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Condo Renovations

As sales of condominiums grow, so does demand for luxury renovations.

More people are moving from leafy, sprawling suburbs to more urban areas, neighborhoods both in the city and in Northern Virginia that offer close proximity to restaurants, jobs, cultural activities and Metro.

Sales of condominiums in Northern Virginia are up, with growth in sales of condos outpacing both single-family homes and townhouses in the past year, according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.

Both “echo boomers” (30-and-under) and retiring baby boomers want smaller homes near public transportation, shopping and workplaces, driving up the demand for condominiums, Lisa Sturtevant, deputy director of GMU’s Center for Regional Analysis reported to NVAR in March.

With the growth in demand for condominiums comes growth in demand for condominium renovations.

One local company BOWA, a residential remodel and construction firm based in McLean, is responding to that trend by bringing on a new project leader, Mark Miller, with expertise in condo remodeling and commercial construction. Miller and BOWA say they are responding to the demand to push the boundaries of luxury condo transformation.

Most upscale condominium buyers will select a location where they want to live first, and then search for a condo to buy, said Miller, who is an Arlington resident, often in older buildings.

“Condos come in all different sizes and flavors,” Miller said. “Years ago people didn’t even think of renovating a condo.”

People moving from larger suburban homes often are not satisfied with the smaller room sizes, utilitarian kitchens and cramped bathrooms that are typical of many condominiums.

“But now we can change the footprint from smaller rooms to open layouts,” Miller said, creating room for luxurious kitchens open to spacious entertaining areas, luxurious bathrooms, audio/visual spaces and even outdoor spaces.

When renovating a condominium, Miller says they see some very demanding cooks. “They want high-end appliances. … What clients want for their finishes is high end residential.”

“Ten years ago, it was not even possible to produce that environment in a condo.”

Some clients are renovating even in brand new buildings. “People will buy two units and combine them. Sometimes they are looking for different space than the [condo developers] are willing to do,” Miller said.

RENOVATING CONDOMINIUMS is fundamentally different than renovating a single-family home, and it requires very different expertise, even if the desired outcome inside might look similar.

“It’s a completely different animal,” Miller said. The permitting and approval process is far more stringent, requiring commercial standards in many cases.

“The normal renovation process is completely different in a condominium building. The structural systems are different,” Miller said. “The stakes are so much higher.”

In a condominium renovation, you might have 10 very close neighbors who are concerned about noise. Just the installation of a dryer vent is likely to require a permit. Delivery of building materials and taking care of debris are more complex. Tapping into the heating and hot water systems in a condominium building requires different expertise than most single-family home builders have.

Miller recommends that anyone planning to buy a condo to renovate consult an experienced condo remodeler before they buy.

An experienced company can help guide the design with a realistic sense of what they actually can do and what sort of budget the project would require, can help with the permitting process.

“By understanding what’s possible, we can come in very early, so if someone is contemplating a purchase, we can evaluate ‘is this one remodeling friendly?’ By getting on board early with a customer we can avoid some of the pitfalls,” Miller said. “We can offer some design ideas for some things they haven’t even thought of.”

Renovating a condo is completely different, but it doesn’t have to be bad, he said. You can create “brand new luxurious space out of something that wasn’t that way before.”