As with many empty nesters, those in the Washington, D.C., area are looking to downsize and move within walking distance of restaurants and other amenities. But many of these homeowners — accustomed to houses with large rooms, high-end interior finishes, and high ceilings that provide a place to display art collections — can’t find condominiums that meet their needs.
That’s where remodeler Jim Gibson comes in. His Washington, D.C., company is known for custom houses, remodeling, and historic renovations. In early 2006 Gibson Builders also began informing clients of the company’s condo and penthouse build-out services.
Since then, the firm has completed two projects, including one in the new Residences at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown. A third condo project is due for completion in September. Most work comes through referrals. The first project was a referral from the owner of a custom house that Gibson built 16 years ago.
The condominium projects are about 5,000 square feet each, sometimes spread over two floors. “Every one of them has a lot of outdoor space — which usually accounts for 25% of the square footage,” Gibson says.
Even though most owners do not live in the condo during the remodel, due to time and noise restrictions, the jobs take longer to complete than single-family home projects. “I can build any 7,000-square-foot house in one year, but a gut remodel of a 4,500-square-foot condo will take over a year,” he says. “It’s difficult to get a solid 40-hour week when working with these buildings.”
Most clients come to Gibson after they have hired an architect. On the Ritz-Carlton project, the owner brought Gibson in during the planning stage for preliminary pricing.
Gibson’s wife, Dana, plans to include more details about the company’s condo services in the new version of Gibson Builders’ Web site. But, similar to most of the company’s work, the Gibsons expect condo customers to come primarily from repeat business and referrals. Many of these clients are extremely private, Dana says, and don’t want photos of their condominium units used in promotional materials.
The remodelers anticipate that the demand for this type of service will increase. But due to the complexity of the work, Jim wants to limit such projects to one condo every 12 to 18 months.
Condominium Remodeling Tips
Jim Gibson, owner of Gibson Builders, in Washington, D.C., assigned a project manager who has a commercial construction background and understands multiple-floor systems to run the company’s condominium builds. On each job, the manager must learn the specific rules of that building. The company has been able to adapt 60% of its high-end trade contractors to do the work, particularly the larger companies that are familiar with commercial work. “It’s nice, when gutting these units,” Gibson says, “to bring in a mechanical contractor who does plumbing and HVAC together because they understand the negative pressure in high-rises where the entire building has to remain balanced.” Gibson offers these tips for working in a condo building:
- Get to know the entire building and review accessibility and working-hours rules. Some buildings set a limit on project duration.
- Map out material delivery. Older buildings are unlikely to have a freight elevator. Crews may need a crane to deliver large items or bulk materials. If so, you’ll have to work with the city authority or fire marshal on any related street closures.
- Homeowners are likely to have, at most, four parking spaces. Review alternative parking.
- Be aware of noise levels. Nailing and hammering may reverberate through the building’s plumbing and HVAC systems.
- If you need to alter the plumbing line, ask for permission from owners of neighboring units.
- Building and association personnel can change year to year, so keep up on any new rules.