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Alteration Chronicles

“I’m selling my apartment,” Mr. X said.

“But you just bought it.”

“I don’t care. All lI want to do is fix up the kitchen and we haven’t even begun and the whole thing is becoming such a production and looks like it’s going to cost so much that it’s not worth it.  Maybe I should just move out.”

“But you haven’t moved in,” I thought.

Of course when I pressed, I found out it was more than the kitchen.  Walls would come tumbling down so new pocket doors could be inserted, old radiator covers would be removed and replaced, shelving would go up to make room for books and artifacts.. In short it was a Type III Major Alteration in building parlance, though still in the scheme of things relatively restrained with the apartment’s electrical and plumbing footprint remaining intact.

I decided it was the perfect test case to see if renovations can be undertaken in a New York co-op without losing your sanity and without getting into any major battles with the board or your neighbors.  Of course I had to promise not to reveal the identity of Mr. X or the building – at least until the work’s done – so all I’ll say is that it’s not far from Lincoln Center.

 “It took the Architect two months to draw up the plans. They’re beautiful.”

Knowing the aesthetic sensibility of Mr. X, I knew sight unseen that I could probably frame them and hang them on my wall llike a work of art.

“So what’s the problem?”

“The contractor. I got a list of five from the super, but I already called three and I didn’t like any of them, and the super doesn’t like the one I am considering.”

First mistake, I thought but kept my mouth shut, sort of.  Sure I know lots of buildings have lists of “approved” contractors, but that’s a little too close for my comfort.  Unless there’s something totally idiosyncratic about the building and its systems, in which case I don’t know that I’d want to live there, I’m not sure there’s a good reason for requiring you to pick a contractor from such a finite mini pool, in a city where there are probably more contractors than apartments.

“I haven’t even gotten estimates yet, but the numbers the architect says to expect are off the wall – hundreds of thousands. Personally, I think when they see the address they jack up the price.”

Not an unrealistic concern, though there are ways round everything

I’m cheap.  I buy the $20 skin creams, not the ones for $200. When I do stuff in my apartment, admittedly not on the scale of Mr. X, I try to go under the radar and find someone through the grapevine, not allied with architects or decorators or even buildings, a factor that tends to add to the cost.

“Why don’t you call Mr. A, he made me a handcrafted built-in bookcase that looks like it was born with my apartment, and didn’t charge a lot.”

“I have to send in a pile of checks with the alteration agreement,” I’m not sure Mr. X heard me, not that I’m even sure what its says.”.

“Let me have a look,” I said fearing the worst, though it wasn’t that bad.

“You have to pay a $5,000 security deposit, to be forfeited if the work isn’t finished within 3 months.”  In comparison to the Alteration Agreement recently proposed by the NY Bar Association, that empowers boards to collect upfront untold thousands in estimated charges and late fees, I. thought it was almost reasonable. (See, The New Rules of Renovating, Part II) “You get a 30-day grace period, but after that you have to negotiate a new alteration agreement.”

“And pay another $5,000?”

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