Wanna Pay for a Big Tankload of Someone Else’s Poop?

When purchasing a home with a septic system, who should pay to have the contents of the septic tank pumped out so the buyer’s inspector can properly inspect the tank and system?

I’ve written two offers in the past week for homes with septic systems. The septic system has to be pumped out at the time of inspection so that the inspector can properly inspect the tank. On both of these recent offers, I wrote into the contract “Seller to have septic tank pumped at seller’s expense prior to inspection”, and in both instances, the seller responded by refusing to pay for the pumping. These were the first and only two times I’ve had a seller respond in this manner regarding the pumping of a septic system prior to inspection. And they happened two days apart. The market is indeed still very strange!

It costs about $300 to pump out an average septic tank, but if it hasn’t been serviced in a while, or the exact location is unknown (not uncommon in older areas), there can be added expenses related to just finding the buried tank. The older ones especially will often have buried lids and thus require some poking around in the ground with a long skinny rod, and then some digging to locate the lid. That can cost another $125/hr, for the hunting and digging.

So, as a buyer, are you up for paying to hunt down the location of the seller’s septic tank, then paying to have what’s probably many years accumulation of the seller’s septic sludge pumped out and trucked away for him? I’m not. I don’t think it’s reasonable for sellers to expect a buyer to pay those costs. I’d place it in the category of “unjust enrichment”, since the seller is getting a freebie when it would otherwise be his cost as part of normal home ownership.

On one of my deals, the seller came around after I talked a bit more with the agent and requested that it be reconsidered. On the other, the buyer walked away not only over the septic pumping but also other issues about which the seller was unreasonable.

But wait, in a real estate transaction, everything is negotiable isn’t it? What’s unfair about the seller getting the best deal he can for himself?

Top Layer of Septic Tank Brew

Top Layer of Septic Tank Brew

Yes, everything is negotiable, but we’re talking about poop here. I just can’t wrap my mind around the violation of principle something like this represents. “Yes, Ms. Buyer, we’d love to sell you our house, but {snicker}, you have to buy a tanker load of our poop with it, and have it trucked outta here at your expense”.

The other issue is simply the already burdensome costs associated with the inspections on homes with septics. If you buy a city home, you will spend $300-$400 for your property inspection. If you find major problems, you’re out your $100-$200 Option Fee plus your inspection cost, (though your inspector will probably cut you some slack on the next inspection fee). So you invested $400-$600 to find out this isn’t the right property for you, or that the seller is unwilling to cure undisclosed/unknown major defects that change the value of the home.

Rural homes with septics often have wells also. So if you want a few acres 35 minutes outside Austin, in Dripping Springs or Bastrop let’s say, you’re going to have to spend your regular inspection fee plus another $300-$500 for the septic inspection, plus $70-$100 for a well inspection. You’re now in for $800-$1,000 just to complete your due diligence inspections on the property. If there is no existing survey, you’re going to cough up another $1,200-$1,800 for the survey (post option period) for this acreage compared to the $350-$450 survey cost on a city home.

So you have a lot more upfront associated with inspecting and buying a home with a septic and a well. It’s therefore a tough pill to swallow, for me, to run into a seller who thinks, on top of all that, my buyer should pay to locate his septic and haul off his poop. To me, that stinks. It’s a crappy deal. Every Realtor and buyer ought to be holding firm on this negotiating point, in my opinion. You don’t have to take that crap from your seller!

I assumed all did, for the aforementioned obvious reasons.

So imagine my shock and horror to learn that, in fact, many buyers do pay for the septic pumping. This according to a veteran septic inspector I spoke with. “Most agents and buyers just don’t know to write it into the contract, so there’s nothing they can say about it after that”, I was told. You gotta be kidding. Don’t know to write it in?

And, of even greater horror, I’ve also learned that some agents and buyers don’t even know enough to get the septic system inspected at all, even though the seller’s disclosures include information about the septic, and the fact that the property is serviced by an “onsite sewage system”.

A bad septic system can cost $15,000 to repair/replace due to newer, modern septic tank codes and rules. And, according to septic repair people I’ve now asked about this, many city folk don’t even become fully aware of the implications of buying/owning a home with septic system until their commodes stop flushing one day and they start making phone calls.

If they’re lucky, it’s just time for a pump-out and everything is ok. If they’re unlucky, they learn that the drain field is shot, and/or the tank has failed, which triggers a new permit and upgrade, and they’re going to have to spend $8,000 to $15,000 replacing a system they were unaware existed a few days earlier, and which they never had inspected when they bought the home.

That gives new literal meaning to being up sh*t creek without a paddle. Especially when that creek is now flowing through your front yard and your paddle costs $15K.

So, if you’re looking to get away from town, out in the county under the stars, make sure you know what a septic tank is and how to write the offer so that you don’t end up making what must truly be the most worthless and stupid purchase of a lifetime, the $300 tank load of someone else’s poop.

Posted by Steve
7 years ago
Steve

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Julie - 7 years ago

While I really wish I hadn’t read this while eating my lunch, this is probably your most entertaining post to date. I take it you like puns? 🙂

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Scott Camp - 7 years ago

You make a great point Steve. We just sold a home we listed in southern Tarrant county and the buyer and their agent never asked for or obtained a septic inspection. The home was less than a year old, but nothing should be taken for granted. What if the system had been installed wrong? The increasing numbers of homes in the “country” on 1 acre lots should make agents become more familiar with the need to write into the contract a septic inspection. What if there is a problem after the close and the buyer blames their agent for not telling them about the need for the inspection? CYA. At least discuss the inspection and then let your buyer make the call.

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M1EK - 7 years ago

The message I get from this posting confirms my deeply held belief that septic tanks are for cabins, not homes.

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Kat - 7 years ago

Very gross… but informative. I have a question for you. I just recently started looking at houses… and private wells and septics are not what I was looking for but this one beautiful house has one… and that is its only flaw. I ended up calling the city health dept to find out about the septic system which was installed in 1955 and nothing has been done to it since, with the exception of the occassional pumping I’m sure. But they said it is not located on the property, (I’m guessing it was on its own property in 1955) but they have since expanded. So it is located in someone elses yard and that it has 3 ten foot lines and 3 small drop boxes? Not sure what that all is but I’m guessing its not good. What do you think or know about that? and what are the chances that it might go bad and I would have to dig up someone elses yard to replace it?
Thank you

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Steve - 7 years ago

Hi Kat,

> What do you think or know about that?

For what you describe, I would find out what it’s going to cost to replace the system entirely and factor that cost into whatever you pay for the house. I’d also have an attorney or someone make sure in the mean time that your septic can’t be disconnected by the neighbor on who’s property it sits. This could be complicated so I’d have an attorney review everything.

Good luck,

Steve

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John - 6 years ago

I live in Ohio and am currently under contract on a home, but we have not yet closed on the mortgage. At inspection (whole house, well/septic, termite, radon) we discovered the septic is pretty much full and will need to be pumped in the near future. We are buying directly from owner and did not know to write anything in the contract regarding the septic. Do we have any options at this point, since we have not yet had our closing? Can we still request the seller to have the septic pumped?

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Steve - 6 years ago

Hi John,

The only options you have would be those afforded in your purchase contract. You could always ask the seller to pump it, but if it wasn’t spelled out in the agreement as a seller obligation, they can probably just say “no thanks, we’d like you to have it”.

Of course you should check with an attorney in case you have state regulations/rules that might impose pumping on a seller, but I’ve never heard of that.

Just consider it part of the cost of buying the home and don’t let it bother you too much.

Steve

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Susan - 4 years ago

I’ve been a rural residential Realtor for the past 18 years. We also have a septic system on our property. I am in rural Oregon. I have had both the seller and/or the buyer have the septic pumped. It depends how its worded in the contract. Now that we have short sales and foeclosures, buyers are purchasing the property in “as is” condition with no repairs being done by the seller…so it is a very good idea to have the septic inspected before closing and if the seller won’t pay for it, the buyer better have it done.

I’ve had some pretty bad septic problems just recently where the seller did not know where the septic was or had it pumped in 17 years since they moved there. None of their Realtors educated them with regard to the septic system. Pretty sad. One septic pumping like this cost the seller $1,000 to dig up the tank which was 4 feet underground, the drainfields couldn’t be found because the seller had paved over them when he put in the driveway. Talk about nightmares.

Needless the say, it MUST be written into the contract who is going to pump it and pay for it, otherwise you are not doing your discovery inspections properly and could be in for some very expensive repairs after closing.

And to the person who is buying a house without the expert advice of a Realtor or Attorney, good luck getting the seller to agree to something that wasn’t in the contract in the first place. You will probably be stuck paying to pump the tank yourself, but kudos to you for trying to learn these things on your own. If the property has a well, you will have other inspections like the flow test and potability, making sure that the septic system and drainfields are far enough away from each other so the septic is not contaminating the well.

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Susan - 4 years ago

Kat, you will need an easement prepared by an attorney so that you can enter onto the neighbor’s property to do repairs or pumping. Seek legal advice.

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Steve - 4 years ago

Good comments post Susan. Thanks for contributing.
Steve

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Jen - 3 years ago

Steve,
I’ve signed a P&Ns agreement for a property we had inspected and suspecting owner’s expense on septic pumping we had the failing system evaluated based on the engineers recommendations we set aside a sum for the repairs and went ahead with P&N’s agreement. But recently we’ve found the septic design is for minimum no. of bedrooms and town records indicate an higher count of bedrooms. As the septic is a grand fathers installation the board will allow for a one-time replacement and stick to this configuration going forward. The seller refuses to contribute more than what was agreed on. With discrepency from board and engineer recommendations I’m feeling cheated and setteling for something less. My agent and lawyer insist I should proceed with the deal – It would be helpful if I had a guideline to know how to proceed?

We’ve signed a PNs agreement

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Steve - 3 years ago

Hi Jen, Sorry to hear about that. We can’t give legal advice here, so you’ll need to work it out through your agent and attorney, based on the exact language of your contract and your state/local laws.
Good Luck.
Steve

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Simone - last year

I was looking thru our bank statement and noticed my partner paid $775 to have a septic tank inspected on a property we were considering buying! I was furious, thought he had been taken for a ride. But apparently this kind of bill is normal? The guy was only there for a few hours, is he charging like $200/hr??? How can it be that expensive? I would love to see some consumers getting together and taking action on this whole stinky issue. The banks we’ve worked with have been almost unwilling to budge an inch with negotiating foreclosures, they hold all the cards and all the power, why should they negotiate? Only the “little people” acting together can change this situation. If we do nothing, lenders will try to get away with even more ripoffs.Thank you for writing this BTW.

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Cliff - last year

I found your post while surfing for insights/wisdom regarding the nightmare experience that I am currently living with my septic system replacement. My wife and I are from the Austin area and, at the end of last year, relocated to northeastern Ohio (I know, WHY?). We purchased a “century home” (100 or more years old) and our realtor provided us with a list of possible inspections that we could “chose” to have done, prior to closing the deal. We chose to do well, septic and a “general” home inspection. It seemed expensive at the time, but not so much now. Turns out that the septic system was failing (in fact, it had failed inspection some 12 years earlier when the previous owner purchased it. At that time, Ohio counties could not force repair/replacement). Skipping ahead, I would like to add a few things that I have learned in the process. One, unless you are buying brand new (or nearly that), spring for the inspection. I think it was less than a couple of hundred bucks and, thusfar, it has saved me $12,655.00. That number would have been nearly double that, were I not able to convince the county health department that an “off-site” system was the best solution for the property. Two, make sure that the sales contract AND escrow holdback agreement AND all septic replacement cotracts specifically include/require “lawn restoration” (sounds like a DAH, but most times new owners are left with a huge muddy mess). Lastly, make sure that the controlling documents address whom is to persue getting the quotes/work done and that your approval is required on any final proposal and to release any escrowed funds. In my situation, the previous owner (whom had been trying to avoid disclosing the failing septic by having it pumped frequently) attempted to force me to accept some “sweetheart deal” that specifically excluded ANY lawn restoration. Now, I am trying to get the septic installer to complete the “final grade” and lawn restoration BEFORE he gets paid(?).
Good luck!

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