As a first time home buyer I have heard a lot of false information regarding the septic system servicing the home. In my case I have heard several times that the septic has been updated in the “last five years”. With my knowledge of septic systems it doesn’t take long for me to realize that an update in the last five years has not happened.
It has occurred to me that a buyer who doesn’t have the knowledge of septic systems may believe the seller and be shocked towards the end of the settlement, or a few years down the road that the system was not up to par. Septic systems can be a large amount of money to fix or replace, therefore I believe buyers should have some basic knowledge of septic systems. As a result, I am offering the following basic pointers.
When you first look at a property, I recommend that you consider the following pointers while you are onsite and things you can do once you get home.
- Ask the homeowner or agent where the system is located.
- Look for any wet spots or areas where the grass is very lush and green.
- Ask the home owner to show you any records that support what they are telling you – last pumping date, repair records.
By asking for the location of the system, it allows you to check out the area around the system. Major signs would be puddles or areas of exposed sewage. All of these signs will show that the Drainfield may be over saturated and no longer in proper use.
- Everybody has the ability to request septic system records from the County Health Department.
- Each HD is different on how they want the request but a quick phone call or a visit to their website can help you in your request.
- The request is free.
- Order a nonofficial septic evaluation.
The records request is very important because if there are records on file they can reveal the type, location and system age as well as help identify “undocumented system modifications” which may indicate a previous malfunction. If there are no records it could mean many different things depending upon the age of the home.
It may indicate that the system is extremely old and installed at a time when the Health Department was not recording or saving installation documents. Perhaps that update or installation was done without a permit, proper oversight or legal design.
Without records, in NJ, you must have a new engineered design prepared and approved to bring the system up to current standards. The only work that can be performed without septic records are small repairs (any work that does not involve an engineer). Even with minor repairs a Health Department permit is required before replacement. Examples of small repairs are; installing an effluent filter, bringing lids to the surface, distribution box repair, etc. Any repairs or an alteration to a drain field does require an engineer.
Realtors have a process and schedule that they follow for inspections and in a particular order. The “official” septic inspection falls towards the end of the list. Therefore, I believe, the evaluation can be the best possible thing you as a buyer can do. Have the evaluation performed before you even put an offer in on the house or right after. I say this because in many instances a month is not sufficient time to make corrections because of the need for permit approvals or designs. The best advice is to not wait until the last minute or you may not make your closing date.
Overall, it is better for everyone involved in a home sale to have the septic information up front so things can be scheduled accordingly.
Please stay tuned to our next blog on Septic 101. This is a class that buyer/seller agents can take to learn more about septic systems. The more your agents know the better they can help you!
Until next time,
Jamie Wilson – Executive Assistant