Hot Topics: Is Excavating Equipment a Good Investment?

A tractor shoveling dirt.

Here on we enjoy providing a place where home improvement novices and experts can come together to share ideas and advice. Inside our Forums, users can browse threads to see what exchanges are taking place on a topic of interest or start their own dialogue by posting something for the community to take part in. With over 250,000 members and counting, this resource is quite active so each week we highlight one of the conversations that may just help you with that next DIY project.

Original Post: Is there any sense in homeowners buying excavating equipment?

jontte Member

I have a retaining wall project that I'm planning on doing myself. I've already done one a few years back. This time, it's longer and taller, and requires some excavation. I had been thinking about renting a Bobcat or some type of excavator for a week and trying to get it all done in that amount of time. With a day job and family, plus the experience of the previous wall, I'm afraid a week won't be enough to get it all finished. Sure, you can do the excavation in a day, but it's nice for backfill and any other work after the foundation is done. I don't have any guarantee of any help, either.

So, I've been wondering if it would make any sense for a homeowner like myself to buy a used backhoe or some Bobcat-like machine, get all my projects done (patio, etc.), and then sell it? It looks like most "cheap" stuff is at least 5k, probably closer to 10k. While it's a big chunk of money, I'm always looking for ways to save in the long run. I already have a plate compactor that I bought with the same philosophy for the first wall. Even if I could break even on the machine, that'd be just fine. I'm a farm boy so I'm good with tractors and stuff like that, but have never used a digger of any kind. I can also fix some things, but don't have a full shop with all the tools. Does this make any sense? Am I overlooking something? If it makes sense—any advice for a newbie wanting to buy this type of stuff? What to look out for, etc.? I don't want to buy something that I need to fix right away, so I'm willing to pay for a machine that is in good shape. Doesn't matter if it's old; I grew up driving tractors from the 1960s.

Looks like this type of equipment goes for around $800/week at most rental places in my area. Having a contractor do this would be in the $10k neighborhood. Doing it myself, I'm hoping to be under $3k, plus the excavator, of course. I appreciate any constructive feedback.

Tumble Member

I bought a used Kubota BX-24 a while back for a little more than what you've been looking at. I've used it extensively for my rather small chunk of land in a more suburban than rural area. It has the back hoe attachment with a narrow bucket. I've used the machine extensively for every project you could think of and some that were out of the box. I've moved dirt, dug trenches for electrical and water lines, spread 20 yards of mulch, and dug out trees (no stump grinding hassles!). And yes, I also used it to put in two significant retaining walls.

I've looked occasionally and if I were to sell it now I'd probably lose less than $3K on it. It's been one of the best tools I've ever bought. My back has been saved and I've done projects when I want and at the speed I want. No hassle of renting, transporting, etc. Maintenance has been pretty much zilch in cost as it has seemed indestructible. Lastly, they're fun!

Marq1 Member

Several homes ago, I needed to build a series of bolder walls in my "canyon" backyard and received quotes up to $80K to build them. One contractor told me it's not a homeowner project. I ended up buyng a small compact diesel tractor with bucket and 120 tons of boulders and over the coarse of the summer installed all those walls. After selling the tractor a couple years later, I had around $15K invested in that project between material and the small loss on the tractor. So, yes, it can make perfect sense to buy tools to accomplish big projects as long as the savings are significant.

I bought a similar tractor to do all the landscape projects at my current house, which were not as extensive, but love the tractor so much I have not parted. It comes in handy when we get those 15 yards of wood chips delivered every couple of years.

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

You are asking the wrong person if you should buy a piece of equipment. I will tell you to get one of everything, especially an excavator (track hoe).

You are pretty close to the mark about buying versus renting the machine. The value on something well used isn't going to change much with 20 or 100 more hours of use. So, you could likely do your project and sell it for about what you paid. The big risk is a breakdown. With a rental, you have a known cost for your machinery. If you buy something used and you break a track or something else, it can throw your cost analysis out the window.

Whether or not those pieces of equipment are right for you depends on your project. I find a excavator amazingly useful and don't know how I ever got by without one. I would lean towards the backhoe since it gives you both tools. Unfortunately, backhoes are BIG and have high ground pressure, so you need to have the room for it to work and tolerate what it does to the lawn. The tracked skid steer has lighter ground pressure, but nothing with tracks can turn without tearing up the ground so, again, it's not friendly on the lawn.

One thing to consider is how quick and easy it is to get on and off the machine, especially if working by yourself. Sometimes something smaller that you can hop on and off of can be quicker than a monster with a door and ladder.

Bud9051 Member

I'm in snow country, so have lots of use for my tractor. I had two big projects, so I bought a new Kubota B7500 with a woods 7500 backhoe and, of course, the loader. I'm now 70 years old and having this machine just keeps me going when serious lifting or digging would have stopped me cold. If you have the property and projects to justify owning one, buy a good one. If this is a one-time use, rent or borrow.

jontte Member

Thanks for the encouraging feedback! I was expecting the opposite. Now, I'll just need to start looking for a machine that'll work for me. Those compact tractors with a backhoe seem surprisingly capable.

Bud9051 Member

Be sure to check the depth capability of any backhoe you look at. If they say 5 feet, that is only at the very bottom of the swing.

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

Oddly, larger equipment seems to get as low in price as compact. I think the demand is so hot for compact tractors that they bring a premium price pound for pound versus larger machines. There is a reason, though; they are extremely handy. I've had a couple Deere and Kubota compacts in the 22-25 HP range and it's a great size. The machine is small enough to work on city-size lots, but still powerful enough to do serious work. The biggest drawbacks are reach and capacity. Buckets don't dig as deep or reach as high and the smaller buckets mean more trips—but it's hard to complain much when you're sitting on the machine letting the diesel do the hard lifting for you.

Tolyn Ironhand Group Moderator

I have a Cub Cadet 7305 which has a 30 HP diesel motor. The FEL has a quick attach that is the same as Bobcat skid loaders, so I can use many other attachments on it. I also added front hydraulics so I can run a fork grapple on it. I did a very large boulder retaining wall project with it that I am very proud of.

I also agree that buying the equipment to do a project makes sense. On top of the money aspect, you will not be pressured to get the project done as fast as possible. Likely, you can turn around and sell the equipment for close to what you bought it for if it doesn't get beat up by sun, rain, or work.

To read the rest of the thread, look here: