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

Septic Tank Sludge

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?

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