Home Renovation Planning Guide

The Ultimate Kiwi Renovation Guide

Every year Kiwis spend billions of dollars renovating homes up and down the country. For many people, renovating has become an alternative to moving up to the next property on the ladder. Sometimes due to lack of finances or available properties in a great location, it makes more sense to renovate than move. Rising house prices have also meant that for some people buying a doer-upper and renovating is the best way of getting on the property ladder in the first place. For other people, it is simply a case of wanting to refresh a property or make it more comfortable.

Whatever the reason, renovations can be a big undertaking and like with any big project, the key to success is in proper planning. Before you pick up a paintbrush or wield a hammer, you need to get your plans clear and make some key decisions.


Planning your renovation

Planning your renovation


Having a clear scope for your renovations before you start any work is key to keeping costs manageable, the project moving on time and the final outcome being what you want.

The best way to start is by making a list of must-haves and might-haves. These must-haves form the backbone of your renovation plan and are the building blocks around which everything else is built.

Consider each room you want to change or if you are planning layout changes or an extension consider how you will use the new spaces. Big decisions to make include the use of each room, indoor/outdoor flow options, paint colours, flooring, utilities, storage and appliances.

If you are renovating a character home, you also need to decide whether you want to keep any existing features like fireplaces, timber floors or ceiling details and how they will work with your new plans.

Inspiration can be found in magazines, on renovation and home blogs, or by browsing photos of listings for sale online.

Once you have some ideas in mind, arrange to meet with a builder to discuss them. Depending on how complex your plans are the builder may suggest engaging an architect to draw up plans for you. Meeting with a builder first allows you to discuss the practical aspects of your project. 

At this stage you will receive concept drawings which give you an idea of what your plans look like. Your builder will also be able to provide you with a rough estimate at this stage.

When you have approved the plans, final working drawings will be completed. These are the plans that the contractors work to when completing the project and the drawings that are submitted to the council for building consent if required.


Do you need consent for your building work?

Before you go too far with your planning, don’t forget to check if you need consent for the work. The rules can vary depending on the area you live in, the type of home you have and the scope of your work. It pays to start this research sooner rather than later and get your application in early, so your building work is not delayed by paperwork.

If your work requires consent then you cannot start until you have the consent in place.


building consent process


You can apply for consent yourself but if some of the work is restricted building work then you will need your Licensed Building Practitioner (LBP) to help you with the application. Some builders offer to complete the consent process on your behalf. 

Many councils now allow building consent applications to be made online – you’ll find the relevant application form on their website. Otherwise you can visit your local council office to pick up a paper copy. Along with your application you’ll need to include supporting documents. These may include:

  • Proof that you own the property
  • Plans for your work drawn up by an architect or draughtsman
  • Declarations from neighbours who may be affected that they agree to the work

You’ll also need to pay an application fee.

From the date your application is lodged the council has 20 days to decide it. If more information is required the council will inform you – the 20 days stops while you are submitting the new information and then restarts when this is received. Once your building work is complete it needs to be signed off by the council to say it meets the relevant standards.

The consents process may vary from local authority to local authority so double check on your local council website to find out the process for your area.


Future-proofing your home

Future proofing your home - senior couple

Renovations are a great time to think about future-proofing your home for yourselves and future owners.

Three ways to future proof your home

    1. Improve the layout of your home so you could stay in it longer as you age. This might include wider doorways for easy access, a wet room bathroom or a downstairs bedroom if you currently live in a 2-storey home.
    2. Improve hidden areas. Older houses are often poorly insulated so while you have carpets up and walls exposed think about adding more or better insulation. It is also a good time to check older plumbing pipework and electrical systems to get them up to modern standards. Retrofit double glazing is also a popular option to improve living standards.
    3. Switch to eco-friendly options. This can be as simple as changing to energy-efficient LED lighting or a bigger project like adding rainwater harvesting tanks or solar panels.


Budgeting for your renovations

Budgeting for renovations

Unless your planned changes are just a new coat of paint or a few cupboard handles, renovations are a big investment. Kitchens and bathrooms – two of the most popular renovation projects both cost several thousand dollars. 

A basic kitchen renovation involving new cabinets and appliances is likely to cost at least $20,000 and the price will go up to $75,000 or more if you choose high-end appliances and fittings. Bathrooms start at $15,000 and, similarly, go up if you include better fixtures and fittings. A single-storey extension is likely to be $2,000 to $3,000 per square metre.

