What happens when a region’s available housing supply doesn’t meet demand? If you’re a contractor working in the Phoenix market, the answer is to demo existing properties and start from scratch.
As the residential market in Phoenix heated up over the last couple years, it was only natural for contractors to look for new solutions to meet the growing appetite for high-end homes. This led to buyers paying contractors to demolish existing units to make space for newer, bigger and more expensive homes.
This practice is especially prevalent in Arcadia, an affluent area of Phoenix that once was better known as a hotbed for citrus farmers looking to grow oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Today, cresting off a 12 percent year-over-year increase in home values, the median home price in Arcadia is more than $500,000.
With an outsized supply of buyers looking for bigger and better accommodations in the region, Bill George, owner of Waddell, Arizona-based Bill George’s Dump Truck and Loader Service, has been able to carve out a successful niche for himself working with a select group of developers to demolish structures and grade lots to make way for new inventory.
“We will demo a $350,000 house and a developer will build an $800,000 or $900,000 house,” he says. “On the more expensive side, we’ll tear down a $1 million or $1.5 million house and they’ll come back in and build a $3.5 million or $4 million house.”
George, now in his 40s, got an early start operating heavy equipment and loading and transporting materials when he was still in high school. He started his own company shortly after he graduated, and his business quickly took off—thanks, in part, to advertisements in the local newspaper.
“I liked trucks and tractors, and I decided I was going to buy a 5-yard dump truck and skid steer loader and start a little business,” he says.
But in May 2006, just as his business was flourishing, tragedy struck. George was struck and run over by a passing truck. The accident resulted in fractures in his neck and back, as well as the loss of use of his right hand. This rendered him unable to operate equipment, which forced him to sell his company, leaving him out of work for years.
“I missed running equipment for the seven years and seven months that I was out of business,” he says. “I missed it constantly.”
Determined to get off the sidelines, George got a second chance at a career when he restarted his business in December 2013 after aggressive physical therapy. Having been out of business and without heavy-duty equipment, George and his father tackled their first project since the accident when they were contracted to demo a home with only a skid steer loader and a dump truck. The job took the pair seven days, and when it was done, the person who hired George for the project said, “If you want to demo a lot of houses, go buy an excavator.” Knowing he needed to work more efficiently to get business, George did just that.
He bought what he describes as an “old, worn-out excavator” to get started. Despite its age, the equipment helped kickstart George’s career. As soon as he bought it, George says he shared a picture of it with a contractor who sent him four or five addresses to demolish homes right off the bat.
That one purchase was all it took to get business moving again. Today, George positions his company as an “expert in demolition,” as well as grading and drainage. “I’m not a builder, I’m a demolition and a grading contractor,” he says.
Rebuilding the business
As George was rebuilding his business, the jobs kept coming in, but his biggest headache was with his older, worn-out excavator that kept breaking down. He decided to invest in a new model to reduce his downtime, but he didn’t know which option was right for his needs. George went back and forth weighing the pros and cons of different manufacturers, eventually narrowing his consideration to a new model of his current brand and a new Doosan excavator. After more consideration, he ultimately made the switch thanks to the added versatility the Doosan model allowed.
“I liked the way the Doosan excavator worked better, especially the machine’s reach,” he says. “It took me a couple months of renting both machines before I made a decision on which machine I was going with, but I settled on the Doosan.”
George purchased a Doosan crawler excavator—a DX140LCR—and was pleased with the reduced size, which fit nicely on his residential demolition job sites, he says. With 113 net horsepower and a weight of approximately 15 tons, the model’s shorter tail-swing profile also helps George work in tight spaces better than he was able to with his prior equipment.
Not long after he purchased his first Doosan excavator, George purchased a Doosan wheel loader, then a second Doosan excavator, a DX235LCR. He chose to step up from the DX140LCR to the larger DX225LC-3 size for more power (166 hp) and reach (31 feet, 10 inches).
These larger pieces of equipment come with increased capacity. According to George, his new excavators have no problem demolishing any structures he comes into contact with, even making short work of swimming pools, which are a common feature in many area homes.
“My Doosan machines work five days a week, and they work hard,” he says. “We might be a small operation, but as busy as we are, we can’t have equipment that doesn’t work. I have good confidence in my Doosan equipment.”
Tearing stuff up
George says he relies on different excavator attachments, such as buckets and clamps, to grab on to debris, lift it and empty it into a roll-off container. If the property has trees, they’re also taken down and placed into a container that goes to a local firewood company. Crews then separate the trash from the bricks and blocks. The trash goes to a transfer facility, and once it is removed, the operator uses the excavator to take the walls down on top of the concrete slabs. The brick goes into a container where it is transported to a landfill for disposal. Concrete, the last material to be handled, is broken and loaded into containers to be transported to a local recycling facility.
George says that the added reach of his current excavator allows him to process materials quicker and more seamlessly than before.
“The excavator’s reach is nice because sometimes it can be tough to load my dumpster trucks. Now with the reach, the machine makes it easier,” he says. “Demolition is tough on machines, and we’re so busy, I can’t afford for them to be down.”
After his crew demolishes a home, George says they almost always go back and build a certified house pad. For this, an employee operates the Doosan DL250-5 wheel loader with a bucket to spread the fresh dirt.
“We over-excavate where the new house will be built—about two-and-a-half feet—and then we roll it back in for compaction,” George says. “The wheel loader is a great machine for this.”
George says that enjoying the fruits of his business’s success has been gratifying the second time around, but the best part of his job is working with his dedicated team of nine employees, which includes his 75-year-old father.
“I’ve got the greatest bunch of guys,” he says. “My dad still works 50, 60 hours a week because he wants to. The team is as important as the equipment.”
Pairing an expert team with highly functional equipment has allowed George’s company to become known as the area’s go-to resource for quick residential teardowns. And while there is no shortage of work for the company to tackle, George says he’s just glad to be able to make a living again doing what he loves.
“It’s my reputation. We get in, we get the job done and we get out,” George says. “We’ve done houses as fast as a day with everything being done, including concrete, on a smaller 1,500-square-foot house. It may take two or three days if there’s a swimming pool, but it’s fun. Who wouldn’t want to tear down houses for a living?”
Ryan Johnson is the public relations manager for Des Moines, Iowa-based Two Rivers Marketing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.