It seems that every time a brownstone is listed as a House of the Day, the debate begins. How much will it cost to renovate and decorate? Estimates of $500,000 and over a million are common numbers thrown around. But what about those of us who want to renovate a brownstone and aren’t sitting on $2,000,000?
The naysayers will say if you don’t spend several hundred thousand dollars, then you’ll be living in a Home Depot special. I will say that renovating and decorating a brownstone can be done nicely and on budget with a lot of research and patience.
I also understand that having this entire debate is from a position of privilege — if you’re in the market for a brownstone in Brooklyn these days, whether your renovation budget is $50,000 or $2,000,000, you’re doing fine. But with that being said, here are some tips to help with renovating and decorating. (more…)
Designing the bathrooms in a narrow house was a challenge. One option was to forgo having an office to accommodate a massive long master bathroom. I’ve never been the type of person that needed a huge home or bathroom — and I always wondered who were those people on HGTV that insisted on having double vanities. So the smaller but fully functional master bath won out.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The en suite master bath is in no way tiny. It does have a tub and standing shower but there isn’t much room in there except for the necessities and I’m fine with that. The master floor tiles came from a company in California. I searched high and low for inexpensive patterned concrete tiles and there isn’t such a thing.
And the electrician put the bathroom sconce too low. To remedy that problem, I need to a find a horizontal medicine cabinet.
To save on costs, the new guest bathroom is actually an existing bathroom off the hall in the old house configuration. Crazy how much money you can save by not moving plumbing. The downside is that things are really tight but cozy. The Moroccan-inspired floor tiles in the guest bathroom, pictured above, were also pricey but luckily I didn’t need a lot. And at the store where I purchased them, if your designer or architect places the order then you get a 10 to 15 percent discount, depending on the style. The wall tiles are from Overstock.com.
I’m debating adding a shower enclosure to the claw foot tub. Reviews from my few overnight guests have been mixed. My mom loved not having an enclosure, as did my friends who stayed over with their kids. But another set of friends said the current setup was awkward. But I must say, I love not sharing a bathroom with guests.
And finally, the half bath is on the parlor floor. Nothing special here, just some turquoise paint, an old gold mirror and some relatively inexpensive floor tile. My one regret on this bathroom is that I didn’t just splurge again and select marble for the floor tile.
The toilets in all the bathrooms are dual flush. Better for the environment and only slightly more expensive than a traditional flush toilet.
Click through to see photos of the other bathrooms.
The summer has been incredibly busy. The house is about 90 percent complete. Due to budget constraints the garden will have to wait until next year. But the good news is that the kitchen is finished! Last we left off, I had picked out a marble countertop. I’ve been living with the marble for almost a month now and so far so good. Two dinner parties with lots of red wine and accidental lemon spills and the marble is still going strong.
The marble countertop was installed by the fabricator and the entire process took about an hour. At the end of the installation the team applied a professional grade sealant on the marble. Sealant is key to keeping marble mostly stain free. It has also helped that I picked a slab of marble with lots of imperfections. My slab was already flawed, what’s a few stains here and there? Plus it was much cheaper!
The cabinets are Ikea, which I’m less than thrilled with at the moment. I already need to replace one of the drawers due to poor alignment. The dishwasher and refrigerator are both Fisher Paykel and are floor models purchased on eBay at about 60 percent off retail. The stove is NXR and was purchased at Costco. The wood floating shelves were custom made.
Editor’s note: We’re impressed with how the kitchen turned out, especially considering this is a budget renovation financed with a 203K loan. Click through for lots more photos.(more…)
Having a backyard was pretty much at the top of our list when we were house hunting, partly because outdoor space in New York City seemed just as luxurious as our own washer and dryer, but mostly, for our dog. (more…)
In March, WyckoffHeights.org reported big changes are coming to the corner of Knickerbocker and Willoughby, right across from Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick. The two-story church at 260 Knickerbocker Avenue is slated to be converted to an 11-story apartment building designed by Scarano protege and now-prolific Williamsburg architect Nataliya Donskoy, which would make it the tallest building on the park.
We were curious about the progress, and figured it would be well along by now. But in fact, the plans were disapproved this month and there is no sign of construction at the church, not even a rendering or, of course, any kind of permit. (more…)
As you may recall, in our last installment, I was dealing with the “no-show” plumber and was in the process of firing him. Firing a plumber is actually much more difficult than I thought. The plumber has to agree to withdraw his permit from the job or agree to allow another plumber to work under his permit, or the owner has to send a letter to the DOB outlining his negligence, and after review the plumber could be removed.
Well, my plumber would not agree to withdrawing on his own, and going the DOB route would add weeks if not months to an already delayed job. In the end, I was stuck with him. He continued to leave work half done, late and unacceptable. In the end, I ignored his objections and had another plumber finish the work. The real drama may ensue when he has to close the job. (more…)
About a year ago, we had modest plans to complete our already pretty well established garden with a few shrubs, but one thing led to another and we ended up replanting most of it. We had been looking for peonies and maybe some hydrangeas to fill in a few holes but could never find what we wanted in the quantities we needed. (more…)
Please welcome our latest renovation blogger, Pamela Capalad, who will be posting here monthly about the renovation of a Bushwick row house. Long-time readers will remember Pamela and Brian Kushner, aka Dyalekt, who together purchased a two-family row house in Bushwick for $190,000 plus $145,000 for a renovation with a 203K loan. Dyalekt is a musician and playwright and Pamela is a financial planner who also blogs at So We’re Buying a House! Her latest venture is called Brunch and Budget: The client provides the meal and Pamela provides the financial advice. We are excited to tell you that Pamela andDyalekt have finished their renovation and now have furniture and art on the walls! Pamela will post more about that in the coming months. This week she is writing about solar panels.
