well, friends, better late than never, right? way back at the beginning of this summer, when i first introduced you to allie’s house (known on the ‘gram as #alliesetownhouse), i asked you what questions you had about the project, figuring i’d start off with a giant ol’ FAQ post.

obviously, that post didn’t come to fruition. at least, not right away. BUT, before we dive into the install stage of things, i want to talk about the basics. as i said, better late than never!

let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? here’s a sampling of what you guys wanted to know about allie’s house.

where is the apartment/your sister’s house/is it NYC? allie lives on the top floor of a two-family house that my parents bought about 5 years ago in easthampton, massachusetts (the town next to my hometown!). easthampton is a bit more “up and coming” and therefore, less expensive than northampton (where we grew up and where my parents still live). the home was purchased as an investment property.

does she own the bottom floor too? allie rents the top floor (yes, my parents are her landlords. yes, that is complicated.), and they rent out the bottom floor. the first year they owned the home, my BFF joia and her husband lived in the bottom floor (!!), now, it’s rented out to a local woman who is around my age. the home was built in the early 1900s (i think? maybe 1920?), so there’s charm to be found here and there. it was initially a single family home, but was turned into a two family by the previous owners, who lived on the bottom and rented out the top. there’s a large unfinished attic that i’m DYING to have my parents renovate (master suite! with a clawfoot tub! OBVI), and the house is pretty large overall, but there are certain layout things that i’d fix if we could.

are you renovating it? we are not. my parents did a few light renovations (allie’s bathroom, for one) when they bought the house, but that’s it. the downstairs kitchen was renovated in the 90s (i think), but allie’s hasn’t been in some time. the layout is SUPER wonky, the cabinets old, the floors linoleum, etc. i’m dying to gut it, but that would take money that my parents don’t want to pour into a rental property at this time (it’s perfectly functional, with updated appliances, as of now). this particular project is a redecoration, not a renovation.

what’s your process? do you plan and then find furniture, or find furniture then plan? a little bit of both! i definitely had a vision for how i wanted the space to look and feel (light, bright, simple, airy, modern, less cluttered, comfortable), but i started with furniture. more specifically, i started by searching my favorite affordable online shops (cb2, urban outfitters, target, article, west elm, wayfair, etsy, etc.) and pinned the SHIZ outta things. then, i began assembling design boards with my various options (one for the bedroom, and one for the living/dining area), swapping items in and out until things felt right. once we all felt good about the design plans (me and allie, as well as my parents, who have kindly offered to sponsor the makeover–more on that later!), i began ordering.

what’s your budget? $4k for the entire place. as briefly mentioned above, my parents are kindly sponsoring this makeover. i have been keeping detailed budget spreadsheets that i’ll likely share at a later date, so you can all see exactly how that $4k nets out across the various spaces (it doesn’t go as far as you’d think when you’re effectively starting from scratch, furniture-wise). those who have been following along/reading here for a while may recall that my parents helped me buy my place (they gave me a lump sum that i used for my down payment and my renovation; i have a 30-year mortgage for the rest).

i would not call my family rich, but that’s all relative, and most certainly in the eye of the beholder. what i will say is that my parents have worked really hard for their entire adult lives, and are very smart savers and investors. they also grew up solidly upper middle class. this has resulted in allie and i being able to go to college with minimal loans, and never once having to worry about the roof over our heads or the food on our plates. we are incredibly, amazingly lucky. while i don’t consider us spoiled brats, we have certainly been afforded opportunities that others have not.

in short: we are privileged to have grown up the way we have (and so too are my parents!), and i don’t for a second forget that privilege is to thank for most, if not all of the opportunities i’ve had, and the life i have. also: i’m white, which adds to that privilege.

i’ll admit, i’m nervous to talk about this so openly. but i feel like not talking about it does you all a disservice. i respect you, and i think (hope) you respect me, and respect my honesty. it is an incredible achievement to buy a place in NYC, and not one i take lightly. i have a solid income and a solid job–and i still could not have saved up the kind of down payment i needed to buy my place without help.