While many people are keen to have a general cost of their project, owner of Wellington-based renovation specialists NZ Proud Johnnie Saunders says ballpark figures are hard to nail down, especially for renovations where jobs vary so much. Johnnie says: “It is more important to focus on what you want to achieve and what you can afford. A good builder will be able to help you work within your budget to achieve your goals. It’s important as well to think about why you are renovating. If it is to improve your lifestyle then why not budget a bit more and really get a great result. Start with a dream and work your way to a plan from there. It doesn’t cost anything to get a builder round to get some free advice so why not arrange it and get a more accurate figure.”

Whether you are going to DIY or use professional contractors, you need to make sure you have the finances in place to complete all the work you want to do – and a bit extra just in case.

This extra is called a contingency and is a sum of money kept in reserve in case something unforeseen happens. That might be unknown asbestos, rotten foundations or an undiscovered leak. If you don’t spend your contingency then great – spend it on something lovely for your newly renovated home or just something you’d like. You should add up to 15% for your contingency.

Start your budgeting by deciding the maximum amount you can realistically afford to spend.

Then revisit the list of must-haves and might-haves you made during your planning and look over it carefully. You need to budget for the must-haves first because these are the things that you really need.

The nice-to-haves can come if you have money left over. These are extra things like interior decor finishing touches or a better brand of appliance.

Don’t forget to budget for related expenses too – things like alternative accommodation while the work is being carried out or meals out or takeaways while a kitchen is out of action.

While ballpark figures are helpful, remember that costs can vary a lot so it is important to get a detailed quote from your builder or group of contractors or carefully research your DIY expenses before going ahead with any work.

Once you know how much you require, you need to decide where the money will come from. If you have savings put aside then you may choose to use these. But you might need to extend your mortgage or get a separate loan to pay for your work. If you do this you should be confident that you can afford the on-going payments that will come with loan repayments or increased mortgage repayments.

Top tips for saving money if your budget is tight

  • Shop around for the best deals for things like flooring and cabinetry. Talk to the experts about lower-cost brands or materials that will look just as good.
  • Look for options to reuse existing parts of your home or existing furniture.
  • Look for opportunities to use recycled or second-hand materials. TradeMe, salvage yards and second-hand shops are great places to find anything from furniture to doors and windows.
  • Plan rooms like bathrooms and kitchens carefully – for example if you can plan the layout to reuse pipework this will save costs
  • Stage your renovations over time – do a room at a time as money is available 
  • Do some of the preparation work yourself like stripping wallpaper or removing old units before getting the builders in to do the new work.

If you need to save money then Johnnie recommends working closely with your builder to find areas of compromise. He says: “It might be something like choosing a slightly lower priced appliance or more affordable fixtures or fittings but don’t compromise on too much especially not if it is going to bring joy to your life. If you are a great foodie for example and love cooking then don’t skimp on appliances.” It can be better, Johnnie says, to stage your renovations and save up money in-between. He says: “It can be more cost-effective to get several rooms renovated at once. But, if you don’t want to compromise then staggering the project can work – do the kitchen first and then the bathroom a few months later when you have more money saved.”

If you are doing renovations as part of a plan to improve the resale value of your home be careful not to overspend. It is commonly thought that renovations usually add value to your home to the tune of double what the renovation cost, but this will only be true if you renovate smartly and add value in areas people are looking for. Do some research to see how much other properties in the area are selling for and what features they have. This will help you decide which areas to focus on and how much to spend.

If you need help with putting a budget together you can check out the government website Sorted, where you can find tools and information on how to plan and budget for the goals you have.


DIY or get a builder in?

Builder or DIYOnce you have your plans and budget in place you need to decide whether you are going to get professionals in or embark on a DIY project. There are pros and cons to both options, and it very much depends on your situation.

If you’ve ever watched a reno reality show on TV you might think the DIY option is for you but before you commit ask yourself the following:


How big are your plans?

Some types of work can only be done by a licensed building practitioner (LBP), so check before you start. Restricted building work that needs an LBP includes:

  • Any work that affects the primary structure of the building including foundations, floors, load-bearing walls, bracing and roofs.
  • Any work that affects the weather tightness of the property including damp-proofing, water-proofing and work on roof and wall cladding.

