Image of a failed septic system Septic System Inspection Tips for Home Sellers
     

  • HOME SELLERS GUIDE - CONTENTS: Advice for homeowners who are selling a property with a septic system. How to prepare for the septic system inspection. How to assure that the septic system is properly conducted. What information to provide to a home buyer when the property has a septic tank and drainfield
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about selling a home with a septic tank
  • REFERENCES

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Home Seller's Guide to Septic Systems and septic system testing:

Here we offer some advice for home owners who are selling a property with a septic system, including useful information that you can prepare and provide to a home buyer, septic system testing, and making septic system safety repairs before even listing a property for sale.

No one wants to see a condition like the failing septic system shown just above, but isn't it just the rotten luck that sometimes problems like this show up right when you're trying to sell a home?.

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Advice When Selling a Home With A Septic System

Question from a reader who is selling a home with a septic system: My brother and I are helping sell my parents house in Massachusetts, and we were told we had to have this inspection done. We don't know what kinds of questions to ask when interviewing potential inspectors - can you give us some insight into how to best research this? We want the best possible chance of having a positive, no issues inspection, so again we would appreciate your advice.

Tips for Sellers of Homes With Septic Systems

Avoid a Conflict of Interest about Reporting Septic System Condition

To avoid a conflict of interest all parties to a real estate sale should prefer to see a Title5-type septic inspection and any other condition of property inspection ordered by the buyer not by the seller. Otherwise, later if a problem is found by the new owner the seller could be charged with providing self serving, inaccurate information.

Use a Qualified Septic System Inspector

All Title 5 inspectors working in MA are licensed and must be trained. Septic system inspectors in other states and provinces may also be required to be licensed or registered, though many excellent septic system inspections are also offered by some home inspectors as well as some septic contractors. Do not hire an inspector for septic or other inspections if s/he has a conflict of interest such as one who also offers repair services for the property to be inspected, nor an inspector who has a relationship with the home buyer, seller, or real estate agent.

Ask about the septic system inspector's experience. Ask to see an example septic inspection report and compare its contents with the requirements specified by law in Title5 and with the septic inspection reports described at this website.

Prepare and Provide Basic Homeowner Information About the Septic System

Provide the most accurate information possible about the septic system age, location of components, type of components, service and repair history you can. You may not know all of these things but the more you know an provide the more accurate will be the septic report and the less pure speculation will be involved.

Speculation by a septic system inspector, in the absence of actual information, can lead to worst-case guesses or warnings to a buyer, issued not so much to protect the buyer as to protect the septic inspector - to reduce risk of a buyer's later complaint about the inspector's diligence. But such a septic system condition report, in which the inspector spends your money to reduce his/her risk, can result in premature, inappropriate, or excessive septic system repair repair costs.

What if the Septic System Needs Repairs Right When We're Selling Our Home?

If you already know of a septic system failure or unsafe condition or of a problem that is easily corrected, such as a flimsy septic tank cover or surface runoff invading the drainfield fix these right away - we don't want a prospective buyer falling into the septic tank, and drying out a wet leach field caused by invading ground water will improve its function.

If there is already evidence of a septic system problem, such as odors, wet areas, or sewage backups, obtain several repair estimates, including a reliable diagnosis of just what the problem is. Repair costs range from trivial (unclogging a pipe) to significant (replacing a septic system). Do not try to "hide" a problem by pumping the septic tank. Such a step is very short-term (hours or a day or so), and may constitute a fraudulent or illegal act. Of course if you have to pump a failed septic system tank so as to have emergency ability to flush toilets, go ahead, but inform the parties concerned of this condition.

If the septic inspection indicate a costly problem, get further, accurate diagnosis and repair cost estimates from one or more septic repair companies - more than one approach and cost may be feasible.

Repair work bids should be from a septic repair company having no relationship with the septic inspector.

Since high costs and even life-safety issues could be involved in some septic system problems, responsible accurate septic reports, not just a septic report whose results make us happy, are of paramount concern.

Since some lenders will not write a mortgage on a property unless the septic system is working, you may have to go ahead and perform the necessary repair work. Generally, unless immediate functional or safety repairs are needed, we prefer to obtain estimates and then to negotiate with the buyer on that amount, perhaps offering the repair cost as an allowance against the purchase price of the property. Why? Because the new owner - buyer will be more confident that the repairs were done properly if s/he is in control of that work, and the seller will be free of any future liability concerning the septic system.

What if the Septic System Inspection and Report are Faulty?

If the septic system inspection yields a result that seems unclear, inaccurate, or just plain wrong, or if its confusing, ask for clarification from the inspector, and also pass that information and question along to me by email- I may have a suggestion

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about selling a home with a septic tank

Question: Our first septic system test failed, the second one that was less thorough passed. The buyers want a whole new septic system. What should we do?

I am curious what you would say about my current situation. I'm in the middle of an inspection w/ buyers. The first septic inspection failed a flow test. We have had no issues [with our septic system] in the 13 years we've been in the house. The system is old [built probably in ] 1965. We've found no map of the field and no one has found the field.

We had a second opinion inspection without a flow test [septic loading test]. The septic system passed [this second procedure]. Tank was emptied and inspected. He said he found no high water marks. No damage found to tank.

