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By Asim in St Louis Park, MN on 5/11/2007


I have about a one-acre property and am planning on building our house on it. Would purchasing a front-end loader be a good investment considering it would be very useful in everything from site clearing, construction, landscaping to general lawn maintenance? A lot of homeowners and owner-builders already rent those machines on a regular basis and my thought is that owning one for a couple of years and then selling it won't be much costlier than renting and will provide a great return on investment.

Any thoughts or has anyone done something like this?


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 5/11/2007


I looked into something similar for where I'm building. I looked at used machinery including various backhoes, excavators, and loaders like a Bobcat. Prices used run about $5,000 and up not including a trailer to haul it. Stuff in reasonably good condition run $8,000 or more.

A Bobcat alone will not return the money spent as a small skip loader is not that useful. A backhoe ($10K and up) is more useful by far, but not going to return that expense on a single project.

I'd recommend seeing if you can find someone locally that is willing to loan or for a fee do the digging you need. Rentals are useful if you plan the work carefully and make full use of the equipment for the rental period (no down time).


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 5/11/2007


I would strongly consider it. While you will never save the price of a used skid-loader, at the end of the job you can sell your skid loader and recoup most of your investment. My truck is too small to haul one of these, so while I could rent one fairly close by, once I paid for delivery both ways it simply wasn't cost effective, so I always called one with an operator attached (people that use these all the time are much faster than me with a learning curve).

There are so many things you can do with these, many trades bring their own. However depending on what you DIY, they can be tremendously useful. If I had one on-site, I would have used it readily. The only time I actually had one for my use was when one of my subs was trying to sell his, so left me the keys to play since he thought I might buy it. Given the utility of these, I would probably think long and hard about getting my own prior to the next build job, and simply sell it at the end of the job. As long as you don't buy a brand new track drive skid-steer, you will probably recover almost every dime you have in it, and the utility is tremendous.


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 5/13/2007


As Kenneth says it depends on how much you plan to do yourself. However, I wouldn't have to think long and hard about it. If I had it to do over again a backhoe would be my second purchase right after the land. The uses are endless for a fair-sized machine, from portable scaffold to moving concrete to places the truck can't get to. Need to put a wire in? How about moving those trees you cut? I had the benefit of having my brother-in-laws on site for months on end. I have a ranch so it was useful to get the plywood and shingles on the roof. Also with some plywood strapped to the bucket with a couple ratchet straps, I am able to get right up to the peak of the gable and work off it by using a ladder to get to the platform I created. My neighbor has a set a of forks I borrowed to unload trucks; made brackets to hold them with the bucket

Keep your eyes open - you can find fair older machines from $3,000. Don't worry about paint and rust; you're looking for a machine thats tight at the joints, mainly the swing pin for the backhoe. Look for leaks in the pump seals and case. Also, you want a machine without a lot of pump wear; that means you should be able to take a good scoop of dirt and not have to feather it loose with the teeth. Any problems with those and you're looking at expensive fixes. Welds on cast parts should be inspected carefully, as you will likely end up replacing that part. Hoses and leaks at cylinder seals are cheap easy fixes for someone with a little mechanical skill, so these can be disregarded as well.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 5/14/2007


I intended to buy either a skid steer or a backhoe prior to my house construction. I shopped for many months, with a price target of $7,500-$8,000. I couldn't find anything but junk for that price. Every machine that looked to be safe and reliable was $12,000 or more. 

(I'm sure it varies by region. Around here, there are SO many contractors. They buy any machine that has any life left in it, and don't sell a machine until they've used it up.)

Even though I'm sure I could have recouped most of my money by selling after my house was complete, I just couldn't pull the trigger on that big of an investment.

I was also shopping for a lawnmowing machine of some sort.  I found a compact tractor with a front-end loader that has served me well. 

Now, sure, there have been plenty of times when I wished I had a backhoe on site. But there have been no times at all when I wished my bank account was $12,000 lighter!

One thing to keep in mind is that no one machine is going to "do it all." Chances are, you're going to have to rent a machine or two anyway.  I looked around and found a rental company that would offer a 10% discount and free delivery if I opened an account with them. I've rented a backhoe and a boom forklift from them, and will surely rent those machines again.

I figure that I'll end up spending about $5,000 in rental fees.  For that money, I'll get machines that are safe, reliable, and well-suited for the task at hand. Plus, I won't have the hassle of buying, selling, and maintaining the machines. 