ACS_1375but back to allie’s place!

is it hard to be on the same page about budget? like i said above, my parents are, and have always been, incredibly generous. but i can’t lie – working through the budget with them has been tough at times. they prioritize different things than i do, financially, and while they have been amazing at letting me “do my thing” there have been more than a few conversations around what’s “worth the money” and what’s not. one thing that i think has saved us throughout this process (which has been a bit rocky at times) is the idea that the budget has been set from day 1. we had $4,000 to redesign an entire apartment: living room, dining room, bedroom. so long as i stayed within that budget, my parents and sister mostly let me decide what money went where.

how do you design for smaller spaces/rooms that will serve multiple purposes? it remains to be seen if i will pull off doing this well, but because allie effectively lives her life within 3 rooms (as do i here in NYC!), those 3 rooms need to work REALLY hard. in talking with her about what she wanted for her home, a few things became clear: her bedroom needed to be a safe space, a haven that was, for the most part, just for sleeping, TV watching (though i discourage even this!), dressing, etc. allie has an (almost) full time job in IT, and has been working her way through her college degree while working, so her desk space is a) ginormous and b) very important to her. such a giant workspace wouldn’t fit in the bedroom, which, while not tiny, isn’t giant. that meant it had to go in one of two other places: the living room or the dining room. allie’s never had a true dining room, and one of her big requests for this redesign was a big table where she could host friends for game nights and dinners.

if you’re following this process of elimination, there’s only one area left for her workspace to go: the living room. that means carving out a (rather large) corner of the room in which she’ll hang out, host friends, and watch movies on her (ENORMOUS) tv for her workspace. that’s a lot of boxes for one room to check, don’t you think? so, how will we do it? that leads me to your next question.

what will the ‘smart, simplified storage’ be? allie’s home has a few closets, but none of them were built out. if you’ve been following along on instagram, you know we built out a bunch of shelves in one of her bedroom closets. what i haven’t yet shared is that we’re also reorganizing a good-sized closet in her dining room. we’ve painted a pegboard that we’ll be hanging in there to organize her cleaning supplies (cleaning sprays, mops, swiffers, dusters, etc.)–which will help get stuff off the floor, and up on the wall. doing so leaves room on the floor for larger storage items (storage bins, etc.). we’ll also be “building up”: ordering a new (much taller!) bookshelf that will find its home in the dining room. then, in allie’s workspace, we’re eyeing new drawer storage (right now she just has old plastic storage, which a) doesn’t  hold up all that well and b) looks super cluttered. i also plan to install a corkboard wall in her desk area to tack up things she needs to remember (calendars, notes, etc.), which will help get the clutter off her desk.

what type/brand of paint will you use? i’m admittedly not an expert in this, but happy to tell you what we used! we only repainted her bedroom, partially due to time and partially due to the fact that the grey walls in her living and dining area (which we painted when she moved in) are still in relatively good shape. in that room, we used benjamin moore swiss coffee on the wainscoting (a warm beige tone that appears grey in certain light) and went for a satin finish (just the tiniest) bit of sheen. on the walls, we used benjamin moore in simply white, and went for a matte finish.  i used matte paint throughout my entire apartment here in NYC, and while it doesn’t wipe clean as easily, it hides imperfections way better than a glossier paint would (the old guard would’ve used eggshell for the walls, semi-gloss for the wainscoting). i’ve heard great things about other brands, like sherwin williams, dunn edwards, and obvi, farrow and ball (which i’m dying to use someday!), but my man ben moore has never let me down.

