Living and Renovating in Wellington

Limited space for new builds in the city, plus a solid base of older homes that need modernising or re-modelling, makes Wellington a renovators dream.

The diverse mix of house styles from various eras found in Wellington, built along a hill next to the bay
ARTICLE: Patricia Moore

Wellington – absolutely, positively the place to be! Whether your interests revolve around cultural activities or events of a sporting nature, Wellington and its environs deliver.


With an unrivalled location between the ocean and the hills, Wellington offers work opportunities that are both wide and cutting-edge (the city has the greatest concentration of web-based and digital technology companies in the country), world-class educational opportunities, quality healthcare, great shopping and a huge range of culinary options – per capita the city has a higher number of cafes than New York!
Wellington has more cafes per capita than New York

And, unlike the market further north, home buyers enjoy an environment that’s not nearly as volatile. In the 2014 Mercer Cost of Living survey, Wellington was rated Australasia’s most affordable city; reports indicate a steady market where the median house price rose by $25,000 in the year to July 2015.


For home owners – and home buyers - planning to renovate, there are plenty of unique opportunities. Limited space for new builds in the city, plus a solid base of older homes that need modernising or re-modelling, means interest in renovating is growing, reports home renovation consultant Greg Richardson. “We’re seeing work across house styles of all types, from freshening up 10 year-old town houses to extending 100 year-old villas. Everyone has a renovation plan of some sort.”
Wellington old villas and land by the sea
It’s across a number of inner-city suburbs and predictions are it will expand outwards once the Transmission Gully motorway nears completion and more families will choose to move to areas like the Kapiti Coast which currently has a high proportion of retirees.
But undertaking a major renovation is not for the faint hearted. The complexity and risks involved in a renovation project can catch people off guard and unfortunately lead to disputes, cost overruns, and time delays,” says Nicholas Leko, another of the region’s Refresh home renovation consultants. “Because our focus is on renovations we advocate to eliminate these risks for the home owner.”
What’s generally referred to as ‘Wellington’ actually comprises five different councils, and while they – and the three nearby councils in the Wairarapa – all work to the same building code, there are subtle differences in the way rules are enforced. Knowing what councils demand and establishing a good relationship with them is an important part of their business, says Nicholas.


In Wellington City, for example, encroachments in residential areas are common because topography and difficult building sites mean parts of buildings and garages intrude into road reserves and berms. Dealing with such issues is part of the process, say our renovation builders, “the only decision a home owner needs to make is what they want.”


In a city with fewer new builds – and one that values homes that have stood for decades – maintenance is also an issue. It’s something many of the city’s older houses desperately need, our renovation builders say. “We have some very old housing stock and some of it is in very poor condition.” Unfortunately homeowners are often reluctant to commit to repairs, he says. “Before people consider a major renovation they need to ensure the rest of the house is up to the mark. “What may seem costly now will become exponentially more expensive if it’s not maintained.”
Wellington terrain which comes with its own unique challenges

Picturesque it may be but Wellington’s geographical location presents its challenges – even for the experts. “The first thing we look at is access which can often be quite difficult,” say our renovation builders.  “The terrain comes with its own unique challenges,” says Nicholas.  These have the potential to add as much as 30% to building costs as compared to a flat drive-on site, he says.

Hassles around finding parking for trades vehicles, room for a rubbish skip or somewhere to unload a delivery truck are “entirely normal for us,” says Greg, who adds they often have to think creatively to comply with building regulations to fit an extension onto a site. “Foundation work is costly in steeper areas and it can be a balancing act between engineering aesthetic and functional requirements to come up with a cost-effective solution for the client.”


And what about Wellington’s ‘windy’ city reputation?  Although not unique to the region, wind can be an issue with some areas carrying special wind zone classifications (affecting mainly roofing, where sea spray also needs to be taken into account) requiring an engineering assessment before the design process can begin. “The wide range of projects we’ve undertaken in these areas means we have the experience, and our architects and engineers are highly knowledgeable about compliance build cost issues associated with wind zone requirements,” says Nicholas. The same thorough approach is taken to seismic requirements, he says.
Another issue the region’s homeowners need to address when renovating is that of heating and insulation. Because of the age of many Wellington homes, even those that are already insulated are well short of today’s minimum standards so re-insulating is often necessary. (our renovation builders report very pleasing results from a German product they’re using to pump into walls in approved situations). “And, while Wellington offers a full range of heating options, clients often neglect to give the necessary attention to a heating plan,” says Greg.
Adding double glazing far outweighs any additional costs
Double glazing, while not always a requirement, is recommended with the benefits, such as better heat retention and reduced noise, far outweighing any additional costs.
And with over 2000 hours of sunshine, coupled with Wellington’s relatively high minimum winter temperatures, solar heating and/or photo-voltaic power generation are great options that will provide warmth and reduce those power bills.


Although they’re independent operators, Wellington’s Refresh consultants work together  sharing information, ideas and experiences that enable them to deliver a better outcome for their clients.


While many homeowners dream of a DIY renovation project, the reality can be a nightmare. Regulation of the building industry has meant increased specialisation; it’s common for a renovation project to involve a number of trades coming and going throughout the life-cycle of a project. DIYers also need to consider scoping work, getting accurate pricing then engaging, co-ordinating and overseeing progress, and arranging council inspections where necessary.


With both homeowners in a typical family usually working full time, having a renovation project run smoothly, on time and come in on budget needs experience and expertise. The Refresh approach ensures you get what you want from your renovation, “because we take care of all the tricky things,” says Greg.

You might be interested in reading this Refresh's case study: A 1970s home makeover in Wellington.

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This article by Patricia Moore featured in Issue 018 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.

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If you would like to discuss options and ideas for renovating in Wellington, please use the enquiry form on this page to provide us with your contact details. We will get in touch with you at a time that suits you to discuss your project. If you would like to provide us with more information about your project, we have a more comprehensive enquiry form on our "Get in touch" page too.
*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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