If you've got the cash for both the house and a backhoe, you should go for it. You'll be glad you have it around. (Buy a decent one. It doesn't take much maintenance on a big machine to rack up some serious $$$. Plus, weekends are precious when you're building a house. You don't want to spent them re-building the hydraulic pump on your backhoe.) 

If the house is going to test your financial limits, I'd look around for a rental company that might work a deal for you. 

Just my $.02

Jon


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By Scott in Wanatah, IN on 6/7/2007


I purchased a backhoe right after I bought my land. It was invaluable for putting in my driveway, clearing trees, spreading gravel, etc. I bought 10 acres and it came in handy. I paid $13,000 for it and put another $1,000 in it to get it 100%, but it has been well worth it. I have set my wood and metal beams with it, put in my septic, etc. My driveway is about 1,000' long, so in the winter it was very handy for clearing snow. It is a 1988 machine, so it has depreciated all it is going to, so when I'm ready to sell it, I won't lose anything. I have saved well over what I paid for it in daily use alone. I also bought an excavator to dig my pond. I needed the sand for backfill around the house. I don't recommend spending the big bucks on that, but again, when I am done with them, I'll sell them and lose nothing. 

Purchasing a Bobcat for your one acre is something I would do in a heartbeat. You may not feel very comfortable with it, but it will only be a matter of time. You will be surprised the uses you will find for it. I would give it some serious thought!

Good luck!!!

 


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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 6/21/2007


I had the same idea myself recently and I ended up buying a John Deere 2305 CUT with a front-end loader and backhoe option. It ended up costing me more than I really wanted to pay, but I took it out on a seven-year finance option so the monthly payments aren't too bad and if I really get in a bind, it shouldn't been too hard to sell and get most of my investment back. If everything goes as planned though, I’ll pay it off in a year or so. Either way, I absolutely love this machine and I don't intend on selling it unless I have to. If at all possible, I'll keep it and use it from here on out. Because it is an actual tractor, albeit a small one, it supports numerous attachments that will keep it useful to me even after I'm finished building.

I only have two acres at the moment with a plan to buy two more next to me if they are still available after I'm finished building. But I will eventually purchase a mowing deck for the 2305 and use it to mow my lot. Also, I'm sure that over the coming years, I'll have plenty of opportunity to save time, if not money, with the loader and the backhoe. In fact, whenever I get around to building a privacy fence around my property, I'll likely buy a post hole digger for the tractor and use it for that too. 

I still wonder if buying the tractor right now was the right or smart thing to do financially but there is no question about its usefulness. I haven't even had it a week and I've been using it daily. Anywhere you can use a wheelbarrow, you can use the front-end loader. I've used it to pick up trash and scrap around my building site and it was a heck of a lot better than using garbage bags and the wheelbarrow. I got more work done in one day with my tractor than I have in weeks of doing things manually.

The loader works great for moving lumber around too. You can stack it up across the loader and carry it wherever you need and even dump it so that you aren’t handling it twice. I was able to carry several sheets of OSB and Advantec with mine and that can be some very heavy stuff, let me tell you! I’ll be using it to dig trenches for my plumbing and probably my electric. If I decide to go with geothermal, I may wind up trenching for the loop field as well, although that might be a little much for such a small tractor. I’ll use the loader and the backhoe to clean out an overgrown fence row at the back of my property and to dig up a lot of small stumps that I’ve already created during the clearing work. And I’ll use the loader to move dirt around during the project.

I’ll probably have to buy or borrow a box blade, but I’ll use the tractor to finish grade around the house when I’m finished. I’ve considered using it to excavate for my driveway; it’ll take longer than a professional operator would, but it will save me money and be good experience for me as well. I’ve considered tilling up a good portion of my lot and then leveling it out to give it a smooth grade; right now it is pretty bumpy. And the list goes on, there are literally dozens of jobs you can do for yourself with a tractor and the right attachments.

Will the tractor pay for itself entirely? Probably not; it might if I decide later to hire it out for small excavation work on the side. But I look at it like this. I was already planning on spending a few thousand dollars at some later date to buy a nice mower for mowing the lawn, probably $4K or more. And I was looking at spending at least several hundred dollars, probably more like a few thousand dollars to hire excavators for certain aspects of the project or at least rent equipment to do it myself.

So all in all, the savings I’ll see will pay for maybe a quarter of the investment on the high side and if I take off what I was already planning to spend on a lawnmower, I’ll cover close to half the cost of the tractor. But on top of that, I’ll be able to do more around the house without breaking my back than I could do without the tractor so there is quite a bit of intangible value there too. And worst case, I can always sell it because these things actually retain their value pretty well. If it came to that and I don’t think it will, next to the tractor, the backhoe is the most expensive piece and I could probably sell it by itself and make a good bit of the money back while keeping the rest.