This work will also require building consent, find out more on the governments website.

In some cases you can apply for an owner builder exemption and do the work yourself. If you sell the house later on, it will be recorded on the LIM that the work was not carried out by an LBP. If your plans require substantial electrical, gasfitting or plumbing work will need to use a professional so the work can be certified.


Do you have any DIY experience? 

If you don’t, then tackling renovations by yourself could be taking on more than you can cope with. On the other hand, if you’ve been doing woodwork projects since primary school or you happen to be a tradie then DIY might be the way to go.


How much time do you have?

Renovations always take longer than you think so if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, or you aren’t prepared for your project to take a while, then it is better to get a professional in. Not only will they be quicker at doing the job due to experience, but they’ll also be able to dedicate several hours a day – something you might not be able to do unless you are taking time off work to do your renovations.


Decided to do-it-yourself?

Do plenty of research before you start so you know how to tackle each job – YouTube can be a great resource for how-to videos and hardware stores like Bunnings and Mitre 10 both have a range of DIY project guides on their websites. Invest in proper equipment including safety gear and give yourself plenty of time to start and complete each job. Remember that there are some jobs that you need to get a professional in for. Anything like electrical work or gas fitting needs to be done by a licensed professional and signed off properly to be safe.


Decided to get a builder in?

Johnnie doesn’t recommend DIY unless you are very competent or the job is simple. He says: “DIY can often be more expensive than you think, especially if you have to get a professional to come in and fix the job afterwards. Stick to simple things like painting small areas. And don’t forget there is some work that you are obliged to get a professional in to do. DIYing those jobs could see you have troubles with your insurance company or local council when it comes to building compliance.”

Instead, Johnnie recommends doing your homework and getting quotes from a couple of builders to compare. It’s important to educate yourself before talking to a builder, Johnnie says, so you can check they are the right fit and will do a good job. He says: “Finding a builder that feels like a good fit and that you can trust is important, especially for large-scale long renovation jobs. Do your homework so you can ask the builder the right questions – things like are they an LBP and do they have the right insurance and know about building compliance. You want to work with a builder that is really interested in what you want to do and will be really involved in your planning too. The right builder isn’t necessarily the cheapest so don’t just compare on price.”

Before you choose a builder ask them the following questions:

  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • How many renovations projects have you carried out?
  • Can I see places you’ve worked on or read testimonials from other clients
  • Do you project manage the work?
  • Do you have regular sub-contractors?
  • Can you help me with any council consent needed?
  • How will you keep us informed of progress?
  • How will you protect other parts of the property while renovations are being carried out?

Ask for a detailed quote so you can see exactly what you are paying for. Make sure they are offering comparable services and supplying similar options in terms of materials and managing sub-contractors. Along with the price, take into account how well you got on with the builder during the initial process and your gut feeling.

Your other option is to mix and match – do some of the work yourself and get a builder or contractors in to do other parts. This is a good option if you are handy with a paintbrush but not a nail gun. Again when you are getting quotes from individual tradies be sure to compare them carefully.


Jobs you could do yourself include:

  • Simple demolition or removal work to prepare for the renovation
  • Painting
  • Tiling
  • Laying lino or vinyl flooring
  • Installing some appliances
  • Installing blinds or curtains


Planning a timeline

One of the final things to do before starting your renovations is to plan a timeline for the work. This gives you an overall timeframe in which the renovations will be completed. If you are using a builder, they should be able to give you an estimated timeframe for the work so you can plan how long you need to be in alternative accommodation or live with the building work. They will then manage the process. Ask for regular updates so you can check the work is running on time.

Kitchen and bathroom renovations done by builders usually take 4-8 weeks including installation and waiting for elements like benchtops to be manufactured. An extension is likely to take several months.

If you are doing some of the work yourself or using individual contractors then it is important to work out a timeline so you get the right jobs done at the right time. No point in getting the painters in before the kitchen plumbing has been finished. A clear timeline allows you to manage your contractors and ensure you can give them notice so they are ready when required.

Home renovation flow chart


One final tip – as you do your planning and budgeting keep lots of notes. Either keep a book with clippings and written notes or set up an online document with notes and links to products you like, tutorials or particular companies you might use so you have everything to refer back to. A renovation checklist will also make it easy to see if you are on track with your project.


Learn More About How to Get Started


Share this article