what is up with the ceiling tho?! this was my FAVE question, because honestly, guys, SAME. like i said above, this house was sort of renovated from its early 1900s roots over time, but not particularly well, and not particularly recently. that means that a few of the “updates” are, in not so many words, NOT CHIC. allie’s bedroom ceiling, while not beautiful, is relatively normal, but in the kitchen and dining areas (aka almost everywhere else), the ceiling has these weird office space-esque tiles that a) can’t support much weight and b) are very ugly. that said, as stated above, this is not a renovation, nor is it a project with an unlimited budget. so, we’re making the best of what we have, and trying to work with the space and money we’ve been given. my hope is that we’ll have so much good stuff “on the ground” that people won’t look up. but to all of you who sent me this question, I FEEL YOU.

ok, this feels like a good place to end. after all, i doubt any of you have read this far (shoutout to those who have! you are true champions!). if you have indeed made it to the end, and you have more questions, drop them in the comments below, or shoot me a message on instagram. i’ve loved interacting with you all throughout this project, and can’t wait to show you the finished result.


so, remember all the pretty above? that was my kitchen design plan, which i shared a month or so ago. it included all the finishes, the flooring, the paint colors and the inspiration–but it was missing one crucial piece of the puzzle: the appliances.

as i wrote about yesterday, i AGONIZED over the purchase of my refrigerator and oven (and to a lesser extent, my dishwasher). why? because i love to cook, and so i wanted to make sure i was getting the very best. but also, mama’s on a verrry tight budget, so not only did i want to get the very best, i wanted to get the very best bang for my buck. that meant that although i would have loooved to go all spurge-y on viking and sub zero and wolf, there was simply no way. my finances helped to narrow things down…somewhat. see, there are a surprisingly large amount of appliances available in the median range of things.

speaking of ranges, another thing that complicated the issue was that i was VERY particular about the kind of range i wanted. see the oven below? it can be yours for just $400. and it will probably work JUST FINE. but that ugly back panel, with its ginormous buttons and oversized screen? i did not want that. AT ALL. NO BACK PANEL FOR ME.


this simple fact complicated things. i quickly learned that ovens like the above are called “freestanding” ranges. as in, they can stand on their own, floating in space, unanchored by silly things like countertops. if you want an oven with no back panel, you need a “slide in” range. and that immediately a) slims your pickins’ and b) makes things WAY MORE EXPENSIVE.

of course, me and my stupid expensive taste had to go and ruin things again. instead of $400, i was now in the $1500-$2000 range. YIKES.

that being said, the one item i was willing to splurge on was my stove. see, i’m a girl that LOVES to cook, and loves to bake even more (like, to the point that i’ve toyed with the idea of opening a bakery someday). so while i could live with a not-so-fancy fridge and dishwasher, i simply could not live with a sub-par oven. and i really, really couldn’t live with a freestanding range with that UGLY BACK PANEL STARING AT ME EVERY TIME I PUT A TRAY OF COOKIES INSIDE IT.

my family tried to talk me out of my “no back panel” obsession, but i could not be swayed. so i looked at a few different options. first was this kitchenaid model, which was straight up REALLY, REALLY pretty. i have a longstanding love affair with my kitchenaid mixer, and so i thought sure, why not? kitchen aid is reliable, there’s no back panel, this baby is beautiful, let’s do it.


kitchenaid oven, $1498 | rated 57 by consumer reports


then i started reading the reviews. and consulting consumer reports. and it turned out that for all its beauty, and the fact that it was selling like hotcakes, people didn’t really love their kitchenaid ovens. they didn’t even really like them, in some cases. and consumer reports gave it a 57 (for reference, the highest rated stove on their site gets a 79). WOOF.

the next contender was this GE model, which was relatively well-rated by the folks online. commenters liked it, but consumer reports gave it a 73 (not terrible, but also, not great). i’ve had GE appliances in my rental apartment for the past 7 years, and they’ve held up great. GE is generally known to be a reliable brand, but a deep drive into the online reviews revealed that GE wasn’t what it used to be, and that many people had issues with their newer GE appliances, this stove included.


