The Ins and Outs of Combining Units

April 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm Architecture

By Victoria Benatar 

Combining units is a great way to increase your living space in NYC especially if you have a growing a family or simply would like to make a smart investment for the future and still enjoy the perks of a larger property.

Unfortunately, combining units is not a simple mathematical equation of A+B=A+B.  The challenge here is to create (without excessive time, effort and resources) a product that is more than the sum of its parts. i.e. something more analogous to A+B=C.

To do so, you and your architect must first understand the space you currently have and then be able to visualize the space you want to end up with. Additional things to keep in mind include your needs and constraints (i.e. budget) as a homeowner, the rules of your building and the Department of Building required permits. I will explain using the following case study.

The Space

A couple of years ago, I worked with a couple who lived in a two bedroom, one and a half bathroom apartment on the Upper West Side with their small child. The original unit is labeled as apartment A in the image below. After moving in, they had the opportunity to buy the neighboring apartment – a two bedroom, one bathroom unit, labeled apartment B in the image. The purchase of this unit coincided with the birth of their second child.

Floor plan of Apartment A, 2 BR, 1.5 BA

Floor plan of Apartment A, 2 BR, 1.5 BA

The Program

The success of an apartment’s design or renovation is usually determined by how well the separate spaces flow and function together. Architects refer to the order and function of the space or apartment as ‘the program.’ As a rule of thumb, the program should reflect what the homeowner needs and wants from the space currently and what he will need and want from the space later on down the road.  In this case, at the time of the renovation the homeowners only needed a large master bedroom and a small bedroom for their single child.  In the future, they would need much larger living space to accommodate two kids playtime activities and a much larger children’s room to accommodate two sleeping arrangements.  It was also important to create some distance between the parents’ space and the children’s space so as to ensure some privacy.  See the image below for the combined unit program.

Program for Combined apartments A and B

Program for Combined apartments A and B

You must work with your building when combining units. And without a doubt, you will encounter the alteration agreement. The alteration agreement is the document that states the rules, regulations and procedures for any construction work – this applies to both coops and condos.

The alteration agreement will also indicate what you need to submit for building’s approvals. Usually it is a package including a set of architect’s drawings showing existing and proposed floor plans, a certificate of insurance and workers’ compensation from contractors etc.

Floor plan for combined units

Floor plan for combined units

Depending on the complexity of the project, the board can approve the project or pass it on to the building architect for comments and final approval. It is important that the communication occurs between the building’s architect and the homeowner’s architect – this will ensure that questions and concerns about the project are addressed in the comprehensively and professionally.

Approval must be received in writing and can take between two weeks and two months depending on the building’s organization\ and the project’s scope.

The City

After board’s approval, the drawings must be submitted for permits with the NYC Department of Buildings. This is generally done through an expeditor who will help you get permits and help you the units in one tax lot and block.

Permits with the city can take one or two months depending on complexity, unless the architect chooses to self certify 1 the project which is faster but gives the architect more responsibility.

The Budget

Whenever combining units, it is very important that the initial investment make sense for selling purposes in the future. The idea is to work creatively with what is there to get best use out of the space and the highest resale value from your investment.

The Construction

After building’s approval, the architect can execute the construction drawings for contractor’s bid & selection.  When the city permit is received the construction work can commence.

It is important to understand the NO work can be started without the required permits. Again, depending on size and complexity this process can take between 12-18 months.

The homeowner will need a final sign off to expedite combining the units into one lot & block.

1 (Self-Certification, officially known as Professional Certification, is a process by which licensed professionals may bypass a full review of a building project by the New York City Department of Buildings.)

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  1. Kash says:

    Hello: I’ve heard it is very hard to get a loan when combining two apartments. What mortgage companies or banks are allowing combined mortgages?

  2. A. Thomas says:

    This article’s very interesting to me, particularly because I just was looking at 123 Fort Greene Place (See–this condo development came about by combining townhouses to make six condo apartments! And the benefits are there for everyone to see–the living room alone is 40 feet wide!

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