Renovating During COVID-19: What You Need to Know

This drool-worthy kitchen renovation was completed before the New York State pause order. (Amory Wooden/354A Gates Ave.)

The quarantine has been wreaking havoc on individuals and industries across the city. But for NYC homeowners renovating during COVID-19, the pause is creating a uniquely stressful situation.

The NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) had to implement Governor Cuomo’s executive order to halt all nonessential construction, which impacts most residential projects. It has created a slew of problems for renovating homeowners, from permit issues to living in ongoing construction sites. 

For Amory Wooden, the Senior Director of Marketing at StreetEasy, the stop-work mandate created a mountain of questions about what will happen to her Fort Greene home’s gut renovation project. 

“Trying to get a construction loan during COVID has been a nightmare,” she says. “You can’t get an appraiser to come to the house, banks are hesitant, and it’s hard to get anything notarized. Plus, we only budgeted for the house to be vacant for a certain amount of time. We’re panicked.” 

Wooden’s situation is similar to many others. A recent New York Times article told several renovation-disaster stories. So, what are homeowners to do? Here, experts offer answers to some burning questions amid the pandemic. 

What Is Considered Nonessential Construction in NYC?

The Governor’s executive order halted nonessential construction across the state in late March. The DOB is responsible for identifying projects as essential or nonessential. Those deemed essential include affordable housing projects, utility projects, and hospital projects. Everything else, including apartment alterations, is filed under nonessential and has been put on pause.

According to NYC DOB Press Secretary Andrew Rudansky, that means more than 35,000 construction sites across the five boroughs had to shut down. However, even if your project was initially deemed nonessential, you can submit an online application through the DOB NOW system to try to flip the decision.

DOB plan examiners review each of these requests on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether the project is necessary and what work will be allowed to proceed. This application portal was created for projects such as emergency work, work performed by a solitary worker, and work where the developer is unsure whether their project is considered essential under state and city guidelines.

Are NYC Contractors Allowed to Work? 

While renovating during COVID-19, the short answer to this question is yes. But of course, it’s complicated. 

The list of approved essential and emergency construction sites that can work is shown on the DOB’s real-time Essential Construction Map, which is updated several times a day. Only locations on the map are allowed to continue construction.

General contractors like Stephen England of Capital Craftsmen, which specializes in high-end residential Manhattan apartments and townhouses, fall into the nonessential category. Therefore, they are on pause. “However, we are fully functional from a management perspective, bidding on projects and planning,” England says. 

It is important to note that New York State guidance does allow for renovating by a single worker during COVID-19 under the Solitary Work exemption, provided that worker is the only person on the worksite. Also, things like safety and inspection are considered essential, according to Steven Wakenshaw, an architect and partner with DHD. “There still could be things happening,” he says. “A contractor can be doing essential work on a nonessential job.” 

Can Residential Buildings Ban Renovating During COVID-19?

Even if you have just one worker in your apartment taking care of a portion of your project, individual condo and co-op buildings can prevent any work from happening. That could create problems with management and co-op boards. 

“Owners in this situation should be talking with their property management company contact as the first port of call,” says England. “If this is a nonstarter and they wish to pursue the matter further, they could inquire with a construction attorney. In reality, most owners will not go that route for financial reasons, and perhaps to avoid creating some tense relationships long-term.” 

Wooden also notes that it’s more likely a neighbor will complain, since more people are at home nowadays. “The volume of construction complaints is through the roof,” she says. “So trying to sneak the work in is not easy.”

Unfortunately, according to England, the best solution at present is to monitor the governor’s updates. Currently they show May 18 as the first potential day for construction. 

What’s the Status of DOB Permit Reviews?

The DOB is providing 100% of the services they did before the outbreak of COVID-19 in NYC, according to Rudansky. It continues to review work applications that are filed. But it is limiting the amount of in-person interactions at its offices. 

“Drop-off boxes are available for permits and permit renewals, yet some applications must be performed via the eFiling system,” said England. “So, the DOB is functioning, but be prepared for longer processing times. I would advise anyone who needs new or revised permits to contact their expeditor for specific help and timeframes, as per usual.” 

When Will NYC DOB Reopen?

The DOB offices are open, according to Rudansky. Due to the critical public safety role the department plays in NYC, they never fully closed down. All of the offices are currently open on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

However, the department has created online and mail alternatives for most of its filings/transactions and is strongly encouraging the public to use those options instead. “We are urging people to visit a DOB office only if it is necessary,” he says. “As a result of our efforts, we have seen an over 90% reduction in foot traffic in our offices.” 

