You’ve been in your condo for a few years now. Or maybe you just moved in. Yet some of the compromises you made - the not quite perfect kitchen, maybe an owner’s bedroom layout that was suboptimal - are wearing on your nerves. It is time to make some changes.
The thing is, not all home renovations are the same. Renovating a condo presents unique challenges you need to be aware of. It boils down to being neighborly. In this case, being neighborly ranges from a friendly heads up to adjoining property owners, to compliance with ordinances from the HOA through the Federal government.
The images in this article are in the Watergate building in DC’s West End. The properties in this building have an ownership style called "co-op," which are not technically condos. This link provides an article that describes the difference between the two ownership styles. However, the considerations when renovating a home versus a luxury condo or co-op as described in this article are very similar.
To give you a clear sense of how to proceed, here are a few of the differences between a luxury condo (or co-op) renovation and a detached single family home renovation:
Home ownership is not complicated. You own and are responsible for maintenance on interior and exterior, both structures and land. Condo ownership is a little more nuanced.
Be sure to understand the type of ownership you have in your condo unit before starting any renovation work. Some condominium individual ownership starts with the inside walls of the unit, with everything else under common ownership. Other legal condo descriptions extend individual ownership to exterior walls and roof - so just read and understand your condominium ownership documents clearly.
Logistics and Permitting
Renovations require a lot of planning and coordination with design and renovation firms, government entities, subcontractors, material vendors, and more. For a standard detached single-family home, these logistics can include tree protection plans, a stormwater management plan, city/county/local permits, engineering studies, property surveys, special taxes or assessment, and historical review.
For your condo renovation, there are other logistical considerations, such as:
- Renovations may require HOA (condo association) Board of Director approval.
- Working hours - the condo board may also have requirements regarding hours in the day when construction activity can be carried out. This may limit the actual number of working hours per day due to the need for set up and clean up of not only the construction area but of common areas in the building and loading dock.
- Parking and access to elevators may be limited and cost extra. Because of restrictions, an interior renovation such as a kitchen remodel may take longer to complete than you remember it taking when you remodeled the kitchen in your house years earlier.
As long as they have room in their schedule, design and renovation firms generally won’t pass up work on a typical single-family residential home. The same cannot be said for condo renovations. With added restrictions like limited parking, the need to use elevators or a series of stairways to get equipment and materials on site and other logistical challenges, the list of qualified design and renovation firms willing to do a condo renovation will likely be smaller.
In home renovation, if you need more space, you can add on. If the location of an electrical outlet or plumbing fixture isn’t optimal, you can relocate it. You can run additional plumbing and electrical lines. If you want more interior light, you can basically point at a spot and say, “I want a window there.”
None of these options is available in a condo renovation. In most cases, it is essentially an interior renovation. Interior walls can be moved or removed, as long as an engineer determines they are not load bearing. But plumbing, electric and heating infrastructure are basically fixed, especially in older buildings.
Magnificent things can happen with the right design/construction team. They can devise workarounds to some challenges, but your overall awareness of structural limitations ahead of time will give you a clearer sense of what is possible in your condo renovation.
Upgrading Your Lifestyle
Often a condo is located in an urban or town center. For many, the walkability and ease of maintenance in a condo are a big draw. Not having to deal with exterior maintenance, or rely on cars as the only way of getting from home to your destination, these are some of the reasons you chose a condo in the first place. You’ve upgraded your lifestyle to what you want, now it’s time to upgrade and renovate your condo interior to match.
Although the differences between condo renovation and home renovation may not be vast, it would be a mistake to think that your design and renovation firm could successfully use a “one size fits all” approach. It is critical that you work with a renovation company that understands the fine points of differentiation between condo and single-family home renovation.