It Runs Down Hill
Living in the country has its appeal for many. Quiet side roads, trees, space and peace and quiet are just some of the features compelling some home buyers to a more rural setting.
I get it! I grew up in the country and to be honest my heart is there. Urban convenience and a city bred spouse help me appreciate our current low maintenance townhouse lifestyle. My country boy upbringing gives me a penchant for selling rural property which comes with its own set of issues, concerns and “bewares”.
One of our primary concerns when dealing with rural property is water. Getting it and getting rid of it. Wells and septic systems that is! Both are integral to a worry-free life in the country.
For this post I want to focus on septic systems. How do you know it’s working properly? Does it need pumping? What are the solutions if there is a problem?
Water Issues with Rural Properties
Septic systems are not the easiest element of a home inspection. After all its buried underground and only the tank is accessible, and even then not always easily. Regular home inspectors are not generally qualified.
Recently we had a perfect example of the right and wrong way to investigate a septic. This happened with two different offers, two different buyer’s agents and two different approaches.
Two Approaches to Inspecting Septic Systems
Scenario 1: The Buyer Takes Control
The first offer was conditional upon the Buyer inspecting the septic system and finding it to their satisfaction. Typical and acceptable to the Seller. Nothing unusual.
Unbeknownst to us (the listing agent) the Buyer and their agent decided to dig up the tank and hired a local company to check the system. They dug a small access to the lid of the tank, ran water into the tank. Water began to seep from around the lid. The contractor deemed the tank and system to be “not working” and informed the Buyer a new system would be required. This was a waterfront property and permits and regulations are onerous. Replacement of the system would be expensive.
The contractor hired to give this opinion is also in the business of replacing septic systems.
The deal fell apart. The Buyer wanted a significant reduction in the purchase price. The Seller was unconvinced that the septic system had failed. They were determined to investigate further and correct any deficiencies without full replacement.
Scenario 2: The Buyer and Seller Work Together
The second offer also included a condition to inspect the septic system. With Seller, Buyer and both agents working together we arranged for the septic tank to be pumped by a trusted professional. We have used this company many times and trust their opinion on viability of septic systems.
The Seller drove from Toronto the day before to fully uncover the tank. He also rented a routing snake to clear any obstructions in the piping. The Buyer and his agent attended the property early the next morning to meet directly with the Buyer to discuss the condition and history of the system. At noon that day the septic pumping service arrived, pumped the tank clean and informed myself, the Buyer and Seller that the system was older and working just fine. The tank had not been pumped in 8 years and only used seasonally which can cause a bit of drying out. The outlet pipe from the tank was crusted over and partially blocked. Once this minor obstruction was cleared the system was working well.
Such goodwill had been created between Seller and Buyer that they worked together to fill in the rather large hole so that the Seller was able to head home earlier. I would have helped as well except I was in a suit and had not brought an extra shovel.
Conclusion: Due Diligence and Teamwork Pays Off For Everyone
These two scenarios demonstrate how many factors lead to a successful transaction. Well written clauses and conditions in the Agreement. Clear communications between all parties. Cooperative effort between REALTORS®. Most important and the basis for any good contract and willing buyer and seller.
It also indicates the best way to perform full due diligence on a septic system. Arrange for professionals who do not have a vested interest in replacing the system and inform all parties of the appointment. Have everyone on site if possible to speak directly with the person pumping the tank.
Of course not every situation is the same and there a many other factors. The principles are the same. Take your time, consult with the right experts and keep everyone informed.