The cost of building in NZ

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Every build is different so you won’t find anyone who can give you an accurate ballpark figure (a contradiction in terms) and this page is definitely not it. The more accurate you want, the more work and detail you need to put in. It’s so hard to create an accurate guide that Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – Building and Housing Group have removed their cost estimation guide from their website. There are tools, but the single most accurate way is to take a design to a Quantity Surveyor and pay them to cost your build. There are tools listed below, but you must pay for them and they’re only as accurate as the detail and time you put in. However, we have an exceedingly accommodating friendly architect who has put together a table of rough costs for you to use as an initial budgeting tool, which you’ll find below…

As building activity increases, so too do material costs. Regulations change. Builders’ rates change as demand goes up. Countering that are modern construction techniques. Group home builders will generally be cheaper for one of their standard plans, but you can be quite restricted in the options you can choose. Architects are more expensive but the value of what you get back is immense and ongoing and usually worth it.

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Average House Build Costs

Beware when you get quotes that you’re comparing the same things – often cheaper quotes will leave out items you have to put in later, or under-quote on items your contractor expects you to change later – and when you do you get charged for it!

Allow at least 10% for overruns, unforeseen costs or changes to the plan – you are likely to need it (and if you don’t need it then you can have a great housewarming party!).

If you can, when getting your job priced up be as specific about the materials and products to be used as possible. If at sketch design, you can attach a ‘List of Inclusions’ which will set out items to be used to a high level of detail, so the builders you get to quote can be quoting on the same things.

As your design progresses to detailed drawings and consent application stage the specifications will become more detailed, which means getting quotes from builders at this stage, or using a Quantity Surveyor to price your project, will give you a much more accurate price.

Points to remember:

  • Find out the rough average square metre costs of building from your local builder, architect or quantity surveyor which will help you keep your project plans at a realistic level.
  • As a very rough starting point, $1500 m2 is very cheap, $2-2500 m2 is more usual and then anything from $3000 m2 and up is more consistent with bespoke designed houses.
  • If your wants are more than your means, there are things you can do to to save money:
    • work out what you can do yourself and what you will have to pay a tradesman to do. Unless you are good at DIY, it can be cheaper to get an expert. Some work must by law be done by a qualified tradesman.
    • Reduce the size of your project – instead of a 200 m2 house, perhaps you can live with a 180 m2 project. You may be able to save on engineering costs, too, if building smaller.
    • Use cheaper materials – different cladding, window joinery, different flooring, fewer bathroom/kitchen tiles can all help bring down the cost.
    • Discuss with your designer and builder.
  • Decide which features or changes are “must haves” and which can be dropped or deferred to stay within budget.
  • Find out what your designer will charge. It is usually between six to 15 per cent of the total cost of the job, depending on its size and value and what services the designer provides.
  • Go through our budget worksheet here to get a rough estimate of the likely total cost.
  • Talk to a local real estate agent to see what houses like yours sell for – there’s no point spending more money than you will make from selling later (unless you plan to stay there for the long term).
  • Talk to a Quantity Surveyor. They will be able to give you an accurate estimate of your project and help you with strategies to stay within your budget.

If you want to work through the costing exercise yourself, The Building Economist provides a subscription to get their costing booklet: go here… or for a rough estimate, use this calculator here from Cordell Information Ltd (primarily for estimating house replacement insurance values). Beacon Pathway, a building research company, has just completed an exercise into the costs of building and you can look at that here…

Working Out the Estimated Cost

  • If you have the time and you’re that way inclined, you can get an idea of the cost of the different materials you think you’d like to use – the cladding, the roofing, the joinery, the fittings, appliances, etc…
  • This is information you’re going to need eventually anyway, so now is an ideal time to do it. Otherwise you can just rely on your architect or builder to steer you in the right direction – but be aware that they’re not always right and the items they suggest may be wonderful but may not fit your budget.
  • Talk to your architect/designer about what you’d like in the way of design and material and get their ballpark figures. Remember, it’s easy to change your mind at this stage – not when the roof is about to go on and you’ve just realised that by building this way you won’t be able to afford to finish!
  • Decide what’s important to you to keep and what you’re willing to give away. And make sure you and your partner keep discussing these aspects and that all sides compromise.
  • This is where a Quantity Surveyor can help you really nail down the costs. They will go through every aspect of the job and give accurate costings (though not necessarily exact, as specifications change during building).

