As a home inspector, I hear complaints from real estate agents every week about septic system failures. The story always goes like this. The buyer loved the home. The inspector suggested there may be a problem with the septic system. The buyer ignored the inspector’s warnings and bought anyway. And the buyer ends up with a home that is ruined with seeping sewage within just a few years.
It is easy to blame the seller in this situation, and believe that he intentionally misrepresented the home.
This is often unfair to the seller, who does not know any better than the buyer that the septic system is on its last legs at the time of the sale. However, this does not change the sad fact that the buyer, who is already leveraged on an expensive home (particularly in New Jersey, where annual property taxes normally run in the tens of thousands of dollars), then has a septic repair job on their hands that costs several thousand dollars.
All of this could be avoided if home buyers would just exercise extreme caution when having their septic systems inspected. Usually, buyers get caught up in the excitement of buying and moving into a new home that they lack the patience to have a full septic system inspection completed. Or, they have the inspection completed, but wanting to move in as soon as possible, ignore the results.
Here is my advice on how to handle your septic system inspection process:
1) Contact a licensed septic installation company early in the deal. Septic system inspections can run from $250 to $750 dollars, according to the type of system and the depth of the inquiry.
2) Always have the installation company give you an estimate on how much it would cost to a) repair the unit to “like-new” condition or b) replace the unit. Do this regardless of the quality of the septic system–whether it only needs a few lines replaced or a new tank.
3) Make sure the septic installation company honors its estimates. Have them put the effective dates on the estimate so you have their quote in writing should anything go wrong.
4) Make the call: purchase or not? Septic systems generally only last 25 to 30 years, so if the system is within 5 years of that life, you need to replace it immediately. Negotiate with the seller to see if he is willing to do the work or reduce the price of the home according to the bill.
5) If the seller handles the inspection costs and procedures, make sure you get a copy of the inspection report. You should get this directly from the inspector.
6) Try to be present at the time of the inspection. This is critical, because it shows you are committed to the property and prevents any possibility of collusion between the seller, the inspector, and the real estate agent. Remember that real estate agents do not get paid until they actually sell the house and money changes hands. Therefore, they have an incentive to downplay possible flaws with the home.
7) If the seller refuses to be at the home on the day of the inspection, this is a red flag for consideration. Tell him you would like to keep him in the loop, and you would appreciate if he comes to every meeting.
Septic System Inspection: Money Well-Spent
For both the buyer and the seller, the cost of a septic system inspection is well worth the money. The buyer gets peace of mind knowing he will not have to replace his septic system at a moment’s notice. Also, the seller protects himself from a lawsuit, as the contractors he hires become the targets for litigation.