas, rather than trying to work within panels. New moldings will have a crisp, clean profile and can usually be matched to the originals.

Doors should be considered on a case-by-case basis. As attached as I am to old doors, there are few city contractors still willing to strip old paint (especially if it contains lead). The contractor will likely prefer replacement doors, which can be matched very closely to original styles. Wherever possible, try to refurbish original hardware and hinges; they can often be stripped simply by boiling in a pot of water. If the old finish is damaged they can be re-plated.


The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) considers two types of renovation: “Type II Alterations” and “Repairs.” The latter is cheaper and faster, but the former is not necessarily to be avoided.

Basically, if your renovation keeps within the footprint of the original rooms, does not move fixtures, and does not change doorways or walls, your renovation will probably be considered a “repair.” In this case, you’ll only have to file the plumbing and electric, and your approval should go faster.

However, there are circumstances where filing is required either by your managing agent or local law, or triggered by an item on your wish list that is too compelling not to do. I can advise on whether your project is likely to trigger filing during our initial consultation. If it does, you’ll want to anticipate roughly $7–10K in filing fees, and additional time for approvals.


While labor fees have barely kept pace with inflation, the cost to do a renovation in NYC has risen substantially over the last 20 years, largely due to the requirements of co-op and condo boards and DOB rules. You may not be aware of these requirements until you start your own renovation: Most buildings require $1-5 million in liability insurance to protect the interiors of the building from damage; they may additionally require riders to protect curbside trees and property. If your building requires an “Action Over” policy, you may have a very hard time finding a contractor to take on anything less than a $1 million project. Requirements for licensing, lead training certificates, and workman’s compensation also add to construction costs. In addition to these official costs, anticipate the unspoken costs of tipping building staff copiously.