Currently, the DOB does not have a date for when things will return normal.

How Much Does it Cost to Pause a Remodel During COVID-19?

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer, and the scenario causing the most grief for owners.

“Every construction contract will deal with this differently,” says Wakenshaw. “And the cost to the owner will vary greatly depending on the project phase. Many contracts will have legitimate claims on the delay; others may have removed pandemic as a cause for delay. All pauses will have a cost. The contracts will decide who pays for it.”

In the residential space, property owners like Wooden are now having to stay elsewhere for longer and only had a set amount of funds set aside to complete the renovation project. 

“Our construction loan is only for a year,” she says. “If we can’t get permits or construction doesn’t resume soon, we’re going to have a big problem. We can’t keep paying our rent and our mortgage on the townhouse.” 

Of course, in addition to owners, contractors are losing revenue streams, and many construction workers are now unemployed or furloughed. “The financial impact across the board is big, and nothing we have collectively seen before in our lifetimes,” says England. 

What Are the Dangers of Doing Unpermitted Construction? 

During COVID-19, DOB inspectors are active and issuing fines. 

According to Rudansky, the maximum penalty for a single work-without-a-permit violation is $25,000. But, depending on the scope of the illegal work, and other violating conditions found, they might issue multiple violations. That’s in addition to issuing a stop work order, preventing any further construction from taking place.  

“As with any construction work that does not have the correct plans on the job site or the correct permits, the risk of violations is not something any owner or contractor should be taking,” says England.

What Can Owners Do While Construction Is on Hold?

Although current COVID-19 restrictions prevent a lot of renovation work from happening, there are legal things you can still do to keep the project moving forward. 

“It’s a great time to move forward with design, do your filing, submit to the DOB, etc.,” says Wakenshaw. “There’s a lot of processes that happen without anyone being on site. Use this time to have virtual meetings with your architect.” 

Wooden is using the time to order all the materials for her renovation. “I want to get the construction moving as soon as restrictions are lifted,” she says. “If everything is ordered and ready to go, hopefully we won’t have to wait any longer than we already have.” 

Original article on StreetEasy is accessible here;

Ways to Save on Your Kitchen Renovation

Renovating a kitchen is never cheap.

The average national cost to update a 200-square-foot kitchen, including installing new flooring, semi-custom wood cabinets and standard appliances, is roughly $62,000.00, according to Remodeling magazine, which tracks the cost of home improvement projects annually. Adding luxuries like stone countertops, a built-in refrigerator, a commercial-grade cook-top, designer faucets and top-of-the-line custom cabinets can bring the cost six figures, on average.

But there is another option. Instead of a full overhaul, consider giving it a face-lift with these helpful designer tips –


A bold paint color and modern hardware can can wonders for just ordinary cabinetry. Add some new graphic laminate flooring for added impact and you will have yourself a revitalized kitchen for an extremely cost-efficient fix. ($5,000-$7,000)


 For cabinet fronts made of material that cannot be painted or stained, consider refacing, also known as resurfacing, which involves keeping the existing cabinet framework and replacing all the doors, drawer fronts and side panels with new ones. The cost for all new cabinets would run in the $20,000 range vs. the refacing cost of about $2,500. Work with what you have. Create an accent wall to add depth and contrast. Add rollout shelves, a new range hood and modern light pendants for functionality, design and elegance.


If your cabinets are too far gone to reface, open shelving will reduce the cost of upper cabinetry. With this method, you are only paying for the piece of wood to make the shelf and the bracket to hold it up — not an entire cabinet box, which is a lot more in material and labor. It also eliminates the need for hardware, which can quickly add up.

Another way to reduce the cost of cabinetry is to use particleboard where no one will see it. Having all-plywood kitchen cabinetry, although sought after as required, your cabientry does not have to be made full of plywood. While plywood should be used under the sink (in case of a leak), using particleboard to build out the upper and perimeter cabinet boxes is a way of saving $1,000 , if not more depending on the size of your kitchen.


Look at it as not only a money saver, but as a possible stress reliever! It can be pretty easy to do over a weekend with a friend or spouse. First and foremost, you will want to switch off your circuit breakers, water and gas. Remove appliances and plumbing fixtures first, followed by cabinets, backsplash and counters.


