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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Take the Pain Out of Remont

For MTTess Stobie showing her apartment in a converted communal block near Stary Arbat.
Having the builders in can be hell anywhere, but remont for a Moscow first-time buyer can be particularly terrifying.

Yet for Tess Stobie and her husband, the experience was thankfully not so much of an ordeal, as their builder, an Estonian contractor, was "amazingly organized" and carried out their wishes for the remont, or renovation, of their apartment entirely to their satisfaction.

Now their 175-square-meter, two-bedroom apartment, in a quiet back street off Stary Arbat, is a far cry from the wretched communal dwelling it was just a couple of years ago. The Stobies knocked down walls, reinforced floors with steel beams, rewired and completely refurbished the place.

"It seems to me that to get a remont to run as smoothly as possible, you either need very organized building contractors, or a very organized architect who will keep things in order," Stobie said. Her Estonian builders were "fantastic," she said. "It was like having non-unionized Swedes running the show -- amazingly organized."

Jaanus Vettik, whose company, Jartex, worked on the Stobies' apartment, said his company entered the market less than two years ago, but it did not take long for customers to come knocking.

A personal recommendation by word of mouth is the best way to find a professional you can entrust your apartment renovation to, architects and builders said. "The better architects and builders are always busy and don't generally market their services," said James Hunt, an American construction expert who has worked on a variety of projects in Moscow over the last decade, including hosting a DIY show for homeowners on TV 6. "It is they who pick their clients."

The first and most important step in any major renovation, he said, is to find the right architect. "There are very few good architects in this town in the residential market," he said, adding that the architect should put together a team of designers and builders, negotiate with the client, supervise the project and ensure it conforms with initial estimates.

Antonella Iazzetti, an Italian architect who has been working in Moscow for five years and whose work has been featured in upscale Russian magazines on architecture and design, said she does not have her own team of builders, "but I do have some trusted builders I enjoy working with."

"My job is to guide and assist clients in choosing the right team of builders, taking into consideration the cost, quality and the difficulty of the job," she said.

Before a team of builders is assembled, however, a customer should have the design completed, Iazzetti said.

With the city government's passage of a law on renovation and reconstruction last year, getting all the licenses required for renovation work has become an even more expensive and time-consuming process. While some local architects' offices only make a design, leaving it up to the owner to secure the approvals from the city authorities, others can also handle the approval process for an extra fee.

With the Proxy architects' office, it takes a month and between $1,600 and $2,500 to get the authorities' go-ahead, said the office's director, Lidia Savelyeva.

The city's rising real estate prices and steep mortgage interest rates can make a residential facelift an extremely profitable option, Jartex's Vettik said. "You can buy an empty box of an apartment somewhere on Stary Arbat for $800,000, invest another $500,000 into it, and sell it afterward for $2.5 million," he said.

But regardless of the work caliber or the intended budget, trying to scrimp on labor costs will affect the quality, Hunt said. "The biggest pitfall for homeowners is hiring a brigade that supplies labor, but not construction expertise. With high unemployment, everyone who has built a fence at the dacha becomes a construction expert," he said.

A licensed worker on a contract certainly increases project costs, but comes with builder's insurance and a guarantee that lasts from six months to two years, Hunt said. A full-blown renovation and a whole new layout can typically cost anywhere between $800 and $1,500 per square meter, while smaller-scale jobs usually come in between $300 and $600 per square meter, he said.

A customer usually gets two or three basic plans, which can be reinforced with detailed plans for floors, walls, and electrical and wiring jobs for an extra fee. Design also comes by the square meter, with prices ranging from $30 to $100.

The final estimate should be clear and understood by all parties, Hunt said.

The cost of finished materials is a major factor, too. "The $600 square meter remont four years ago is now $900, due to direct cost increases," he said.

Galina Shmidt, an architect with the 3Art bureau, said that one of the worst things a client can do is to keep coming up with new ideas while work is in progress. "At some point, some clients need to be emphatically told to stop paying visits to friends, especially those who have just completed their own renovations," she said.