Carving a unique niche as a renovation coach

Asher Lipman

As high-end homeowners find themselves buying and selling in exclusive locations like Manhattan and the Hamptons, Asher Lipman has been supplying the demand of handling the grueling process of renovation and remodeling homes. By founding “NYC Renovation Coach,” the developer turned his deep knowledge of everything from permits to working with interior designers and architects into a singular career that offers taking on the headaches that plague the process.

We caught up with Lipman to find out more about this innovative way of taking on such projects for those who would rather put their trust in someone who has experience.

Asher, why did you move into renovation coaching?

My renovation career dates back to my college years when I flipped row houses near the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After graduating from Wharton, I put my business degree to work, focusing on real estate development mostly in California and in the Midwest, working on projects that included The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, and serving as a strategy consultant for several national real estate companies.

I moved back to NYC after my father had a stroke. My intention at that time was to help my parents build a new home in Connecticut and possibly develop some properties in New York and New Jersey. One night I was out to dinner with my wife’s boss, who was about to start renovating his apartment on the Upper West Side. He was completely lost, with no idea how to even start. I offered to come up to the apartment to take a look and help him sort through the bids. It was supposed to be a favor for a couple of hours, and next thing I knew I was overseeing the whole project for him. The renovation was finished early and under budget.

And NYC Renovation Coach was born. I ended up helping to renovate three more apartments in his building.

Can you describe the process from when the client signs on? Is this like a wedding planner, but for home renovations?

Like planning a wedding, most people have never renovated before and don’t really know what they are getting into. Both weddings and renovations take thoughtful pre-planning, frank discussions about what is important and also what isn’t, budgets, and a strict timeline. The wedding planner must analyze the data, identify the potential pitfalls, deal with the unexpected, manage the stress, problem solve, and make sure the day goes on without a hitch. And for those who have been married before or who have renovated before, they have a better understanding of the process and realize that having an outside party in their corner from start to finish can make the process much smoother, saner, and ultimately less expensive.

Ideally, I meet with the client as early in the process as possible. Either before they’ve even closed on a new apartment or house or before they’ve made any renovation plans. We start with a walk-through and sit down talking about how they live and how they want to live. It is almost like a therapy session. We talk about what they need to have in their home and they want to have. Sometimes these things combine well and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes couples agree but most often they don’t. So, I work with them to compromise and also fit their budget and timeline.

This thoughtful preplanning and time spent learning about the client is time consuming but crucial. The process from here stays the same: team assembly, finalization of plans and budgets, material selections, bid negotiations, permitting, and construction management.

Knowing that I am in their corner, advocating and making sure the job is completed on time, on budget, and to their satisfaction, gives them the freedom to decide what level of involvement they want.

Are you involved with permits, architects, interior designers?

Yes, I provide full service. NYC Renovation Coach manages your entire renovation: establishing realistic plans and budgets, interacting with building management, the board, and neighbors, and overseeing the construction. I use a five-step action plan which demystifies the process and allows clients to leverage NYC Renovation Coach’s deep knowledge and experience thereby eliminating the guesswork, vulnerability, and stress so often associated with apartment renovations.

Do you get involved with the design stage?

Yes, that is really the fun part! Well, the most fun part for all parties involved. The best time for NYC Renovation Coach to get involved is when the project is still just an idea. When I can sit with a client, understand the way they live and how they dream to live, we can execute these visions immaculately, without stress.

The first step of the NYC Renovation Coach process is to explain the sequence of events, what to expect, and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls.

How might this save money for someone on the verge of a renovation? Where is the return on investment?

ROI can be measured by time, money, and sanity. Renovation is stressful. It is a big undertaking, very expensive, time consuming, and very personal. Many people have not renovated in New York before or even if they have, they often underestimate the human toll that it takes. What often happens, especially in apartment renovations, is that homeowners end up wasting time and money.

Having worked in many buildings and with many managing agents, and understanding the nuances of the constraints of the building, either board-imposed (no wet over dry, no central AC) or due to underlying construction (pre-war versus white brick, or structural constraints of removing a wall,) I am able to streamline the alteration approval process. Understanding the nuances of construction and the value add of certain decisions is important. Identifying potential problems and solution paths help speed up the construction timeline maintain the budget is also key. Renovators in New York are often given unrealistic expectation and budgets from an architect and or contractor.

You’ve coached through nine New York Philharmonic members’ home renovation projects. How did that come to be? What were the challenges?

An old boarding school friend is a real estate agent and had just sold an adjoining apartment to chamber music power couple, David Finkel and Wu Han. They wanted to create a family home as well as a salon for intimate chamber music concerts. Together, they travel over 200 days a year and couldn’t envision how they could manage combining two NYC apartments while on the road. My friend recommended me, and it eventually became one of my most rewarding projects to date. Not only did I help give them their dream home and concert space, but I was also treated to wonderful impromptu concerts along the way!

Once they settled back in, they recommended me to many of their philharmonic friends who had wanted to renovate for years but thought it was impossible because of their complex travel schedules. Working with clients who travel more than they are home introduces a separate set of challenges, but it is also where I can provide a great deal of value. iPhones help! I frequently Facetime clients updates from the job site.

Additionally, NYC Renovation Coach had to determine strategies to integrate their ability to practice in their apartment without disturbing the neighbors or turning their apartment into a ‘cold’ studio. This is both an acoustic and architectural challenge. The result was a ‘flex’ space, which serves as an integrated studio and living space.

Are there any East End projects that you’ve completed?

I have worked with several of my NYC clients on homes out on the East End, which is also my second home.

What do you like about the Hamptons?

The Hamptons truly is a magical escape. My wife’s family has been coming to the East End for over 45 years. Growing up in NYC, I have many friends out here and it is nice to reconnect in a more casual environment.

To reach Lipman or inquire about his properties, visit www.nycrenovationcoach.com or call 917-740-5779.

ty@indyeastend.com