GE cafe oven, $1598 | rated 73 by consumer reports

of course, there was also the fact that it simply wasn’t as pretty. out it went.

the final contender was the very first stove i had fallen in love with. it was a samsung model that was as pretty as the kitchenaid range–AND it had better reviews! unfortunately, it was also the most expensive range by about $200. but i mean, look at it. it’s BEAUTIFUL!


samsung oven (the winner!), $1798 | rated 77 by consumer reports

that’s some restaurant style shit right there, amiright?! but a budget is a budget, and i was determined to stick to mine (i had given myself $1600 for the oven). so i had to find $200 somewhere else.

that’s where the fridge came in. i needed a 30″ model (#apartmentliving), which narrowed my choices down quite a bit. but i also really wanted a french door on top, bottom freezer design, which narrowed things down even further (most french door style fridges are around 33″-36″ wide; a fine size for someone in suburbia, but not for a single gal in new york city). my top choice was this samsung model, which i first came across at home depot and fell in love with almost immediately.


samsung fridge, $1298 | rated 74 by consumer reports

it was oh so sleek on the outside, and oh so functional on the inside. there was an ice maker in the freezer (non-negotiable in my book), and it boasted 21.8 cubic feet of storage in its itty bitty 30″ body. but it was also sort of pricey. i was ready to take the plunge, but before i did, i decided to run my choices by a home depot online chat associate. being the amazingly helpful person that she is, my new friend elizabeth informed me that there were a few very similar models i could look at before selecting the samsung above.

one of those was this LG model, which was basically identical, but also, $200 cheaper! HALLELUJAH!  SEND THE LITTLE ANGELS DOWN TO DANCE AROUND ME! i had found my $200 savings!


LG fridge, $1098 | rated 75 by consumer reports

i immediately freaked out to elizabeth about how excited i was to find this fridge, and thanked her PROFUSELY for her help. i’m sure she was all, someone get me off this online chat, this woman is a crazy person, but really, i was so thankful! home depot, if you’re out there, your chat associates are seriously the best, and have been SO helpful throughout this process. it is RARE to find good customer service out there, and so far, HD has hit it out of the park.

so, i now had the oven and the fridge covered. that left the dishwasher.

my parents raised me to be a bosch girl, all the way–they are the undisputed leaders in dishwasher land. but here’s the thing: i was already buying a pricey oven. and while many dishwasher brands are all, “IT’S SO SILENT YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW IT’S RUNNING!” “CLEANEST DISHES EVER!” “SHORT CYCLES” the reality is that all a person truly needs is a box that washes their dishes in a relatively short period of time. silent is nice, sure. so is a stainless steel interior. but i have been washing dishes in a white plastic GE box for seven years now, and i don’t feel as though i’ve missed out on any of the amazing benefits above.

would it be nice to never have to hear my dishwasher? i mean, i guess so – but i don’t really mind the sound of running water. if i close my eyes, i can almost pretend i’m sunning myself under a waterfall instead of sitting on my couch watching house hunters.

all of this is to say, i felt very strongly that i did not need to spend $600 on a dishwasher (yes, that’s what nice ones cost, and that’s the STARTING POINT! crazy!). but $400…$400 i could do.

and lucky for me, this whirlpool gold (which a salesman at PC richards told me was basically equivalent to buying a bosch!) model was on sale at home depot for that exact price.


whirlpool gold dishwasher, $400 | rated 75 by consumer reports

was it the fanciest? no. did it have a stainless steel interior (which would have cost an extra $100)? no. but as consumer reports said, “if you only run your dishwasher while you sleep, you’ll find lots to like in this low-priced whirlpool, which had superb washing, drying, and efficiency.”

