Options When Buying a Home With an Older Septic System

Buying a home is an exciting time for many, and buying an older home can be a very rewarding experience. When looking at older homes for sale, however, it’s important to understand that many of the systems within may be old or in need of repair as well. If an older property has a septic system, how might a buyer navigate the process to ensure they are getting the best deal?

Septic systems are typically designed to last for 25 years or more, but this time limit is easy to meet with many historical homes. When purchasing a home with an older septic system, it helps to understand what options are available to protect a buyer’s interests and what can be done to mitigate any potential issues down the line.

Inspecting the Septic System

Home buyers interested in older homes should know that their general inspection is unlikely to delve into the specific mechanisms of an older septic system, so it’s often necessary to opt for a specialty inspector with a focus in septic systems. In many states, a separate septic system inspection is a requirement before a home can be sold. For example, in Massachusetts, a thorough inspection of the components of the septic system is known as a Title 5 Inspection.

In addition, many states not only require a septic inspection, but also allow a septic system contingency to be included into a real state contract. This contingency might allow a potential buyer to ask the seller to correct certain problems or issues that may arise in the inspection – much like a general home inspection.

A general home inspector may do little more than a few quick tests to determine if the septic system is in working order while a specialty Septic System inspector will take the time to examine how the inner workings may have deteriorated or have held up over time. Septic systems are affected by everything from natural disasters to yard growth to general wear and tear. Learning how the system has held up over the years will also give buyers a better idea of the threats they’ll face once the deed is transferred.

Repairing the Septic System

Depending on the condition of the septic system, home buyers may be able to make a few standard septic repairs to boost the efficiency and safety of the septic system. Some of the most common repairs and adjustments include:

• Replacing old or worn parts or components
• Installing risers or filters
• Removing solids in field plumbing
• Diverting backwash from water softeners or conditioners

Technicians can also work to remove tree roots or plants that may be interfering with the septic system. When a home buyer has a firm idea of how much they’ll be paying for these repairs, they have the option to negotiate the costs with the seller. Buyers may ask the seller to pay for the costs outright, or they may request the seller lower the price of the home or pay for some of the buyer’s closing costs.

Replacing the Septic System

If the system is simply too old to be repaired, buyers have the option of replacing the system entirely and installing a new one. While a major expense (much like a new roof), buyers should know that septic systems can last for several decades before needing to be replaced. It’s a long-term investment that will help the residents of the home and future buyers who can appreciate the character and charm of an older home with updated plumbing.

As with repair costs, buyers can ask the seller to cover part or all of the septic system repair. If the seller won’t budge on their price of the home or the repair and replacement costs are simply too high to make the sale worth it, the buyer’s only other option may be to back out of the sale.

Caring for the Septic System

A properly functioning septic system may not be the first feature a new homeowner thinks of, but it’s one of the most important components for everyday living. It’s necessary for homeowners to care for their septic system so it doesn’t suffer from unnecessary wear and tear. While few things last forever, proper care and maintenance can extend the life of the septic system by years or even a decade. When it comes time to sell the home, sellers can rest assured that their home will pass a septic inspection with flying colors.

Septic systems require year-round maintenance in order to function at peak performance and waiting to service them can land both buyers and sellers in an unenviable situation. Older homes may need a little more attention than their newer counterparts, but there’s a reason why people want to preserve them. The history and the personality of older homes are so appealing to homeowners because it represents part of our nation’s history.