The dos and don’ts of hiring and managing contractors

The dos and don’ts of hiring and managing contractors

Often, when it comes to a renovation or build project, homeowners will opt to trim their costs by managing the project themselves, rather than paying for a professional project manager. But project managing a build is no small task – it involves hiring and managing all contractors, timelines, and keeping an eye on the budget. So, before you decide to project manage your next build or renovation, we highly recommend you read on for our best tips on hiring and managing contractors to help you work out whether this is the best way to cut costs.

There are two ways you can approach this – either your head contractor/builder can contract additional trades for your project (known as sub-contracting) or you can contract tradespeople independently to work alongside your head contractor/builder.

One of the biggest stress-inducers for any building project is hiring the wrong tradesperson, so if you decide to hire your own contractors, ensure you hire a company rather than an individual. Always check references and, if these are not available, move onto the next applicant.

Ensure your contractors are licensed and/or certified and that you cover off all legal requirements and details. Use the Find A Builder search function on the New Zealand Certified Builders website to find a trade-qualified builder or visit the Licensed Building Practitioner Public Register on the Licensed Building Practitioner website to find a Government-licensed tradesperson. For electricians, plumbers and tilers you can check other trade organisations, such as the Electrical Workers Registration Board, New Zealand Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board and the Tile Association of New Zealand.   

A written contract between parties is a must, and should include your right to terminate the agreement with the contractor if they do not perform to your expectations. You should have individual contracts with each contractor and it’s also highly likely you will be paying them directly. To ensure a healthy contractor relationship – and that everyone on site is also on the same page – clear, respectful, realistic, and proactive communication is essential. Bear in mind, expecting your tradespeople to be available all hours is not realistic or healthy, so make sure you have a chat about when and how you will communicate. This goes both ways and will help everyone understand what to expect. For example, advise the hours you are available, how often your contractors can expect responses, as well as how often and how long site visits will be. We recommend you mostly have face-to-face meetings, then follow up on key points via email, which creates a written record of what you have discussed.

Make sure all your contractors understand your project and know who your main contractor is. Put together a checklist of exactly what needs to be done and walk them around the site to explain, ensuring nothing has been missed. Then provide a copy of the checklist to your contractors, including timeframes for milestones and deadlines, and when the work needs to be completed, in writing. Make sure you build in a buffer to allow for any delays or unexpected events. To assist your contractors in meeting your deadlines, ensure all materials/systems are ordered in good time, as delays generally mean additional costs.

From the beginning, plan ahead and set a budget. The choice of design options, materials, structural systems and finishing products can vary greatly, and quickly become overwhelming, so spend time researching what you want, how you can get it and what everything will cost, ensuring you make the right choices and get value for money. Your NZCB builder can also help with professional advice at this point in the process. Your total budget should include a contingency of at least 10 per cent of your build costs, to cover any unforeseen events.

Always ensure you have full planning permission before your build starts and that you and your contractors are following the rules.  Any consent is likely to come with conditions which must be complied with, so do not bend the rules as the consequences could be costly.  Remember, any work which doesn’t have planning and building control approval tends to surface when your home is put up for sale. This can put off potential buyers and become expensive to resolve. It’s always best to follow the rules from the beginning – do it once, do it right.

Planning consent or building approval is not required for every project, though, so it’s worth checking in with your local council about your plans. They often have building officers available to give advice before you start the consents process. Even if your renovation or extension doesn’t require consent, there will still be permitted development rules to follow. And, of course, every project has to meet the minimum standards laid out in the Building Regulations.

Insurance is essential for peace of mind. Always protect your investment in case things don’t go according to plan. Cover your liability with an insurance policy which covers your contractors, too. 

While you’re not trying to make friends for life with your builders and trades, it’s important to provide a nice site/place to work. Settle invoices on time and provide a suitable area for breaks. Clear direction, timely decision-making, a smile and a thank you for work well done will also be gratefully received, so you then might find your trades willing to go the extra mile if the situation calls for it.

And lastly, before you start work on site, be sure to tell your neighbours what is happening, how long it’s likely to take and who to contact if there is a problem with your project. Don’t forget, you (or your tenants) have to live next door for years to come, so it’s important to nurture that relationship. Always be quick with an apology and any minor disputes will soon be forgotten. This helps reduce the risk of resentment which can create problems in years to come.

If any, or all, of the above makes you think ‘this isn’t for me’ then consider calling in a professional to project manage your renovation or build. While it will cost you more initially, because of the work involved, you may well find the increased investment beneficial in the long run. 

For help with your next building project, use our Find A Builder search function on



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