SOLD! as a bonus, consumer reports informed me that whirlpool was the most reliable dishwasher brand. SOLD AGAIN!

so, as a reminder, here’s where i landed:

samsung oven: $1798 on sale at home depot (originally $2499)

LG fridge: $1098 on sale at home depot (originally a staggering $1799)

whirlpool gold dishwasher: $399 on sale at home depot (originally $599)

total price for kitchen appliances: with tax, i ended up paying just about $3500. if i hadn’t bought during a sale, that price would have skyrocketed up to almost $5k. can i get an amen for buying on sale?

do i know, with 100% of my being, that these are the VERY BEST APPLIANCES for my budget? no. but i don’t think i could ever know that. here’s what i do know: minerva at home depot west 23rd street told me that i was buying well, and that i had made good choices.

and guess what? all any newly-christened 30 something wants to hear is that she’s made good choices.

you know what costs a lot of money? a gut renovation. you know where a gut renovation costs a SHITLOAD of money? in new york city, that’s where.

when i started this process, i had this idea that we would set a number in our brains of how much things could cost, and that would sort of be that. we’d find ways to magically save money, i’d stumble upon an amazing farmhouse sink (exhibit a, below) at the chelsea flea market, and things would just sort of fall into place.


let me tell you, as far as i can tell, that is NOT how this thing’s going to go. in fact, despite what you (or at least, i) might think about being able to save money, there are no two ways around it: this shit is majorly f-ing expensive. like, are we dealing in monopoly money expensive.

i have received estimates from two different contractors, and not only were their bid documents WILDLY different, but so too were the estimates themselves. as in, there was a nearly 30k difference between the two (that alone should give you an idea of how crazily expensive this will be).

maybe it’s the avid HGTV watcher in me, but you know, when they do this sort of thing on TV, and something goes wrong, the contractor always seems to find a way to make up for it elsewhere in the budget. this sort of thing happens all the time, right? you look at the electrical panel and you say, hmm, that’s from 1932. that will need to be replaced. but you think, well, whatever, i’ll just buy a cheaper countertop. and on tv, that’s exactly what happens. the property brothers tear open a wall, and they realize that all the wiring is knob and tube and could basically set the house on fire if it’s not replaced. so they replace it all, and they tell the homeowners that it’s going to cost them 12,000 to do so. and that they have to give up the amazing gas fireplace installation that they were SO counting on, because, you know, they live in middle of nowhere canada (where most HGTV shows are filmed) and it’s COLD UP THERE.

eHs0SIddXxs.market_maxresthe homeowners are usually all, “noooo! we had our HEARTS set on that fireplace!” and the property brothers say, well, sometimes we have to make tough decisions, and then the show cuts to commercial. in real life, the homeowners would not get a fireplace. in fact, they’d prob have to give up their new tub too. but on tv, what happens is that, unbeknownst to the homeowners (but obviously broadcast to the viewers), the PB’s decide that they really want to make the homeowner’s fireplace dreams come true, and they secretly install a super fancy one so that when they film the big reveal the couple is all, “OMG YOU GUYS!” and then usually they cry.

my point in all this is that i kind of thought that when my contractors told me that all my electrical had to be redone and that it was going to cost a lot of money and i might not be able to knock down the wall between the entryway and the kitchen to make a breakfast bar, i didn’t really believe them. because in my head, i thought that maybe the property brothers were going to pop in and be all, “you know what sarah, we know that you realllllly want that breakfast bar, and we’re going to find a way to make it happen within your budget.”


they ARE cute though, aren’t they?

sadly, tv is not real life. and the property brothers, cute as they may be, aren’t coming to save me, or my renovation, anytime soon.

in real life, you actually DO have to make the tough decisions. in my case, i have to make choices such as:

  • custom/semi-custom cabinetry (much more expensive, but also, way better and maybe a better investment) vs. ikea cabinetry (cheaper, but crappy quality)
  • recessed lighting ($$$) vs. some sort of weird under-cabinet + flush mount light situation ($-$$)
  • crown molding ($$) vs. no molding and therefore, less charm ($)
  • breakfast bar ($$$ but oh so amazing and OMG, open layout!) vs. no breakfast bar/keeping the galley kitchen ($ but ugh, galley kitchens)
  • new closets ($$$) vs. not enough closets ($)

all of these are, in my mind, tough choices. the hardest being the breakfast bar, which i really, really want, but which is also likely the greatest money saver should i choose not to do it.