Anyway, that is how I’ve been looking at it. I may regret buying the equipment in the future but for now, I’m pretty happy with it.

P.S. You can get other brand CUTs like mine and do well. I liked the John Deere and the dealer here, but Kubota has a similar machine which you can get for a little less than the JD.


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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 8/8/2007


I thought I would add to my last comment for those who might stumble across this thread. I just wanted to say that since my last post on this topic, I've used the tractor more than I thought I would. It is great for cleaning up around the job site. I use it at least once a week just to pick up trash that the subs leave lying around (wrappings, packaging, cups, scrap material, etc). My wife and kids load my front-end loader while I follow them around the site picking up trash. This way is much more efficient and less strenuous than using a wheelbarrow or some other sort of arrangement and it's a lot faster too. The tractor is small and can get into places that would otherwise be inaccessible to trucks or trailers.

In addition to cleaning up around the job site, it is great for picking up and carrying things around such as stacks of wood, barrels, blocks, bricks, bags of mortar, you name it, if you can get it in or on the loader, it can probably help. You could go as far as to buy or make a forklift for it to replace the loader and haul even more types of things around. I've moved a lot of dirt around with it in the last couple of months and I've been using it to clear a fence row on my property. When I get to the grading part of my project, after the house is complete, it will be able to do that (I'll need to buy or borrow a box blade though). I may even excavate my own driveway; I haven't decided.

I've used the backhoe to dig up seven or eight stumps. I used it to dig up an old steel post that was set in a large amount of concrete and I even picked it up with the backhoe and used it to get it on my trailer to haul to the dump. I've already used it to dig the trench for my water supply and tap into the water main. I'll be using it shortly to dig trenches for my sewer pipes and I may be able to save some money by digging the trench for my power when I get to that point. I have a quote for a geothermal HVAC system that includes a substantial price reduction because I'd be digging the trenches for the ground loops myself. I dug a large hole for a neighbor and made $40 on the side and I was able to help my pastor by moving some dirt for him the other day.

I can't say enough about how useful the tractor is. That doesn't mean that everyone needs one, but if you are leaning that way and are a do-it-yourself kind of person like I am, then it can be very rewarding. And I can confirm what another said earlier in the thread, after you use the equipment for a short while, it begins to act like an extension of your appendages. You will be digging with the backhoe like a pro in no time and you won't even have to think about what each lever does, it will be like second nature and the same goes for the front-end loader.


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By Scott in Wanatah, IN on 8/8/2007


I'm glad you're getting your use out of it. If I had to do it again, I would in a heartbeat. I too, am installing a geothermal heat pump. I have to install around 1,200' of trench. I purchased a 12" bucket for my backhoe to help me along. This way, I can get down deeper than a trencher and hopefully get more energy from the ground. I'll keep you posted if you would like and you do the same. 
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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 8/8/2007


I've got to get some more quotes before making a final decision, but I probably will go with the geothermal solution. I've been researching it for over a year and I don't think you can beat it long term. For the last week it has been getting up to 80+ degrees in my current home (the temperature has been over 100 every day lately with the heat index figured in and it looks to continue on that path for at least the next 10 days) and our AC has been running non-stop for 14 to 16 hours each day because it can't keep up or couldn't I should say. 


I took the day off yesterday to do something to the old house that I should have done a long time ago, blow more insulation into the attic. It had about six inches up there that I blew in 15 years ago; I wish I could have afforded more to do it right back then, but that's how it goes. This is an old house, pre-HVAC construction and it doesn't even have insulation in the walls. The last few years I've just been procrastinating about putting more in the attic but with the rising electricity costs it had to be done. Well, I blew in at least another 12 inches yesterday. I thought we'd notice the difference before the day was done but it continued to get hot in the house, it got all the way up to 85 degrees around 6:00 last night. 

So, I took the top off the condensing unit outside and rinsed out the coils and that seemed to help. At least the temperature started dropping. That was a sign that the insulation was working in and of itself because historically, this AC has never been able to bring the temperature down in the summer once it has risen. It could sometimes maintain a temperature but it couldn't bring it down, at least not on a typical day between July and September. No, it would have normally taken until sometime in the wee hours of night for the outside temperature to drop enough to allow the AC to catch up. However, it was beautiful this morning. The thermostat showed 70 degrees when I got up and my wife called around noon all excited because the temperature is still holding and it's already over 100 degrees here. In fact, she couldn't believe it, the AC is actually cycling! It never does that in the summer during the day, never! It's simply amazing what you can do with $500 and a bunch of old newspaper and magazines. 

