Important Caution for Ann Arbor area Home Buyers on city sewers

Real Estate Agent with Home Buyer's Agent of Ann Arbor

If you are buying a home in the city over about 40 years old you should be having a sewer line inspection.

Many homes built from the early 1940's to the mid 1960's used a material called Orangeburg for the sewer lines. Unfortunately Orangeburg has a limited life. (Do a search for Orangeburg on my blog for much more information and videos.)

Many of the homes of this generation have had the sewer lines repaird already, but there is a special issue on these homes you need to be aware of. There are typically three different parts of the sewer line that might be replaced. An they are not always all done.

1. House to sidewalk.

2. Sidwalk to curb.

3. Curb to main line in the street.

A listing may say "sewer replaced" when only the section from the house to the sidewalk has actually been replaced. The other two sections are generally more expensive and if they aren't failing at the moment a home owner may not have the whole job done.

As an example, about nine years ago we helped a home buyer buy in the Dicken school area. Our inspection showed the sewerline was starting to colapse. We negotiated to have the seller replace the sewer line to the main in the street prior to closing.

When I stopped by to check on the work the workmen were only replacing to the sidewalk.

I had to call the listing agent and specifically point out to her that the contract called for replacement to the main. She argued but eventually gave in.

To this day I don't know if she was just careless or if she was trying to cheat the purchaser. But the point is... you need to pay attention to the sewer line, even if the seller says it has been replaced.

 Jon Boyd, Broker/Manager
The Home Buyer's Agent of Ann Arbor, Inc.
member office of
1908 W. Stadium Blvd. Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Ann Arbor's Most experienced Exclusive Buyer's Brokerage! 

Comments (3)

Laura Degiovanni
Home Buyer's Agent of Ann Arbor - Milford, MI
Milford Exclusive Buyer Agent


As you know, older homes in Ann Arbor may also have sewer lines that are cast iron or made out of a crock material.  While these materials don't tend to cave in like Orangeburg does, they can still be problematic because of rust, root intrusion, etc.

A failure in your sewer line is a BIG nightmare, no matter what the pipe is made of and I agree that it is probably a good idea for buyers (of older homes) to have an inspection of the sewer line done at the time of the other inspections.

Sep 12, 2008 09:03 AM
Bobby Frank

As an inspector who works in the Ann Arbor Mi. area, I always advise my clients about the problems and cost of repairs for Orangeberg sewer line. According to Michigan Power Rodding, it was installed in the 1950's and early 60's. However, it can be found in homes from other vintages since sewer lines may have been replaced during that time period. For example, when East Ann Arbor was absorbed by Ann Arbor (I believe in the 50's) Sewer lines were added to all the homes in that community, typically using Orangeberg.

One can never know for sure on any home whether a home from the mid 60's has O-berg or not. Once had a home on Renfrew St. that had homes W/ Orangeberg on both sides, across the street and directly behind, yet when this home was camera inspected, the sewer line (yes, it was original) was clay tile. And I have found the opposite.

As for problems w/ other types of sewer lines, look at Ann Arbor's Sewer Replacement Permit List, and you will see that over 90% of permits pulled are for Orangeburg work.

Interestingly, even though I greatly emphasize the importance of a camera inspection by a quality plumbing company (and using only someone who has been w/ that company over 5 years and routinely does sewer inspections)  some of my clients pass on the $200 - $400 expense. I attribute this to "their" realtors saying things like ...   We can do it if you really want to  ...  It's not really typical to do this ...   Are you sure, it's inconvenient to the seller (not used much now because most homes being sold are vacant) ....   and my fave - Oh, that inspector always makes a big deal out of things and is always finding problems ...       Then I get the call from my client  at a later date asking me for recommendations on sewer contractors and having to pay the 5 figure fee I had warned them about.

Jon, you and I know that all buyer's agents (I feel all realtors have that responsibility) except a handful never discuss Orangeberg w/ their clients. Even the majority of home inspectors don't bring it up unless they see obvious signs of sewer line problems. They don't want to "kill the deal".

Bobby Frank

A Buyer's Ally - RJ Frank Home Inspections


Dec 27, 2008 01:34 AM
Jon Boyd
Home Buyer's Agent of Ann Arbor - Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor Real Estate Buyers Agent

We ran into another sewer issue on a Saline Michigan home purchase recently. In this case the seller knew the sewer line was Orangeburg but he was reportedly told when he purchased the home that if it wasn't collapsed it wasn't a problem. 

That isn't remotely correct.

During the sewer line video he said "If the buyers don't like Orangeburg sewers they will need to find another house to buy."

It took about two weeks to bring him to his senses. During the process the sellers and listing agent tried to get our buyers to accept a sewer line trenching quote from a plumbing company with no market history and limited experience. At best this would have left the buyers with a big mound of dirt in the front yard for about two years. At worst they could have been forced to cover additional costs since the company quoted replacement of the line just up to the sidewak. (That would have left Orangeburg from the sidewalk to the curb.)

The bottom line is that it was a struggle, but we eventually negotiated for the seller to put about $16,000 into a repair escrow so a credible excavating contractor could replace the whole line.

And the buyers won't need to worry about their sewer line failing!

Oct 21, 2019 08:14 AM