BuyingReal Estate November 13, 2017


If you are coming from a location with a Sewer this may be a whole new world to you and the thought…or fact…that waste (from your toilet, sink, and shower) ends up in your yard may be frightening and a little disgusting.

First Things First: 
This is not about how Septic Systems work or Septic System maintenance.  It is about what you need to know if you are buying a home with a Septic System.
This pertains to Massachusetts only, but applies to other areas of the country where septic systems are in use.

I am NOT a Septic Engineer; this is my view point as a Realtor.

For a home to sell, it must have a “Passing” Title 5 Report – which means all the components are in working order and meet State guidelines.  If the Septic System “Failed” Title 5, or if the Title 5 Inspection has yet to be completed, just know this could delay the Closing (or worse cause the deal to fall apart).  Why?  If the Septic System has not / does not “Pass” Title 5, the repairs need to be done before Closing or funds will be held in Escrow from the Seller’s proceeds.  Not all Lenders want to deal with this as it is messy….no pun intended.

So, if the Septic System passes Title 5 you are golden, right?  Well, not so fast.  There are some important things to know and do:   

How old is the system?  Systems last 30 years +/-. If you are buying an Older System that “Passed,” just know when you sell, say 10 or 15 years down the road……do not be surprised if the Septic System needs to be replaced and you are responsible for installing a new Septic System.  Currently, systems can easily cost $25,000+.  The Home Inspection reveals the age of the roof, boiler, etc.  You also need to know the age of the Septic System.

How often has the Septic System been pumped?  Annual is best.  Currently, that costs about $400.  Some say if only one person is in a house, versus four, then less often is OK.  If you drive 1,000 miles a year, would you change your oil every 3 years?  Visit the Board of Health and verify the Pumping Records.

While at the Board of Health, verify that the size of the Septic System matches the Listing.  Septic Systems are rated by number of bedrooms.  So, a 4 bedroom house, with a 3 bedroom Septic System, is and should be listed as a 3 bedroom house.

Is there a Garbage Disposal?  This is a huge “NO…NO,” with a Septic System.  If the house has one it probably has caused premature aging of the Septic System.

If the House is on a small lot, near Wetlands, etc……could you fit the same size replacement system in?  You do not want to find out down the road, that 4 bedroom house you bought is now a 3 bedroom because of limitations on the placement of a Septic System.

When was the Title 5 Inspection done?  It must be completed and “Passed” within two years of the date of the Closing.  Key word is Closing, not Offer Acceptance, not Purchase & Sale.  In some instances a passing Title 5 Certificate can be extended 1 additional year.

TO RECAP….you need to know: 
Age of System
Pumping Frequency
Size of System Design
Is there / was there a Garbage Disposal

This is not meant to scare….just make one more aware.  If the Septic System is older, it is highly unlikely the Seller will give up $$$ if the Septic System “Passed.”  The Buyer just needs to be aware that if the Septic System is older, much like an older Roof or Boiler, it may need replacing during the Buyer’s ownership.  The price tag of a new Septic System is one of the largest repair costs a Home Owner will likely face.

Doug McNeilly is a REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Wayland, Massachusetts.  He specializes in Wayland, Sudbury and the Greater Boston Metrowest Area.