The Do’s & Dont’s of NYC Design & Construction Projects

One of the top “Dont’s” made is… Trying to fit too much into a low budget.

This will result in:

  • Settling on the low budget contractor that might not be the best fit for your project.
  • Not being able to afford to hire an interior designer or having to settle for a less experienced designer.
  • Taking on all of the work yourself.
  • You will have to order 100’s of materials and quantities that will leave you pulling your hair out.
  • You will need to coordinate deliveries.
  • You will have to deal with items that get delivered with defects, damages, or missing parts.
  • You will need to Manage your board approval process which is more complicated and time consuming than the first board approval you had when you first bought the place.

“The Do’s” start with PROPER EXPECTATIONS & a Realistic Budget

If you don’t have proper expectations or you are trying to fit too much into an unrealistic budget you will turn away good, reliable, honest companies and you will most likely get stuck with a Yes firm. The ones who say yes to everything you want, don’t take all of the variables into consideration and end up costing you more than any other firm due to the amount of change orders and delays that occur.

Hiring the right firm will take you from the start line to the finish line without you feeling alone for a second.

The right contractor or company will have a team for each portion of your project. Whether it be design, project management, or billing. Having a designated point person for each part of your project ensures that your project remains organized and keeps moving forward. If your contractors, designers, or architects, need to do the accounting, procurement, or anything other than their primary responsibilities it will result in delays.

How do I know if it is the wrong company for my project?

  • The wrong company is a 1-man operation. An NYC renovation has way too many responsibilities and tasks for one individual, with a small firm. They take on too much without the right resources to fulfill the project in a timely manner, resulting in mistakes, delays, and quality issues.

  • The wrong company will not answer the phone when you need them and if that’s not frustrating enough, they will throw the problem back at you to resolve it due to their lack of time and resources.
    *Quick tip – Pay attention to how responsive they are before you hire them. How long does it take them to send you their proposal? Does their proposal have details that you didn’t think of yourself? A good firm will include crucial details that they know they will encounter. The wrong firm will leave important details out to keep their estimate as low as possible and hit you with expensive change orders once you start.

  • The wrong company will put you in charge of purchasing and deliveries because they do not have the time or the resources to take care of it themselves.

  • The wrong company will constantly be hassling you for money in advance of completing the work.
  • The right company will have the resources to handle any issues that arise and most importantly, resolve the issue in a timely manner.

  • The right company will handle order placements for materials to help avoid mistakes that will cause significant delays to the construction schedule if not ordered correctly and on time. The right company has someone dedicated to this aspect of your project/process.

  • The right company will have an accounting department, and a structured billing process that will help you keep track of the 100’s of thousands of dollars of invoices and payments.

One of the BIGGEST DO’s

Hire a firm that you trust, with an extensive amount of experience managing New York City design and construction.

To showcase their expertise, ideally, this firm has completed dozens of projects similar to what you’d like to achieve for your own space. This is extremely important when considering who you select to handle your new project. This will prevent a multitude of errors, unforeseen details and issues, change orders, and ultimately will reduce the overall cost and time of your project. Inexperienced designers will more often than not design something that results in a 30%-70% increase in budget before you even begin construction. Or you will have to redesign the project delaying your project by weeks.

How do I know if I am hiring the right designer for my project

Here are some tips to increase your chances of hiring the right Designer.

It’s hard to select the right designer when you don’t know what to look for. Clients often make their decision based on pictures, price, and their personal connection with a designer. However, there are additional aspects that are equally or more important to consider.

In order for a Designer to know the implications of their design they need to have experience with the following:

  1. Experience specifically in New York – and especially if you are doing construction in a prewar building you need a designer that has completed more than 12 interior design projects from the design phase to the end of the construction phase.

  2. Trade knowledge – how can your designer know the implications & cost of their design unless they understand what it means to move a wall, a sink, stove, convert a bathtub to a shower, or move a gas line?

Clients are led to believe that a designer’s main job is to design a beautiful space but there is so much more to a successful project than aesthetics. Yes, their job is to design something beautiful, but it is also to design within your budget and the established timeline. Designers can’t calculate the cost of their design and the time it will take to implement the design unless they have the extensive knowledge of the 3 major trades (construction, Plumbing, electrical) and have been involved in two dozen projects from start to finish.

Experienced designers have been involved in many projects similar to yours and have encountered and dealt with many past learning lessons that you will benefit from. Inexperienced designers have not had the opportunity to learn from these experiences and will be learning on your dime and your time.

For talented designers, the truth is, a beautiful design itself is not difficult for them to create. But without the proper experience and skills a beautiful design that is within your budget, timeline, and lifestyle needs, it is!

Here is a list of questions to ask a designer or a design company before hiring them.

How many years experience do you have in NYC only?

Will you be creating a detailed CD set (construction document) of the design? If yes, does that set include electrical plans, Tile layout, Plumbing location plan, Demo plan, finish fixture locations, and detailed Millwork plans?

Having a CD Set is like having a road map for your project. It will prevent mistakes and redos that will cost you time and money. Plus, most buildings will require detailed plans to approve your project. Here is an example of a detailed CD Set.

If your building has an alteration process, Are you familiar with an alteration agreement?

If they do not have experience dealing with a coop or condo alteration process they may end up designing something that your board won’t approve or a design that will require an architect, engineer, or additional permits that will cost you additional time and 10’s of thousands of dollars.

Will you be making sure that we have everything we need to submit to the board when the design is done? What happens if my board rejects your plans? What if they require additional information?

If you are renovating a prewar building, How many prewar buildings have you renovated? The more projects they’ve completed in prewar buildings the more unforeseen circumstances they will be able to predict early on to help you negotiate better prices from the contractor before you start construction. As opposed to, being in the middle of construction and have no choice but to approve unless you want your project to stop or are willing to fire your current contractor and start all over with a new one.

What are the most costly expenses in my renovation that are unavoidable?

This is one of the most important questions to ask. If they can predict 80% of the change orders that can arise you will save money, time, and headaches.

While you can’t predict all of the unforeseen circumstances what are the most common unforeseen /change orders I can expect?

Knowing the most typical change orders such as upgrading your Plumbing or electrical lines can help you better understand your spending so you can keep your project within budget. Not knowing them will keep these costs hidden until the very last minute.

How do I know if my apartment is up to NYC electrical code?
First, they will check your electrical panel to make sure the panel can handle all of the new electric you are adding (appliances, outlets, lighting, AC, etc.) Next, they will verify that you have the correct quantity of outlets in each room in your apartment. And lastly, they will verify you have the required amount of hardwired smoke and carbon detectors.

Have you ever run into a situation where the walls were too shallow to add additional outlets and light switches? If yes, what did you do to resolve the issue?
If the walls are too shallow you need to build them out or demolish them and rebuild new ones with a 2-1/4” depth to accommodate the outlets and switch boxes.

If you’re thinking that this has nothing to do with design, you’re going to find yourself sorely mistaken. These sorts of details will determine if you, for example, have to drop the ceiling or run a soffit to accommodate all of the additional electric. More importantly considering these aspects will help you budget properly so you don’t end up blowing your budget on material and get stuck with spending 120% more than what you budgeted for.

This can be a lot to take in and can feel overwhelming. It’s hard to know who to trust. Even we as professionals get duped from time to time but if you have a reliable team, they will problem solve every issue you run into.

That’s why it’s so important to hire the right firm.

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