Pricing A NYC Home Renovation
Where should homeowners start when estimating construction costs per square foot for a full home renovation?
Chip and Mike: First, we need to understand the scope of the work. Is this a gut renovation, a renovation, or a la carte work?
Homeowners often confuse “gut renovations” and “renovations.” A gut renovation means that all interior walls come down. A renovation means that you are re-doing the space within existing walls, which is most common in NYC. It’s important to understand that difference because you can make costly mistakes if you aren’t planning for the right scenario.
Next, you need to plan for the material costs and labor costs. These can be fairly evenly split: almost half the cost of a renovation typically comes from the materials used in the finishes: tile, stone, millwork, paint, lighting fixtures, metal, glass, electronics, etc.
Got it. So if material costs and labor costs can be somewhat evenly split, that must mean that there is wide variation in the cost of labor, just like there is wide variation in the cost of materials that a homeowner might choose. How does that work?
Labor costs can vary significantly. We look at a scale that runs from AAA to C to classify categories of labor specialization. AAA, or “triple-mint,” is considered the highest quality and most labor-intensive work because every surface is new and finished. With AAA work, fixtures and finishes are “exotic,” meaning custom-made, and no mainstream products are used. In NYC, this kind of work can cost $500 to $2,000 per square foot. (photo below shows AAA work)
At the next level, you have AA work, which is high-quality and highly-customized. One step down from AAA but still excellent, you are looking at $500 to $1,200 per square foot. (photo below shows AA work)
A-level work involves a focus on custom joints, millwork, cabinetry, and hardware details and can range from $400 to $900 per square foot.
B-level work generally indicates “contracting” – a renovation where some, but not all, surfaces are being re-finished. You are probably installing pre-fabricated, stock items, and finishes are available to the general public at common retail outlets. This work typically ranges from $250 to $300 per square foot.
C-level work can indicate sub-par labor where visible shortcuts have been taken.
Wow – that’s a lot to think about. Are there any telltale signs of work at these levels? What details do you look for at $200 per square foot and at $400 per square foot?
Below $200 per square foot, you are often looking at cabinets sourced from a big-box store, which can be great in a laundry room or rental apartment kitchen, but are constructed of particle board or MDF. These pieces are functional and do the job, but they can’t begin to approach the functionality and beauty of custom cabinetry made from solid wood, which is designed to last a lifetime.
At the $200 per square foot mark, you might see nice tiles, well installed, with clean corners. Someone doing $200 per square foot work is paying attention and being careful and it shows.
At $400 per square foot, you start to see custom built-ins, fine finishes, and more luxurious materials—exotic wood grains, natural stone, marble, and bespoke millwork details that complement the architecture of the home. You will see custom door casements, door panels, and recessed lighting details at this level—all details that contribute to the overall quality of the work.
About the Editor:
RJ Diaz is a renovation and remodeling construction management executive in New York City. RJ is passionate about high quality, well-crafted construction and started RenovatingNYC in 2010 to share news and information specific to the industry as well as profile the best resources essential for a project’s success. For advice about your own renovation or remodeling plans, preliminary cost estimates and project opportunities, please contact RJ using the form below.