the contractors have both been talking to me about “investment potential” and how it’s “better to do it now than later.” both of these sentiments are true and relevant. they are also expensive.

real talk (even when my heart doesn’t want to hear it): i do have a budget. that budget has a little wiggle room, because as unrealistic and green as i am in this process, i know that nothing ever costs what they say it will cost. but a budget exists. and i have to stick to it. and that hurts. i mean, WHO DOESN’T WANT A BREAKFAST BAR?

it would be helpful if i was just the tiniest bit handy, or could build literally ANYTHING on my own. which reminds me that in 7th grade, i was actually REALLY good at woodworking class, and that i made an entirely wooden car that still “drove” really fast, and a multi-sided photo box for my parents that they probably have buried in a box in my basement.

unfortunately, i am not just not handy, i’m also basically the world’s greatest idiot when it comes to ikea assembly, which means that even if i go for ikea cabinetry to try and cut costs, lord knows i’ll be paying people to put them together and install them.

the bottom line here is this: renovating things is expensive. renovating things in new york city is REALLY expensive. like, the kind of expensive where it hurts your soul and every dollar feels like someone shot a dagger straight into your heart. and even if i don’t want to admit it, 50% of my budget is going to go towards things i can’t see. like plumbing, and electrical, and subfloors. ouch.

the bright side? i’ll know that behind my freshly painted walls are some realllly fabulous, safe electrical wires that are prepared to handle all the gorgeous light fixtures i plan to install…

…that is, if i can find any in my budget.


last week, when i first received the draft contract for the grand apartment, my lawyer sent a list of “key takeaways” (his assumption being, of course, that i wouldn’t read the entire contract myself. BUT I DID. not that i understood it, but i tried!). the list looked a little something like this (key areas removed for privacy’s sake):

  1. Purchaser – Sarah Jacobson
  2. Apartment – Apt X, Grand Street, New York, NY 10002
  3. Apartment to be vacant and in broom clean condition at time of closing with the standard items listed in 1.11. Anything else they told you they would include in terms of personal property or furniture? this one made me laugh. pretty please, could they leave behind the ugly dorm light and random bookshelf in the bedroom?
  4. Purchase Price – keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  5. Contract Deposit – 10% of total purchase price (YIKES) (Due at the time the Contract is signed by you)
  6. Closing Date – On or about May 2, 2016 (this changed)
  7. Maintenance –keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  8. Assessment – None.
  9. Loan Amount – keeping this under wraps for obvious reasons
  10. Occupants – Sarah Jacobson
  11. Pets – None. this had to be corrected to include the queen of my life, my cat, penny lane
  12. Seller’s Rider 42 – Please Review and confirm that all is true.
  13. Appliances – Seller is not making any representation that any of the appliances are in working order. Are you replacing them all anyway? this also made me laugh. i kid you not, i asked my lawyer to write “please remove the fridge” into the rider to ensure that whatever dead body is hiding inside there will NOT be in my apartment when the keys are turned over to me. 

following this list, my lawyer had another one. this one was made up of “everything he could find out about the Corporation (apparently, that’s what the co-op is called) and the building.”

and in that list was this SNEAKY LITTLE ITEM:

Flip Tax – 25% of the net of any first sale of a unit and after the first sale its 15% of the net sale price or $5,000.00, whichever is greater.

i’m sorry, SAY WHAT? i read it multiple times, then read it again. after i handed over all of my savings, a good chunk of my inheritance, my first born, an exhaustive list of my financials and also my soul, THE CO-OP WAS GOING TO TAKE 25% OF THE APARTMENT WHEN I SOLD IT?

oh HELL no.

i called my broker. he told me he’d mentioned this to me, that flip tax was a common thing in the new york real estate world.

look: i know i tend to have selective memory. that and i smoked too much weed in college and so sometimes my memory just isn’t that great. but i swear to god, NO ONE had mentioned this tax. and CERTAINLY, no one had mentioned it in the context of my making an offer on the grand apartment.