Buyers wanted another opinion so our agents hired a company- this company failed the system. Used a camera in the out pipe which was holding water and followed it down to a place on the lawn just staring to green up and found the soil there saturated. They said the system was about to fail, but couldn't located any leaching system. No break out or odor. They also claim to have found a hairline crack in the septic tank. Now the buyers want us to replace the whole system, septic tank included and to use the company that last inspected! What do you think? I think it stinks, but my lawn doesn't.

p.s. The buyers are planning on renovating and adding a bathroom w/ a hot tub style bath

Mike in Connecticut

Reply: Avoid a future dispute, find out what repairs are really needed, fix or escrow

A septic loading and dye test cannot find all possible septic problems but it can find enough to be worth doing, and if the septic loading and dye test was properly performed, it can protect both buyer and seller from a later dispute.

The legal question of what you should do in the case of a failed septic system is one to take to your lawyer.

That said, my OPINION is that these are some points to consider:

  • Whenever an inspection finds an apparent need for repair at a property, it is risky to then order a second inspection that argues that the repair is not needed after all. True the first inspection could have been faulty. But in the case you describe, the second inspection was less thorough and less rigorous. Now if you ask a buyer to rely on your information and not theirs, you are inviting a future dispute.
  • But a failed septic test is not a complete system diagnosis. Without further investigation we don't know if the failure is a rather minor repair (fix a clogged pipe or level a tipped septic distribution box), or a major repair (the drainfield is saturated and needs replacement).
  • If your buyer is obtaining a mortgage it is often the case that the bank won't make the loan if the septic system is not working, so the property could be tough to sell in "broken" condition.
  • If you are unable to obtain a reliable investigation that determines what repair is actually needed before the sale closing date, one option is to escrow an agreed upon amount that is the maximum you and your attorney agree you are willing to pay for septic repairs. The closing of sale may be able to proceed, repairs can be made and paid for out of the escrow fund, limiting your exposure to that total. In my experience it would be uncommon for a seller to have to pay for septic system improvements or expansion such as may be required if the buyers are adding a bathroom. So it's important to focus on the scope of and limits on your portion of the responsibility.
  • Finally, if an inspection discloses unsafe conditions at a property they should be repaired immediately, and until repair is possible, the dangerous area or component needs to be secured - keep people away.

- DJF - editor.

Question: home buyer troubled by improper septic test at time of purchase & later septic system failure

(Mar 30, 2014) Tim said:
We purchased our 3 bed, 2.5 bath home from a single man in mid-winter. The seller had the septic tank emptied and tested during the previous summer and it passed. After we moved in (mid winter)I immediately started smelling a septic smell but assumed it was a neighbors tank. We had no problems the following summer and then again I smelled the effluent the next winter because we had a very wet winter. I discovered the cleanout cap was off and effluent was backing up and spilling over. I was immediately suspicious that the previous owner had problems and had played dumb.

I dug up the tank caps the next summer and a trustworthy private septic inspector said all looked well. I picked up a leach field map from our town hall and realized the love before us had planted a tulip tree on one of the leech lines. I cut down the tree and have diverted grey water from the house. There's also a large deodara cedar planted about 10' from the same leech line. I'm going to eventually dig up the D box and see if the roots have grown down the leech line and into the D box. In the winter, especially when it rains, wastewater from the house flows into the tank and immediately out of the tank caps.

I think the previous owner knew about this and I'm suspicious that the owner's realtor may have known. We can't afford repairs and the town we live in is known for city inspectors failing systems. I wish I had figured out the problem more quickly because I think I could have pursued legal actions against the previous owner and maybe the realtor.

Who would I contact to anonymously ask for an investigation of the Real Estate company that we bought our house from?

Contacting our town would backfire and we'd have to spend big money on repairs. Should I contact the county, the state? I need to do it anonymously. Thank you for any help! Tim.

Reply:

Tim,

Sorry to read about the unfortunately not-unusual septic system failure aggravation.

The presence of cleanouts does not itself assure that a seller knew about the problems you describe, but other site clues could indeed show whether there had been a history of backups and failures as might septic pumping company or excavator recorsds.

I'm doubtful that you will ever get to first base on going after the seller or the realtor unless you can come up with an actual document existing from the time of sale or just before the sale proving that either party knew of and failed to disclose a substantive defect. Real estate law protects realtors from having to disclose defects that the agent can simply indicate was not disclosed to them by the seller.

Caveat emptor applies in-spades to real estate purchases. The question remains whether or not you had an adequate septic inspection and test prior to buying the home.

Question: when buying or selling a home, who should pay for septic system inspections & tests?

(Nov 16, 2014) Anonymous said:

Who pays for pumping or inspection?

2 Feb 2015 Krystal said

The seller is trying to make us (the buyers) pay for a septic test. Why would he want to do that?

Reply:

Anon:

The person ordering the inspection or test. In the purchase of a home normally that would be the property owner as a buyer may have no right to order work on a property that she does not own.

Krystal:

Well he's pretty smart your seller, or he/she got proper advice from a realtor or attorney.

  • First: s/he doesn't want to pay for something that's up to you to find out - unfortunately in real estate the burden of checking out a property is normally on the buyer. Sometimes a seller may agree to cover some costs as a marketing incentive but in my OPIINION the costs of such tests is so trivial compared with the risks and house costs involved as to be irrelevant.
  • Second: the seller may understand that if he performs ANY test and then gives you the result he or she is accepting risk and liability for defects that you may discover later and that you may argue should have been found by the test. The seller is not a disinterested party to the transaction.
  • Properly you should pay for tests so that you are in control of the hiring of the test consultant, so that you can be confident that there are no conflicts of interest involved, and so that you are legally entitled to receive the test result as well as to follow up with the test consultant should questions arise.
  • You might want to read HOME BUYERS GUIDE to SEPTIC SYSTEMS to understand how you should proceed.

 

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