In my continuing baptism by fire into the sale of rural property, I spent an entire day last month overseeing a home inspection for my buyers. The home was not a big problem, but the septic tank was nowhere to be found. The owner thought he knew where it was, and he and the listing agent got together the night before and tried to dig it up. No tank, no leach field.
The septic inspector, a nice older gentleman, came out around 10 AM with his backhoe. He dug where the owner thought the tank was. No luck. He flushed a little transmitter and dug where it landed. Found the leach field there, which seemed to mean either there's no tank or it's full and the transmitter flew right over the tank baffles.
He dug where the owner had once seen piping as he was trenching for something else and then back-tracked toward the leach field to try to find a tank. Piping, yes. Tank, no.
At one point, before we found the leach field, we were worried that there really was no septic at all, and that the suspiciously small pond close to the house was actually a waste lagoon. Pretty scary, considering that the owner's kids use it as a swimming hole. Thank goodness, that turned out not to be the case.
We finally gave up around 4 PM when the only remaining spots to dig between the piping and the house became uncomfortably close to electric and water lines, not to mention the back deck. The backhoe operator called it a day and notified the "Dig-Right" folks to come out and mark those lines for safety. Now we'll be going back another day, and he'll have to dig some more.
So, hurray, I have smart buyers! I should be celebrating, right? But let's take a look at this from the other side:
My buyers aren't paying the freight here. Sellers are generally responsible for making their homes accessible for inspection, and that includes the plumbing system.
Sure, my buyers were paying for the original septic inspection, which included some digging. But they certainly were not going to pay to go on a "tank hunt".
The current owner chose not to get the home inspected when he bought it. He probably saved a few dollars by doing that. Now he's paying a guy to dig up his backyard. That would have been the previous seller's problem, if only this owner had chosen to get an inspection when he was the buyer.
When you're deciding whether it's worth it to pay for an inspection, don't just think about today. Think about what might burn you later when the next buyer calls that inspector out.
Here in rural Southwest Missouri, many buyers believe that since there are no local building codes, there's no point bothering with an inspection. Don't think that way.
An inspector is not there to check for code violations, but to see if the systems of the home work correctly and safely.
Don't stop at the walls of the house, either. Outside city and rural water district limits, drinking water and waste disposal systems are very, very personal matters.
When I say "personal" I mean it's YOUR problem. The city is not going to come and fix it for you.
Unless it's so bad that your neighbors or someone from the county notices, no one but you is going to care if it works or not, if it's safe or not. Get your well tested, and get your septic inspected.
All right, say it together with me now: Get an Inspection!
Post-Script: Well, we found the tank, away from the house in about the only spot that didn't get dug up the first day. That's a positive. But it's full to overflowing, and the leach field is not at an acceptable depth. It's too deep for our Southwest Missouri clay soil, so it's going to have to be re-dug down a slope.
This is entirely not the fault of the current owner, but he'll be paying for it anyway. I think you know what phrase I'd like to repeat here, but you get the idea, right?