Today at CENTURY 21 Alliance in Lower Providence, we had an excellent presentation on Septic System inspections. As a real estate Broker, I learned a few new things that are important for any homeowner with a septic system, or a buyer contemplating a home with an existing septic system. I was surprised to learn, that unlike other inspections, like Radon, Termite, or Mold, there are absolutely no rules or regulations which govern septic inspections. This means there are no guidelines on what constitutes a proper inspection, nor WHO performs the inspection, nor what should be in a report for a homebuyer. You do not need to be licensed to inspect, nor to write a septic inspection report. This was a huge surprise to me and my associates.
That being said, we learned even more in this session given by Roger Lehmann, of All County and Associates, Inc. Roger is a licensed Sewage Enforcement Officer. He does not repair septic systems, he only inspects them. This is important because you do not necessarily want the same person who repairs the systems to do the inspections. You can imagine why, right?
As for maintenance of a system, you should be sure to follow the guidelines of your local municipalilty as to how often your system is to be pumped. Roger recommends that if your system is younger than 20 years, it should be pumped every 3 years, unless you are using a garbage disposal (they make special septic system disposals). If you are using a disposal, pump your system every 2 years for this age. If your system is older than 40 years, annual pumping is recommended.
When it comes time to sell your home, what type of septic test should you allow the buyer to perform? The first recommendation is to have a licensed Sewage Enforcement officer, like Roger, inspect the entire system. Based on a full inspection which will begin inside the home, to check plumbing connections, leaking toilets, etc, a good inspector will evaluate your entire system. The inspector may, or may not, recommend a Hydraulic Load Test. If a hydraulic load test is recommended by any inspector, a homeowner and homebuyer should do their research. When you do, you will find there are two types of hydraulic load tests. One is a somewhat quick method which floods your system for 40-50 minutes and then the inspector returns the next day or two to see how your system responded. The report will be given based on that 24-48 hour response. However, this type of test does not cause your system to behave as it was designed to do . Septic systems are designed to "rest" in between flushes, shall we say, so a "flooding" of the system is not showing the true response of your system and may result in a false negative on your report.
A method which is preferred by Roger is a Timed Release test. Water is set to flow through your system at timed intervals, which more closely represents how we live each day in a home. This test takes longer as the inspector will come back and evalute how your system responds over a 4 to 9 day period of time. This seems to be a more accurate way to evaluate a system's functionality. But it is important that as a Real Estate Agent or a buyer, that you allow enough response time in your inspection clause which is prepared with your initial offer for the property.
To replace an entire septic system can cost up to $30,000, so you want to be sure to take your time and have it evaluated properly. As a homeowner, you may consider having an inspection as soon as you plan to sell your home. This way you can make any minor repairs necessary and if a major repair is needed, you will consult with your agent about the potential return on any investment you will need to make.
An inspection without the hydraulic load test (because it is not always needed) will run approximately $350. The load test will be an additional fee of around $300. Some firms may be higher or lower. It is customary in Pennsylvania for buyers to pay for all inspections. This fee is in addition to other inspections, such as the Home Inspection, Radon, Termite (Wood Infestation) or Mold tests. These are substantial investments when buying a home, but they could save you lots of money later on. It is very important for buyers to hire a Real Estate professional who will guide them through the process, which begins with getting pre-approved for a mortgage BEFORE you begin looking for a home. The worst thing is for you to find the home you love, pay several hundred dollars for inspections and then find out that you will not get approved for a mortgage because your credit is not good, or you have not worked at your job for long enough. That is another blog for another day!
So whether you are a homeowner wondering how often to pump your system, or a buyer considering purchasing a home, please do your research. Remembering also that companies are not regulated and so, even you or I, could do a septic inspection. Yikes! No thank you! In this day and age, when so much is regulated, it is a wonder that septic inspectors are not.
Always consult an informed Real Estate Professional, preferably a REALTOR (there is a difference!) who will guide you every step of the way! For more information on this or any other real estate topic, email Kathy@Century21.com or call 610-666-0202 to reach a CENTURY 21 Alliance professional. We are here to help make your sale or purchase as easy as possible.