One of the things that I like about geothermal technology as opposed to conventional is that it doesn't matter what the temperature outside gets up to, the coils are six feet underground where it is always cool, not sitting out in the sun at 100+ temperatures where it's efficiency can be affected.

I'm looking at a six-ton unit with six 240' loop runs; so I'll have a lot of digging to do, but this backhoe attachment I have for my tractor can handle it. What's more, the first couple of runs will likely be fun!  :-)


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/9/2007


Thank you for sharing your experience, I always like when someone comes back and shares their experience. List price (without any options) on that tractor is just under $11K, I don't know what street price is. It certainly sounds like it has been a useful tool for you, I am curious how well the investment pays off in the end (how much money did you save throughout the life of your project). These things have endless utility on a construction site, I know I would buy one in a second for my next project.
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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 8/9/2007


I bought a new one for the financing options and because I plan on keeping it after I'm finished building to use around the property. I bought a tractor as opposed to a skid steer or conventional backhoe for the multipurpose functionality of the machine. I'll eventually buy various attachments for it that I can use indefinitely, such as a 3-point hitch sprayer, mower deck for mowing the property, possibly a spreader, a tiller, you name it; there are multiple uses for such a machine. 

As for it completely paying for itself, I'm not overly concerned about that although it's a nice thought. No, I'll be happy as long as I save enough to make it a feasible purchase and I think that is likely to happen. If I do go with geothermal for climate control, digging the field loops alone will save a lot of money, possibly a few thousand; I'm inquiring into that right now.

Anyway, I don't mind telling you that I paid $17,250 for the tractor, with a front-end loader and a backhoe attachment and that was more than I really wanted to pay. The tractor was $9K+, the loader was $2,300 I think, and the backhoe was a whopping $4K+. I could have gotten a Kubota with the same configuration for $1,500 less, but I liked the specs and design of the John Deere better. Also, I liked the JD dealer better than the Kubota dealer and I was worried about service after the sale as well.

Without a doubt, a person can do better than I did. In fact, there was a larger tractor with the same configuration, a Kubota, that sold around the corner from me for $15K used. I looked at it and it was in good shape but it was too big for me. If I had been just looking to sell it after the house was built, I might have jumped on it but I plan on keeping mine. I might sell it if it turns out that I don't use it later but I've used it away from my house project about as much as I've used it on site and that is an indicator that I'll find plenty of uses for it once the house is built. Additionally, I plan on mowing with it so that will be a weekly need for seven months out of the year here.

I think long term, it will be a valuable purchase. Right now, sometimes it feels like overkill. However, it currently gets used two to three times a week and just about all day every Saturday. I know that if I didn't have it, I'd never rent one to use as often as I use this one. I would just rent for the larger needs. But having it available, I use it for all sorts of small and large jobs and it is hard to calculate savings for that because if I didn't have the tractor, I wouldn't rent one for those tasks but the jobs would be a lot harder without it. I hope that makes sense. Basically, because I own the tractor, I'm getting a lot of benefit out of having it around that I wouldn't have if I had chosen to only rent one when absolutely necessary. But it's hard to put those benefits into a monetary perspective.


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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 3/30/2009


I thought I'd follow up to say that I ended up renting a full-sized backhoe to dig my trenches for the geothermal unit. The system they installed for me is a six-ton unit, so I had to dig seven trenches. Six of them were for the ground loops; each was 250 feet long. The seventh was dug perpendicular to the other six, across the ends of those trenches, close to the house, and was used to link all the loops together. That last trench was roughly 200 feet in length.

I originally thought I'd dig these trenches using my utility tractor, but after working on the first trench for an hour and making extremely slow progress, I realized I'd have to do something else. Basically, these small tractors just aren't made for that kind of digging. They will do it but it will take many times longer to get the job done. My HVAC people wanted the trenches to be six feet deep by two feet wide. My backhoe bucket is only 12 inches wide and the max size bucket for it is 16 inches. I love my tractor, but I only had two days to get the trenches dug. When I saw that my tractor wasn't going to make the cut in time, I called a local rental company and had them deliver a regular backhoe. A couple of hours later, I was making real progress. Whereas with my tractor, I had made about 20 feet dug in an hour, I was able to dig an entire trench with the full-sized backhoe in just over two hours. The bucket on the rented backhoe was 24 inches wide and about 36 inches long, so it only took a little over three scoops to reach depth. Once I got a rhythm going, I was able to dig very quickly with the backhoe. However, I wasn't great at keeping the depth at six feet; as a result, the trenches ended up mostly at eight feet deep instead of six but that wasn't a problem for the installers.