my broker tried again. he explained that while i had correctly understood the concept of flip tax, i hadn’t interpreted the ruling above quite right. the “first sale,” he told me, refers to, well, just that. as in, the first people to sell the apartment following its conversion from a rental unit to a co-op unit would pay 25% of the profitbasically, it works like this:

seller A: the lucky person who was living in the unit when the building went co-op in the 1980s. likely got the apartment for a steal (seriously, i don’t even want to know what they paid, it’ll make me cry), and then made a BOATLOAD of money the first time they sold it. let’s just say, for shits and giggles, they bought the apartment for 80k.

seller A’s flip tax situation went a little something like this:

purchase price: 80,000

selling price (the first time the apartment was sold by seller A, the original owner): 500,000

profit made on the unit = 500,000 (selling price) – 80,000 (purchase price) = 420,000

flip tax = 420,000 x .25 = 105,000.

INSANITY, RIGHT? basically, seller A had to hand over 100 grand of their profit to the co-op. you know, because life makes no sense.

i thought this was the situation i was in.

while i wasn’t exactly right, i wasn’t exactly wrong, either. because the “first sale” already happened, my piece of the pie is “only” 15%, not 25%. that softened the blow, a little bit. and that 15% only applies, remember, to the profit i make – not to the gross selling price.

a little research, along with more discussion with my broker, revealed that flip taxes are pretty standard in new york city co-ops. they allow the co-op to make money without having to jack up the maintenance (which, i should add, is quite low in this building).

in other words, as frustrating as that 15% is, there’s no way around it. though it may not be the LOWEST in all the land, it’s also not the worst case scenario (that would be a flip tax percentage that applies to the gross selling price. OUCH).

all parties involved in the transaction (broker, lawyer, mortgage broker, and a few other smart people i talked to) agreed that while 15% wasn’t, you know, great, it also wasn’t the end of the world, nor was it a reason to walk away.

so, i signed. but may this be a lesson for all future apartment hunters: ask about the flip tax, and ask about it early. preferably before you fall in love with a future home and imagine raising your little four legged friends (and maybe even some two legged ones) there.

hindsight’s 20/20, right?




Taylor-Kinney-Going-Make-One-Superhot-Husbandrecently, i met my dream man. he was experienced, smart, nice, helpful…all the things you look for in a man.

did i say man? i meant contractor. recently, i met my dream contractor. his name was charlie, and he was experienced, smart, nice, and oh so freaking helpful. like, the MOST helpful, even though he legitimately owned me nothing and had no reason to be so.

that’s not him, above. that’s taylor kinney, who is ACTUALLY my dream man (and could easily be my dream contractor too, with those muscles).

let me back up a bit.

at the advertising agency where i work, we have a process called “triple bidding.” it refers to bidding a given job out to three different companies/people/production houses at once in order to a) find the best (wo)man for the job and b) get the best price.

my broker advised me to do the same thing for the grand apartment: do a walkthrough with three different contractors, get three different estimates, and go from there.

so that’s what i did. the first contractor, jan, came highly recommended from my broker himself. the second was manny, a recommendation from a family friend, a woman who swore (in her thick new york jewish mother tongue) that he’d “done some really nice stuff” at her place. the third was a man who i’d followed on instagram for a year, following his feature on design*sponge. his name was charlie.

let’s start with contractor 1.

contractor 1 (jan):

a soft-spoken, enterprising new yorker who comes from the czech republic, and boasts a lot of work experience on the lower east side.

estimate: around 65-70k


a kitchen done by contractor 1

above is an example of jan’s work. it’s not bad, not by any means. it’s simple. it’s not necessarily my taste. but it’s workable. after touring my soon to be space, jan walked me over to an apartment he was currently working on a few blocks away. when i entered, three workmen were chipping away at installing sheetrock and fixing plumbing. the space was clean, and the renovation appeared to be moving along smoothly.