For a clean-looking countertop on the cheap, nothing beats butcher block. You can get one for as little as $99 at Ikea, which sells precut butcher-block counters in standard sizes. Butcher block brings warmth to an otherwise sterile kitchen and has a number of practical applications. Look at it as having a built-in cutting board throughout your kitchen.  Keep in mind that there is some maintenance involved in keeping butcher-block counters looking new: They need to be sanded and oiled regularly — typically twice a year.


Moving walls, electrical and plumbing is where you will see your costs significantly increase. But while you’ll save by keeping those components in place, you shouldn’t skimp on functionality. If moving that corner sink will improve the flow of your kitchen, don’t hesitate to adjust the layout. Or find an alternative that solves the problem.


Trick of the trade – How to Cut your Countertop Cost in Half

 Marble countertops are timeless, refined and luxurious. But budget-friendly? Not really. That is until you employ this genius design trick.

The strategy: Fake the thickness of any countertop so it looks a hefty three inches tall, but is, in fact, just 3/4 of an inch. The look of a thick, substantial stone top is well sought after but it can often be cost-prohibitive. This is an elegant solution to achieve a chic look while on a budget. We’re not talking penny savings here – we’re talking cutting the cost of your countertop in half ! Depending on the size of the surface, you could potentially save up to 40-50% on material costs.

The execution: Once you have your marble slab selected, your contractor will begin with measurements. If the space calls for a 24-inch countertop, your contractor will add a couple extra inches of width to achieve the subjected “trick-of-the-trade.” Your contractor will template your countertop to have a “mitered” edge (or mitered book-matched edge). A mitered edge adds more stone to the underside of a countertop slab creating a distinguished look through the illusion of a thicker slab. 

Paul McCartney’s $15.5 Million Central Park View



A duplex penthouse at 1045 Fifth Avenue, a bronze-glass apartment building in a neighborhood where limestone and brick prewar co-ops are more the norm, sold to Paul McCartney and his wife, Nancy Shevell, for $15,500,000. The monthly carrying costs for the 10-room aerie, PH15, near 86th Street, are $12,935.00.

The former Beatle and his wife paid the full asking price for the apartment, which entered the market for the first time in February. A big selling point, undoubtedly, was the panoramic view across the Central Park reservoir, visible on each level from more than 800 square feet of wraparound balconies reached through glass sliders. But Mr. McCartney and Ms. Shevell will likely have their work cut out for them: Little has been done to the unit, which, according to the listing, has five bedrooms, five full baths and one half bath. The couple can use the apartment as a part-time residence — unlike many of the co-ops on Fifth and Park Avenues, this one permits pieds-à-terre.

Here is a look inside the multi-million dollar penthouse:


Downtown to See 1,350 New Condo Units by 2016

 The future of Manhattan’s condo market is Downtown.

Out of a total of 4,580 condos projected to hit the Manhattan market by 2016, nearly 30 percent will be located below 14th Street, according to a new report from the Marketing Directors.


At a breakfast briefing held at the W Downtown, the Marketing Directors said that in 2015, Downtown will see 22 new condo buildings with a total of 526 units. Two of the largest developments hitting the market this year are conversions, rather than ground-up construction, including Ben Shaoul’s 161-unit development at 100 Barclay, and the Chetrit Groups’s 49 Chambers Street, which will have 81 condos.

In 2016, the Marketing Directors projected 17 new condo buildings Downtown with a total of 823 units. In a twist, the location of the buildings will shift to the Lower East Side and East Village from Tribeca and the Financial District.

The Marketing Directors also said the scarcity and cost of land is impacting condo values. In prime Manhattan, standard land costs are roughly $900 to $1,000 per buildable square foot. That cost drops to between $500 and $800 per buildable square foot in second-tier areas, and $200 to $400 per buildable square foot in tertiary areas.

Andry Gerringer, the Marketing Directors’ managing director, said developers’ margins are being squeezed and as a result, many are “pushing the envelope” when it comes to sellout values. With developers hungry for buildable land, Gerringer predicted more condo development in East Harlem and Washington Heights.

Beyond Downtown, the Marketing Directors said Midtown East is projected to see 975 new homes, followed by the Upper East Side with 797, the Upper West Side with 745 and Midtown West with 700.

Adrienne Albert, founder of the Marketing Directors, noted there is “some slowing in the extremely high priced” condo market.

“Prices aren’t down, but absorption has slowed,” she said.