Renovating a property in New York City can be uniquely challenging especially if you’ve never before managed a multi-faceted project with so many logistical conundrums to consider.
Dean Marco is an Associate Director at Dixon Projects, a company that provides construction and project management, architecture, and interior design services in the New York Metropolitan area. Before joining the Dixon team in New York, Marco developed his expertise working in construction and project management in Sydney, Australia.
Dixon Projects has completed more than 1,000 renovation projects in New York City, so we asked Marco to explain how the firm manages the process.
On Coordinating Deliveries:
Dean Marco: We can talk about this for an hour or five. There are major challenges. A ton of different coordination difficulties when you do a major renovation in a condo or co-op (in NYC).
Some buildings have specific days and times just for delivery. You have to make sure all of your suppliers can meet those days and times.
NYC deliveries are curbside. A pallet of tile might get dropped on the side of the street outside the loading dock, so you need a whole separate team ready to bring those materials into the building that day at that time. And the building might have a specific loading dock at a side entrance and different service elevator times.
A lot of people assume that they can handle these deliveries and coordinate themselves and they run into a heap of issues.
On Size/Space Issues and Damage Control:
Dean Marco: There are specific sized service elevators and hallways and runs up to the service elevators. You might need to get your stone (countertops) cut into certain sizes just to fit through the hallway and into the service elevator.
Every time you receive deliveries and every time you do any work; you need to setup protection in those common areas.
Marco provided a specific example: “You’re on the 7th floor of a building and you order a 36-inch stove unit. You can’t fit it. Now you have to get guys to carry it up seven flights of stairs instead.”
On Board/Management Considerations:
The rules for each building in NYC can vary considerably according to Marco. During the very early stages of planning, he said his firm always asks for a building’s alteration agreement, a document that contains rules and regulations for all types of renovations. The alteration agreement specifically identifies:
- Types of plans needed (architectural)
- Types of permits needed (Dept. of Buildings)
- Approvals needed (building and DOB)
- Insurance needed
- Licenses required
- Timelines and schedules to adhere to
- Common area protection needed
- Asbestos requirements
- Waterproofing and soundproofing requirements
Dean Marco: We get (the Alteration Agreement) as early as we can. Then we formulate a plan of attack to get the project moving into the pre-construction phase as efficiently as possible.
We’ve built up a good routine. We create a really strong and detailed scope of work for the board and building management team. We walk the site with the super. We go through all details and understand any potential options.
By the time we submit the first alteration package to the board and the building’s architect, we’re usually in a pretty good position where we’ll only have to do 1 or 2 reviews with the architect before we get their approval to file with the DOB.
On Working with the NYC Department of Buildings:
Dean Marco: Detail is the biggest word. If you have a pretty good attention to detail and understand what the DOB is looking for, you can preemptively put that into your filing set, and make sure that everything they’re looking for is according to plan and according to code.
We’ve been around the block with the Department of Buildings a few times now. We’ve done over a thousand renovations and we have our own in-house expediting team that we work with. We play by the rules to get things done properly.
It’s well-documented that Manhattan has recently brought thousands of newly constructed condominium units to the market. Purchasing a newly constructed unit offers a buyer the chance to choose the look and finish work. Are you in direct competition with that inventory? How does new construction compare with an older renovated unit? What are the pros/cons?
Different Properties for Different Clientele
Dean Marco: When you’re buying an older home or an apartment, you usually have the traditional charm in it that you would keep. (Like) old wainscoting, or a copper ceiling, or beautiful wood trim work in a brownstone — items that you just can’t replicate anymore. A lot of people end up restoring (that) and making it a part of their new home. Whether or not they go completely modern or transitional or keep it traditional.
It’s Real Estate, So Location is a Factor
Dean Marco: We see these new high rises such as — Hudson Yards or The American Copper Buildings – typically closer to the perimeters of the downtown area. While NYC has created alternate transportation to suit — Ferry Lines or New “7” subway stop, a lot of the more action-packed areas in NYC already have a dense buildup of older buildings — West or East Village, Soho.
Marco said it was “potentially cheaper” to buy old and renovate but was careful to point out that each situation should be judged case-by-case. The scope of work and material is different in every situation. He also recognized the higher potential for unforeseen circumstances with older buildings.
Dean Marco: All the types of things that could be problematic with buying an old home could be the same thing that draw people to them.
Are there situations in which a client can increase the value of their property by more than the cost of the renovation?
Dean Marco: We get people all the time where their main priority is not to overcapitalize. They are not trying to renovate their “forever home,” and might be anticipating a sale in the next 24 months.
We have a lot of clients that are looking to maximize value. We have the tools in-house to analyze and provide the correct advice on how much they should be spending and what they should be spending on to get the most bang for their buck.
Are the majority of the clients you work with paying for their renovations “out-of-pocket,” or are they financing the project?
Dean Marco: A smaller portion of our clients come to us using a renovation loan.
Banks that offer renovation loans often have strict disbursement schedules and require multiple inspections during the renovation project. Does that impact the timeline or how efficiently you complete the project?
Dean Marco: It’s more complex in the way that it adds another layer of approvals and reviews and it does take more time, more effort, and more eyes to move the project along. Because you’ve got a bank that is going to have to provide or give acceptance and then release cash.
A portion of our service is (being a construction project manager). We create full detailed schedules and estimate payment breakdowns and when we need materials. We can give as much information to the bank as it needs. It’s usually part of the service regardless. We try to make it as smooth as possible.
There are dozens of popular television shows that glamorize home remodeling. Most of them incorporate pretty amazing visual technology that can show someone what a property would look like after the work is complete. Is that standard when the cameras aren’t rolling?
Dean Marco: A lot of the clients we work with have a difficult time visualizing the end result. I’d consider renderings part of a group of architectural services to help visualize a finished product.
Marco noted that there is a wide spectrum of tools that are used to help clients visualize the end result, ranging from a simple elevation, to architectural sketches, to colored renderings. And for their biggest projects, when clients want to see exactly what they’re getting before they commit, Dixon can take that experience to the next level.
Dean Marco: Full virtual reality. Clients can come to the office, put on the eyewear, and virtually walk through their finished product.