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Wreck-It Rob Is On The Job
Go on, admit it. There's nothing quite like the sight of a bulldozer hard at work, demolishing an old house. The crack of timber, that last dizzying moment just before the final upright beam falls. It's even better when it's your very own development site.

BUT...before you get on the phone to the demolition company, STOP!

Timing the demolition of a house is a decision that requires preparation, both in terms of things you need to do, and in deciding the best timing as part of your strategy.

And as a sideline? If you or someone else is removing the existing house from the site, rather than demolishing it, it's still classed as a demolition and the steps below will still need to be followed.

So let's dig a little deeper on this…

First up, I'll be clear about one thing - knowing your strategy is crucial, because timing a demolition for a townhouse development site is very different to a site where you plan to sell vacant lots.

I'll start with Townhouse developments.

In this scenario, it's all about the build date. So if you've had a really long settlement, or an option contract, and basically you have all the necessary plans and permits in place to start building as soon as settlement happens, then you need to start the demolition process before settlement even occurs. That way you can have a cleared site and be ready to build as soon as possible after settlement.

If, however, you're going to settle on the house and still have to get plans and permits, then most of the time it's better to leave the house in place. You can potentially earn some rent on it while you get all the official stuff sorted, which is always better than earning nothing. Plus, once it's cleared, you'll need to put up temporary fencing, which can start to add up if it's in place for a long period of time.

For a subdivision strategy, where you're going to be selling vacant lots, though, you will need to clear the house sooner rather than later. If someone is turning up on site with a view to buying a vacant block of land, then that's exactly what they need to see.

One thing to keep in mind with a vacant lot, too, is that there's more potential for upsetting neighbours, given that dust may potentially blow from the site into adjacent properties. Water runoff can be a problem, or even water runoff that leaves a slick of mud over pavements and the road. And of course weed growth. So once the house is gone, make sure you monitor the site to try and minimise disruptions as much as you can. The last thing you need is annoyed neighbours sticking their oar in with objections to your plans, or calling Council to complain about your lot.
Now let's move on to the actual process itself...

First up, you need to choose who's going to do the demolition. In some cases, it might be your builder who makes this choice based on your contract, but it might also be you. State laws may also require input from a licensed Builder in the demolition process, so be sure to understand exactly what you need to do to comply.

There are companies that specialise in demolition, so you should definitely shop around to get multiple quotes. Some of the elements that a demolition company will consider when putting together a quote include:

  • is there any asbestos on site, requiring specialised removal
  • what type of materials are involved - bricks are a lot heavier than timber, so dumping costs are likely to be higher
  • proximity to dumping locations - costs can vary enormously between different dumping sites
One thing to keep in mind, too, is the option of recycling elements of the existing house. People often think that's only worth doing for a house with lots of character features, stripping out original traditional windows and selling them on eBay for example.

You'd actually be surprised just how many parts of a house can be removed for recycling - everything from roofing to floorboards to the shed out the back.

Some demolition companies even incorporate recycling facilities into their own processes, taking all the materials from site back to their premises and running it through various machines to extract useable elements.

So don't just shop around on price - think about recycling. It’s not only good for the environment, but the less material left to go to the dump, the quicker the demolition and the cheaper it is for you, making it worthwhile. Just be sure to allow time for recycling to occur, as it adds anything from a couple of extra days up to a couple of extra weeks onto a demolition.
Next up you're going to need a Building Approval to demolish.

This is generally through a Certifier, but again, check local requirements and speak with your demolition company who can generally organise this for you.

Once you have approval, it's time to organise removal of services such as:
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Telstra/NBN
Generally, electricity and gas involve approaching a retailer and requesting the abolishment. It's important to be REALLY clear about this - you need to abolish the service, NOT just disconnect it. Otherwise they'll just turn off the meter, rather than actually removing the service from the premises. Dealing with the retailer rather than the supplier adds an extra layer of possible confusion, so it's worth mentioning many times that you're demolishing the house, just to be sure.

Also, if you want to start building as soon as possible after settlement, you may need to request abolishment prior to settlement, which will require the cooperation of the current Vendor and/or Tenant. Often the simplest way to achieve this is to have the conversation with the retailer, then get the current Owner on the line to confirm that they're okay with what you're asking.

With water and sewer, you will need a Plumber to actually cap the services. This involves disconnecting them, and sealing the entry point with a concrete cap to completely seal off the service. The Plumber will also need to certify it's been done and take photos.

Telstra or NBN cables are generally removed by the demolition crew or Builder, as usually all that's required is to disconnect the cable from the house and roll it up back to the pit near the road.
For all of these, be VERY clear on the likely waiting period needed for things to happen. Often it's 20 to 30 days for abolishment, for example, so don't think you're going to ring the retailer one day and have everything sorted by the next day. Timely planning is therefore crucial to ensure there is no unnecessary downtime for the next steps of your development.

When all of these steps are done, and the block has been cleared, supply the required certificates and photos of the vacant block to your certifier so they can confirm with Council that the block is vacant.

And then you can get on with selling the lot or building your development.

Definitely a milestone moment to celebrate!
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