The Department of Building and Housing no longer has a rough guide to the costs of building but redirect people to the New Zealand Building Economist here…or for a rough estimate, use this calculator here from Cordell Information Ltd (primarily for estimating house replacement insurance values). Beacon Pathway, a building research company, has just completed an exercise into the costs of building and you can look at that here…

We are very fortunate to have renowned architect, David Melling, provide us with the following table as a rough guide:


Wellington architect David Melling describes some possible cost scenarios for a new house build. Prices are a ected by many variables, like the
site conditions, level of specification, availability of trades and where the site is located. These scenarios reflect some recent projects completed in Wellington. Text David Melling.

In order to provide an understanding of the rough order of costs that are involved in
a new house build, we have broken down the various components of construction, design and consenting. The numbers are taken from some of our recently completed projects in the Wellington region.

We have provided four examples that assume a 150 square metre house with three levels of specification (economical, medium and high), combined with both flat and sloping sites. We have not priced a garage, as some people opt for a carport.

In any building project costs are very site- specific – planning constraints, topography, exposure and access for construction are significant factors in the overall cost. Our four examples are a general guide only. To gain a more detailed understanding of costs for your project, contact a local architect, builder or quantity surveyor.



We aim for elegant simplicity in everything from building forms to interior components.

  • Simple building forms, modular planning.
  • Structurally simple design (within NZS3604 as much as possible): braced walls rather than steel frames, shorter spans, posts where necessary, trusses (could be exposed).
  • Cladding: direct fixed-colour, coated profiled metal or timber weatherboards with traditional detailing around openings.
  • Limited use of finishes: paint and clear-sealed plywood, concrete and timber floors.
  • Modest fixtures, hardware, lighting (lamp shades, etc.).
  • Kitchen design: modular components.
  • Bathroom design: shower enclosures (no wetrooms), painted walls, simple 
functional fixtures, o -the-shelf
  • Minimal built-in joinery.


We still use the simplest building forms and layout but the site and nature of the brief will be more involved.

  • Structural design may include some steel frames in order to achieve more expansive areas of glazing, or steel beams to achieve longer spans.
  • Cladding may include some natural timber products, such as vertical shiplap macrocarpa on a drained cavity, or concrete block external walls.
  • Timber or thermally broken aluminium joinery.
  • Internal finishes could include more extensive use of finishing timber.
  • Some feature lighting, such as toe- space LEDs or a feature pendant in the dining space.
  • Extra power and data provision.
  • Custom joinery for kitchen and bathroom, as well as more built-in joinery throughout the house.


This is similar to the medium specification, but it is a more challenging site, with a selection of premium fixtures and finishes.

  • Fully customised wetroom bathrooms.
  • Integrated joinery in all rooms (shelving, window seats, storage units, cabinets, etc.).
  • AV installation.
  • Extensive lighting installation.
below: Karepa Street House & Flat, Brooklyn, Wellington, 2015. Photo courtesy of Melling Architects.
Melling table

Renovation and Alteration Costs

When the job is a renovation, other factors come into account. Do you want to match the style and materials already used in the house or are you comfortable to add something that is different (but still, ideally, complementary)? Is it time to change elements in the old house, for instance wooden to aluminium joinery or do you really want to match light fittings and bathroomware to the old style prevalent in the house or should you modernise?

And remember, with renovations, there are often hidden problems that only come to light when the wall boards come off. Be prepared for nasty surprises and make sure you have contingency in your budget.

Meadow House by Office Mian Ye

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