Auctioning off real estate has come into its own. Now, you can sell a home through an auction, and then auction off the contents. Once you’ve stripped down the interior, it’s time for the down and dirty auction to take place: The home demolition auction.

Jodi Murphy, 35, owns Murco Recycling Enterprises, Inc., a old home demolition auction company based in LaGrange Park, Illinois. In the seven years since she started the business as a part-time venture to supplement her family’s income, Murco Recycling Enterprises has become a one-stop shopping effort for homeowners looking to earn a little extra cash to help pay demolition costs.

She has also become passionate about what she calls the ultimate recycling program.

“Our main goal is to disburse used building materials out of houses before they’re demolished or renovated. We would rather see these items used than dumped. We want struggling homeowners to acquire materials cheaply and allow them to upgrade their homes in a way they couldn’t otherwise afford to do,” Murphy explains.

Murphy says she averages between 35 to 55 home demolition auctions per year, all in the Chicago metropolitan area. But she denies she’s an architectural salvage firm. “We are lower on the food chain. We are the purveyors of every day items as well as architectural salvage items.”

How does it work? Murphy surveys hundreds of homes before choosing the ones she’ll represent. All auctions are held on the weekends. She and her crew arrive early to write funny phrases on the walls pointing out what’s for sale. Actually, everything is for sale, including walls, floors, toilets, showers, appliances, hardware, doors, windows, roofing materials, and landscaping. If you want the subflooring, you can buy that, too.

Homewreckers, as she calls the 700 subscribers to her mailing list, know to be there at 8:30 a.m. to allow a full half hour of previewing the house before the auction begins. Promptly at 9a.m., Murphy starts walking through the house, auctioning off doors and floors.

In one particular house, a century-old home just off Lake Michigan, in Glencoe, Ill., most of the value was in the floors. Beautiful, old, stained quarter-sawn oak floors in 15-foot lengths. One woman paid $4,500 for all the floors in the house.

And then she set to work with her tools pulling them up. Everything bought had to be pried up, taken off, and removed from the house by the end of the day. “As soon as you are the high bid, you pay in cash, or a check if you’re a Homewrecker Club member, and remove the items. You have to get it out that day because typically the home gets demolished the following week,” Murphy explained.

“We like to be the first stage in a smooth transition into the building phase (for a property). We don’t want the house to be an eyesore for the neighborhood,” she added.

In the Glencoe house, one homeowner paid $250 for a set of matching solid walnut doors from the upstairs bedrooms. People bought windows (a 15-year old addition to the house had Anderson thermalpane windows), hardware, the fireplace mantle, stone from the front steps, the stairs, the stair railing, and the gorgeous sunrise window over the front door. They even bought the young Hosta plants just pushing through the Spring dirt.

Someone paid $150 for the central air conditioning system. The toilets were bought because they’re the 3-gallon flush instead of the 1.6 gallon flush systems now being offered.

Through her seven years, Murphy said she’s seen houses stripped completely bare. And, homeowners have gotten some great deals. At a recent demolition sale in Kenilworth, Ill. a woman paid $8,000 for the entire kitchen – floors, walls, cabinets, hardware, and appliances. That sounds like a lot, except Murphy says it was a nearly brand-new $30,000 kitchen.

She recently sold a solid cherry fireplace mantle for $1,000 and cherry shelving for $1,200. The marble mantle over her own fireplace came from a 200-year old house.

“When I saw that the highest bid was $160, I bid a little higher and got it,” she recalled. “I bid right along with my customers because I am them. I am a struggling homeowner looking for a realistic way to upgrade my house.”

Murco Recycling Enterprises provides owners with a start-to-finish job, including insurance, advertising, bringing customers, boarding up afterward, and a line by line accounting of what was sold and for how much. Murphy splits the proceeds with the owner.

The cost to join the Homewreckers Club mailing list is $20 per year. Call (708) 352-4111 for more information.

May 11, 1998.