It took basically two days to dig the trenches with the rented backhoe. The installers showed up on the third day and laid the pipe in about 30 minutes and told me I could cover up the main trenches; I just had to leave the connecting trench open.  My dad and I covered the trenches, he moved most of the dirt with the rented backhoe and I began working on leveling the unlevel mounds of dirt with my tractor. The rented one went back later that day.

I did use my backhoe in relation to the geothermal install. I covered up the last trench when they finished with it for one thing. I also had to use it to dig out a hole next to the house for them to use as they were installing the central unit and cover it up when they finished. I even used it to help them maneuver the central unit to where they needed it to go under the house. But I didn't end up using it on the ground loop trenches like I thought I would. If I had longer to dig the trenches, I may have used it as planned but likely as not, I probably would have rented a backhoe anyway because my time is worth more to me than money and it likely would have taken a week to dig those trenches with my tractor. And if I had taken a week off from work to dig the trenches with my tractor, that would have actually cost more than renting one. The backhoe rental only cost me $600, less actually, so it wasn't a bad deal.

That's not to say that I'm not happy with my tractor or that if I had to do it over again, I'd change anything. I don't think I would. I've been in the house now for going on a year and I still use the tractor regularly. I did buy a finish mower for it and I mowed the last few times last year with the tractor and once already this year. It does a really good job at mowing and does it in a timely fashion. A regular riding mower would probably take all day to mow my lawn and I can do it with the tractor in about an hour; I still have to push mow the area right against the house, but that has to be done with any riding mower as well. I recently purchased a PTO generator to use with the tractor during power outages or when I need electricity where I don't have it.

I used the tractor this weekend to help in cleaning out the garage and I still have more to go. After a recent ice storm that left broken down trees and tree limbs all over our state, I used my tractor to quickly clean up my limbs by just pushing them all into piles. It took most people, with the same amount of damage I had days to clean up their yards. It took me less than a day and I hardly got off the tractor to do it. I use it all the time for hauling stuff around the yard and for digging up stumps or whatever. I'll be using it around the yard a lot this year as I finally get around to landscaping and for cleaning out my fence row at the back of the lot. There are many uses for the tractor and I don't regret buying it.

I will say this; I don't think I saved any money on my construction by buying the tractor. Now let me qualify that statement. If I had sold the tractor after I finished construction, yes, I think it would have saved me money; so in that sense, yes it was a money saver. However, I'm hooked on it now and I don't plan on selling it, ever. It's probably the best tool I have and I use it all the time. I have the money to afford it and I like it, so I'm keeping it and I'm happy with my decision. For someone in a different financial situation, buying a new tractor might not be the best option. If you can sell it afterward and get most of your money back, yes, it might work out for you. But you might also be able to pick up a used tractor or Bobcat that would help around the job site without breaking the bank and that might be more feasible for you. It really depends on what your expectations are. I plan on using my tractor for many years to come and in that time, it will be a valuable asset to me and may actually pay for itself. But if it doesn't, I don't really care, it's what I want. I know people who will spend as much on hunting and fishing as I have on my tractor so I don't feel bad about it at all. If I couldn't afford it, I'd feel differently; but I can. You have to make your own decision.

Regards,

Jack


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 3/31/2009


Since my last post on this thread, I had to do a reassessment on the amount of grading and general excavation that was required on my current two builds. As a result, I ended up purchasing a used John Deere 410D backhoe/loader. I was able to get a decent price at $10,000 on the tractor and it came with a 12" and 16" bucket, forklift attachment (on the bucket) and a one-yard loader bucket. It also has a EROPS (Enclosed Roll Over Protection System. i.e., fully-enclosed cab) on it.  I've put just over $1,500 into repairs that have left it running without problems.

After nearly 300 hours of operation so far, it has already paid for itself in terms of either hiring a excavation firm at the going rate of about $150 an hour or a backhoe rental at about $200 a day. I also think that a Bobcat would be a nice addition as it would be able to get into spots the larger tractor cannot easily manage to. But, I don't think spending thousands more for one is worth the trade-off in convenience.


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By Jack in Trumann, AR on 4/1/2009


I agree with Terry concerning Bobcats. I never saw any really good deals on Bobcats, at least not for a homeowner; they were all priced more for the commercial market. If you find a good deal on one, it would be a really good tool. They're small, fast and highly maneuverable. Inexpensive tractors, on the other hand, aren't that hard to find.
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