Purpose Building information modeling (BIM) is a prominent concept to digitalize data collection and analysis processes. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for a considerable percentage of the works performed in the construction industry. The adoption rate of BIM by SMEs is still, however, not at the desired level in the New Zealand construction industry. This study aims to evaluate barriers to BIM implementation for SMEs in the New Zealand construction industry. Design/methodology/approach This study adopted four-step methodology to evaluate barriers to BIM adoption for SMEs. First, a comprehensive literature review, followed by a focus group discussion was performed to identify barriers to BIM adoption. Then, analytical hierarchy process (AHP) was used to assess identified barriers. Finally, experts' agreements (both internal and external) were ensured by consistency analysis and Kendall's coefficient of concordance (Kendall's W) tests. Findings The findings indicate that (1) interoperability between software platforms, (2) lack of government mandate on BIM usage at project level, (3) high cost of acquiring the software and licensing required to use BIM and (4) lack of client demand for adopting BIM were the most significant barriers in terms of technological, governmental, resource and cultural categories, respectively. Further investigation of the expert evaluation showed strong consistencies (each expert separately) and agreements (among experts) in each AHP matrix. Practical implications Primary focus should be training of local market (particularly SMEs) professionals as the shortage in qualified professionals makes the country-wide adoption challenging. The publicity in the local market can help SMEs understand how BIM is leveraged for further improvements in project performance. Originality/value Overall, this research not only provides a roadmap for the widespread adoption of BIM within SMEs in New Zealand through analysis of the barriers encountered but also highlights the power that policymakers hold over the mass adoption of BIM within SMEs.