jan and i had a slight language barrier, which was probably exacerbated by the fact that i don’t really speak dude, and i REALLY don’t speak construction dude. but all in all, he was lovely, albeit quiet.

now on to contractor 2.

contractor 2 (manny):

a fast-talking, native new yorker who mostly works in westchester but swore he and his guys could do a bang up job in manhattan proper.

estimate: 89k

despite the fact that the only other manny i’ve ever known was my 8th grade boyfriend, who i routinely drunkenly hooked up with in the backseat of cars throughout high school, i really, truly, wanted to like manny. i wanted him to be the one. my mother loved him, because her friend susan loved him. and my mother’s opinion means a lot to me.

when manny did his walkthrough, he brought his cousin, who walked around with a measuring tape and took very official-looking notes. i thought that manny and i spoke the same language, though he talked as fast as a born and bred cabbie from deep brooklyn. i had faith in manny. manny promised to send examples of his work, along with references.

he did neither. and then his estimate came in 20k more than jan’s.

so i did what any reasonable girl would do. between a rock and a hard place, i decided to reconsider charlie, who i’d essentially been online stalking for a better part of a year. okay, online stalking is extreme. what i’d been doing was following his work, and hoping that maybe, someday, i’d have a home like the ones he designs. see exhibit A below.

contractor 3 (charlie):

charlie (also known as dream contractor), whose company, cw property group, specializes in taking old, decrepit spaces and turning them into something fresh, pretty, and livable.


exhibit a: my dream kitchen, designed by charlie, executed by his company

in my heart, charlie was clearly the most qualified man for the job. so despite my gut feeling that he’d be waaaay out of budget, i emailed him, and asked him if he’d come and look at the space.

well, folks, turns out, my gut was right (guts and mothers: never wrong). after doing a walkthrough of the space last week, charlie called this morning, and told me his guys hadn’t even finished the full estimate, but they were already close to 100k.


finding your dream man, and then finding out he’s too expensive…it sucks.* ain’t no two ways about it, hearing a number like that hurts. honestly, hearing ALL the numbers above hurt. this isn’t monopoly money, it’s real money. it’s money that belongs to my family. money that is the result of hard work. it’s hard to think of parting with such giant sums–and even harder to think that those giant sums don’t even cover it.

but, you know, buying a home is expensive, and so is renovating it. at least, that’s what i keep telling myself. that, and inhale. exhale. inhale. exhale.

so where does that leave me?

while i’ve been advised not to go with my cheapest option, because that’s a potential recipe for disaster, i will likely be awarding the job to jan. here’s why:

  1. he’s the only one i can afford. the truth hurts, people.
  2. he seems like he really WANTS the job. manny on the other hand…not so much.
  3. the in progress space he showed me a few weeks ago looked pretty damn good.
  4. one of the references on his list is “mr. jeremy piven” who i am obviously assuming is THE jeremy piven. that’s a reference i WILL be calling.

also, if i play devil’s advocate…

cost doesn’t always dictate quality. in fact, charlie (contractor 3) flat out told me his guys “were not the cheapest.” not going to lie, ripping off that bandaid hurt

my (not at all educated) guess is that part of the difference in price will manifest as a) a little less “customer service” (aka, i’ll have to do lots of checking in and following up) and b) a little jerry-rigging in terms of finding my cabinets, appliances, lighting, etc. all on my own.

a note to self (and to anyone else who tries to do this after me):

i’ve learned that most contractors do NOT include any surface materials beyond sheetrock, paint, baseboards, doors, etc. in their estimates, so everything from countertops to tile is on me. likely, those will be the places where i’ll be hunting on my own, tracking things down, getting them shipped/delivered, and perhaps, most importantly, making sure they’re budget friendly. if anyone has any tips on budget friendly places for tile, fixtures, lighting, appliances, etc. HIT ME UP. 

in the meantime, in the words of alessia cara, i’ll be over here, pining over my dream contractor, and hoping that someday, somehow, i’ll be able to afford his services.

*i recognize that this is a total champagne problem.