Now that the house is done, on to solar panels!
Getting approved for the home equity line of credit turned out to be less painful than we thought it would be. It wasn’t the grueling back and forth of our refinance (where they grilled me about every item on my credit report and asked me to call American Express to tell them to change the fake — for security purposes — account number on the credit report to the real one so it would match up with the account statement); in fact, it was only a little more cumbersome than opening a credit card.
Even though the house was done, it wasn’t done. We had all these plans when we started that now we finally had brain space to think about and prioritize. Did we want to work on the backyard first and fully be rid of any evidence of heroin needles? Maybe install the projector and surround sound so we wouldn’t have to squint into our laptops to see which Lanister was betraying who this week? Should we throw a big paint party and have our artist friends finally put a big mural on our side wall?
Nope. Solar panels.
Of course we wanted them for environmental reasons blah blah blah, but I think part of it was we just wanted to give a big middle finger to ConEd in any small way we could. (more…)
Last we left off things were moving along at a steady pace. The electrical work was moving and my contractor had started the framing. And I started working with a garden designer, hopeful that I could even tackle the backyard before summer. And I also put my rental on the market — it rented in two weeks. You can read about the rental updates here. What do they say about nothing good lasts forever?
First problem was finding a plumber who was within my very limited 203K budget. The budget was $8,000 and included updated one existing bathroom, one new full bathroom, one half bath,washer/dryer connection, and plumbing for the kitchen. The plumber I wanted to use and does amazing work was just too expensive — his bid came in at more than double the plumbing budget. I asked around for a few recommendations and interviewed a few plumbers.
The plumber I chose came highly recommended but more importantly he was within budget. Well, everything started off right but then he disappeared for a few weeks. Daily calls, angry voicemails and promises to show up landed us three weeks behind schedule. Which means I’ll be camping out with friends after June 1 for a few weeks until at least one of the rooms and a bathroom is completed. I’m in the process of firing the plumber.
But I’m incredibly thankful for my amazing support system — including the Brownstoner community who tell me to keep pushing and that one day it will all be worth it.
Above, the kitchen in the rear of the parlor floor with its electrical, framing and Sheetrock. Click through to the jump for more photos of the progress or lack thereof.
After six months of legal wrangling, eviction notices, numerous stays on those notices and calls, the tenant I inherited finally moved a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, she was living in the owner’s unit (I have been living in one of the rentals). Since then it has been non-stop work at the house. The day after the tenant vacated my contractor started the demo work, above, and the following week he was onto framing.
Now, I’m not one to complain about a contractor working fast but I want to make sure that the quality of the work holds and that we have time to plan things out. The latter issue is one I created: For example, I did absolutely nothing about selecting lighting until the electrician showed up on Saturday morning asking for the lighting plan. Umm, I want a ceiling fan here and a chandelier here…oh wait on second thought. Yes, now I know why contractors get frustrated with their clients. (more…)
When I told people I was buying a fixer upper in Bed Stuy, one of the more popular responses was a warning about horrible contractor experiences. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about the entire prospect of finding a reputable contractor.
Choosing a contractor with a 203K loan is a bit of a process. First the 203K consultant will come and write up a report on the amount of work that needs to be completed. Work such as electrical and plumbing upgrades, and a new roof (if needed) would be the work that would come first in the consultant’s estimate. Next is the work that you want to complete — cosmetic things like new kitchens, new bathrooms, and flooring. Cosmetic upgrades will really depend on the loan amount and the amount of structural, plumbing, electrical and roofing work that needs to be done. Next, the consultant will give you two reports. One report will have all the work outlined along with the estimated costs. The other report will have only the outline of the work without the costs. This is the version you will give to contractors to bid against.
I sent out bid requests to three contractors but really any number you feel comfortable with is fine. One contractor was recommended by my architect, one recommend by my real estate agent and one by the Brownstoner Forum. (more…)
From the contractor’s perspective, the 203K inspection is probably the single most important part of the 203K process. The contractor doesn’t get paid for his work until an inspection actually takes place.
But let’s take a step back. The 203K inspection is the official FHA inspection of the property, and it can only be done by the 203K consultant. When applying for the 203K loan, you are required to select a consultant. Based on budget and the scope of work, the consultant determines the number of “draws.” Draws are the total number of payments and inspections.
My project has a total of five draws. I selected my consultant based on the feedback I got on Brownstoner Forum last year. My consultant has been great and even gave tips to make the process go more smoothly.
When to schedule a draw? How it works is that your contractor will complain to you about how he’s low on cash and then you will tell him he needs to finish more stuff before you call the consultant. (I’m only slightly joking about this.) Prior to the first inspection, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. (more…)