astoria oregon real estate

Why Septic Inspections Are Not Optional

Many homes in Clatsop County are serviced by an on-site sewage treatment system aka septic system. In most areas outside the city limits, public sewer service just doesn’t exist. In the city of Gearhart there is no public sewer system, each home must have it’s own mini sewage treatment plant. Septic system replacements aren’t cheap either. At the low end a replacement system can cost $8000. Specialized systems including sand filters can cost well over $10k.

Septic system inspection costs can range from $350-600. This added to the cost of the home inspection, loan fees and the down payment sometimes causes with buyer to think twice about laying out the additional cash.

The procedure for a septic inspection varies greatly depending on the type of system (gravity, sand filter, septic-dosing vs. dosing- septic, ect.) and the overal age and condition of said poo tank. Generally speaking the inspector will locate the tank, d-box, pump if equipped, and the drainfield. The inspector is concerned with two main things: does the system flow properly and will the system continue to operate for the near future.

For the most part a properly installed and maintained septic system will last 20 years, some will make it well over 30. Routine maintenance is the key: most installers and inspectors will recommend having the system pumped and inspected every 3-5 years to ensure a long life. For new and near new home purchases it’s especially tempting to think “if it’s working fine today, what’s the big deal?”.

A few recent scenario’s played out in real life come to mind:

  • Buyer of a 70′s vintage home considers skipping the septic inspection because the current owner got a clean bill of health just 3 years earlier. After being gently persuaded by his agent he had the system inspected. Turns out the previous inspector either completed missed the large holes in the septic tank, or didn’t bother to inform the owner. Result: Seller had to have a new septic tank installed at the cost of $3500. Ouch!
  • Buyer of an old farm house isn’t too concerned about the septic system because it was replaced just a year earlier. The septic inspector found the tank and drain line coming from the house was indeed new, but the drainfield was actually a deep trench filled with rock- no proper drainfield was installed. Result: Seller had to pay for complete system replacement at the cost of $9,000!
  • Buyer of a 9 year old REO considers skipping the septic because the home inspection went so well. Luckily he did have the septic inspected and the inspector found the drainfield was inoperable after just 9 years. Result: Seller had to repair drainfield at the cost of $1,800.
    The worst part of having a septic system is they work fine until they don’t. If you are buying a home with a septic system, you could find problems on day 1. Because the system is completed hidden from view, even experienced home owners and handymen have no way of evaluating the condition of the system without hiring a professional.

Bottom Line
Spending $500 to ensure the $10,000 system is working like it should is a no brainer. Even brand new installs can have problems if something isn’t configured properly, and once you own it the problems are all yours.