Work Update

Well, we are still waiting for the Letter of No Objection.  It seems that the seller’s attorney received a notice saying it was approved by the examiner but not by the assistant commissioner at the DOB—whatever that means.  We are not sure what steps they are taking to appeal that decision.  Meanwhile, we are waiting with our completed paperwork to file an Alteration 2 application.  If indeed we do not get it it could set our renovation back a few months, which would be financially and emotionally painful.

apt floor plan

But onward and upward, we are going forward with updating the rental unit because there is work that does not require permits such as stripping and sanding the floors, repairing cracked walls, updating the electrical (which has its own separate permits) and replacing and/or repairing very damaged ceilings.

The Ceilings

After tearing out the drop ceilings, we hired a contractor that we have worked with before on the renovation of the bathroom in our current apartment.  We need him to  remove the damaged plaster ceilings in the dining area, living room and a small room of the bedroom so that we can proceed with the electrical work.  Then we will remove all the baseboard moldings to facilitate the wires for the electrical outlets and the cable wires.  Once the electrical work is complete we will go back and repair the walls and install new baseboard moldings.

small room before

The bedroom ceiling is in pretty good shape and it has nice moldings so we are going to try to repair rather than replace it.

The ceiling removal took less than a weekend to do.  With all the ceilings removed we can can now see what shape  the roof is in.  Except for some old water stains on the beams, everything looks pretty good but we will want our structural engineer to have a look just the same.  These ceilings may never be opened again so if any of the beams need reinforcement, now is the time to do it.

small room after

small room after

One  exciting find under our ceilings was the amount of clearance between the old ceilings and roof joists. In the small room there is nearly 2 feet of additional clearance which would allow us to raise that ceiling to 10 feet. In the living room and dining area we can raise the ceiling about 8 inches. Once we have an estimate from our contractor we’ll do a cost benefit analysis to decide if it’s worth the extra expense – after all this is the rental unit.

dining area before

dining area after

dining area after

living room after

Fifty Shades of Grey (Linoleum)

While waiting for the decision to the Letter of No Objection, we decided to get to work on the rental apartment since we are not doing any work on it that requires us to wait for building permits.  Also, we may need to cram into this one bedroom unit for a while because we will most likely sell our current apartment before the renovations have completed.

I have to admit when we first looked at the house, I saw this apartment as requiring only minimal work:  tearing out the linoleum and refinishing floors along with some paint and plaster work.  At second glance—the place is a dump.  Not really, but it is really showing its age in some places and you can tell a little old lady resided there once (flowered wallpaper and gingham curtains).

Our visions of removing the linoleum to find a pristine hardwood floor that had been protected over the years by the layers of vinyl were quickly dashed.  We started with the bedroom first.  Layers one and two came off pretty easily, the third lay  er (a wood imitation pattern) was a little more difficult because it had some sort of paper layer glued to it.  Eventually it all came off.  My favorite layer was the imitation shag carpet pattern with yellow and red squares.

Next, we tackled the dining area.  In here there were not three, but five layers of linoleum!  After the first layer, which we were able to cut and roll up, the subsequent layers were much trickier.

Eventually we got to the bottom layer only to discover that the person who installed it decided to make sure it would never come up putting a nail every six inches.  These were a lot of fun to get out.  The only interesting part in the process were the baseball cards we found from the 50’s between layer one and two.  Sadly, they were not well preserved—we could have used a Mickey Mantle in perfect condition to fund some marble counter tops.  The floors underneath are basically pine sub-flooring (no intricate woodwork here).  It looks like they were painted over as some point so they will need to be stripped (?) sanded and stained.  There are some areas where it looks like there was some water damage.  We will need to remove all the baseboards to complete this work.  They are not in great shape so we don’t mind but we will install new ones in the exact same style if we can.

Next on the agenda was dealing with the drop ceilings.  We have friends who removed a drop ceiling to reveal twelve foot ceilings with original molding.  We, however, had no illusions going in because a few of the acoustical panels had stains on them so we were pretty sure that the drop ceilings were added, not to reduce heating bills as was often done, but to cover up peeling plaster and water damage.   And… we were correct.  

The small room off the bedroom and the dining area both had acoustical paneling that was easy to remove.  As we suspected, lots of water stains and what looks like wood panels that were probably put up to stop the falling plaster due to past water damage. We know that no leaks are present because we have been to the house after heavy rains and saw no water leaking or wet spots.  It looks like we will have to remove these ceiling completely and put in dry wall.  The bedroom ceiling is in good shape except for some peeling paint.  The molding in there is nice so we will save that ceiling by skim coating the surface.

In Case You Were Wondering… How to Calculate Your New York City Property Taxes

When we were first reviewing the finances for our house, we were struck by the low property taxes that the current owner was paying. We knew we wouldn’t get as good of a deal but didn’t know how to estimate them. Calculating New York City property taxes had always been a mystery to me. For the purposes of estimating our future expenses we simply rounded up to the nearest hundred and doubled her payment. Unfortunately, this strategy was flawed and our property taxes are more than we thought. On the bright side, with the help of our attorney, we learned a quick way to estimate them and it is much easier than we expected.

Basically, there are just 3 steps.

Step 1: Look up the assessed value of the property according the tax department records. You can easily look this up on the website for free.

Step 2: If your income is less than $500,000 you qualify for the Basic STAR property tax exemption. To apply this exemption you subtract $1,670 from the assessed value found in Step 1. The amount of this exemption changes from year to year so verify the current STAR exemption rates with NY state’s website.

Step 3: Multiply the discounted assessed value by 18% and you have a good estimate of your tax bill. This rate applies to most residential properties such as homes and condominiums. The rate changes sometimes and you should verify it with the City’s website.

Here’s an example: Assuming the new home you’re looking at has an assessed value of $20,000 (assessed value has nothing to do with market value–so don’t freak out) and you qualify for Basic STAR. Your annual tax bill will be $3,299.40 that’s calculated by (20,000 – 1,670) x 0.18.

When you get your mortgage the bank should work with the title company to calculate your true tax bill for the next year (we learned the hard way). I believe they adjust the assessed value of the home in the process but it shouldn’t move by much and this formula should be accurate within a few hundred dollars.

There are a number of other exemptions you may qualify for if you are a senior citizen, veteran or disabled. If any of these apply I recommend researching this further on the NYC government website.