Septic System - Deal Breaker?

63 Replies

@Bastian Kneuse I've been  a landlord over a decade and it can already be difficult enough. I don't know much about them but I know they have to be maintained and inspected. I assume your renter can damage them. I don't know how long they last but they have to be replaced as some point maybe. They have to be pumped.  I assume there can be leaks and other problems that can devastate your pockets. Seems like there may be some form of regulation through the jurisdiction. For me, I just don't see the point if there are so many other properties I can chose without that added thing to deal with. I consider this the same as dealing with well water systems. It's extra stuff I don't need to deal with. I can't find any reason to go that route. 

I'd recommend putting RidX in the septic every 1-2 months in addition to having it cleaned every 3-5 years--depending on your tenant. One old lady can probably push it to 5 years but a family of 5 or so would need a more frequent cleaning. Put the RidX in the lease agreement and your tenants will do that part for you. 

Get it inspected before you buy to make sure there aren't any major issues, like root intrusions. They will also clean it when it is inspected, so that's your first round.

Just had septic tank issues on one of my properties, where it got backed up and flooded out the bottom level of the house. Yuk! 

It cost me over $5,500 to clean the tank out and clean the floor. 

Yes, please have septic tanks scheduled for maintenance at least every 3 years.

Also, I just paid over $1,200 on the same property a month ago for damage to the roof from a storm.

Always have at least $10K in cash reserves.

Thank you. So many great perspectives. I suppose I underestimated septic systems. The area I am looking at is rural but developing rapidly. I guess at one point there wont be a need for septic systems, since it will be completely developed. However, this won't help me much right now. If I go down that route, it definitely makes sense to include additional language into the lease agreement. I am not local to the property and at the "mercy" of the property management. I probably need to take another look at the risk/reward tradeoff. 

Septic systems are in use everywhere there isn't public sewer. There's millions of them. Many areas have public water but not public sewer as sewer is much more expensive and complicated to install. We have several properties on septic systems (including our own home) and have had to change out one system. (it was very old, tank made out of bricks)

Never had one inspected, never had one pumped. Our personal home was built 20 years ago. We're planning on having it pumped this year to see how it's doing.

I"ve owned three properties with septic systems, all in WA state and never had any problems with any of them and never had any freezing problems.  Had them pumped out as often as was advised by the septic guy - can't remember how often it was, but probably every other year or so.  I had one system installed on raw land I bought and I put in a system much larger than I expected to need, because it's not much more expensive and easier to do the first time.

I'd add to all of the above that you also need to make sure nobody is driving or parking on the field.

In areas where this is normal, people just seem to know what they're supposed to do and not do.  If it's an area where everybody has wells and septics.  But, depending on where this property is that you're interested, if you think someone might rent from somewhere they're used to city sewage systems, there might be more problems.  

If it was a good deal otherwise, I'd go for it, but I'd make sure there is no way anyone could ever drive or park on the field - I'd put up a good fence with no gate big enough for a vehicle.  I'd be sure and remind them once in a while about what they can and can't put down the drain or toilet and explain how sewage could back into the house if they did, so they have good incentive lol.

Tenants are overwhelmed when they are signing contracts and being given lots of info about everything when they first move in.  They have so much on their minds about moving costs and issues, etc., that everything doesn't always sink in.  So, I think it's helpful to give them a friendly reminder.  And I'd probably make it about asking them if everything is working okay and drop in a sentence reminding them how to take care of the septic so it doesn't back sewage up into the house.

As long as you have reserves in the unlikely event you have to dig up the field or address any sewage backups, and make sure they can't drive or park on it, etc., it's not that horrible of a thing to deal with.  Granted, city utilities are lower maintenance for sure.  But, if it's what you can afford and the numbers work and you have the time and reserves in case of problems, why not?  I'd do it. My experiences with septic systems were not negative.

As to wells, if you've got water flow, you're issues would be pump problems.  New pumps are expensive plus the cost of getting someone to replace one.  I also had a well dug on the raw land.  And you need to pass water tests with the city or county.   Again, just more stuff to deal with, but not horrible.

I have one for my own house that I had cleaned out this year in NY. It's very old and will eventually need replacing. Normally they are sized for the house with extra-capacity. They have bacteria that breaks the waist down and the overflow goes to a dry well area that handles the overflow of liquid while the waist drops to the bottom of the tank and breaks down by bacteria. Once a year maintenance is usually more than is needed. We usually do every five years. Getting it looked at by a professional wouldn't hurt. I say go for it. Mine is 80 years old and was made of steal. The newer ones are plastic or concrete.

@Bastian Kneuse you are good, is not an old house, I had a hard time with a house, but mime was built in the 60’s.. the septic tank was overflowing and I sent some people to clean and didn’t work, they told me they could try to fix it for $2,500 and if didn’t work i would get 75% of the money back, and that’s what happened.. luckily I was able to convert to the city sewer but I ended up spending $3k to the city plus $4k for the labor, but I advise to make sure sewer is available in the area before buying a property..

@Bastian Kneuse

I don’t deal with septics often but we have crossed paths a handful of times.

I would think that septic repairs might be easier than dealing with the sewer in a city street.

My biggest advise would be to comp the home against others on septic.

Are you going to move forward?

@Bastian Kneuse Since this is a newer home I would not be concerned with buying a home that has a septic system. Issues normally come with the older homes that have systems that have never been replaced. 

Just get it inspected like you would the rest of the home to cover your bases. I know here in CT, there is a separate rider for a septic inspection so make sure you are including that with your offer if your state has one. 

People looking in more remote areas know they may have to deal with septic systems from my experience and many of them have grown up around them so they are not intimidated by them at all. 

There are many different types of septic systems. Some are aerated, meaning they have an air compressor pumping air into the system 100% of the time. These take the most maintenance, others are filtered systems, and then there are hybrids. The most simple and easiest to maintain are simply a baffled tank with a leach field. These are normally not filtered in my locality. There are as many different ways to maintain as there are systems so you need to know what type you have and get an expert to inspect and leave you with a maintenance schedule. 

All that being said I have never lived anywhere that I wasn't on a septic system, and in 40 years I have had 1 emergency repair. The one I have now is an aerated system and Its been in the ground 19 years. It's been pumped once.  

@Bastian Kneuse we owned a home for several years that was on septic.. it’s pretty standard around here that when you sell your home you have your septic tank pumped and then inspected. You can do all this for a few hundred bucks. Some people get nervous when it comes

to septic but they are pretty simple systems really. If it’s a good deal I wouldn’t let the fact that it’s got a septic system deter you!

@Bastian Kneuse It’s a newer system so it should already have an alarm on it. If it doesn’t I would look into having one installed so you don’t have issues of it backing up. If it has a pump fed drain field make sure you are aware of where it is plugged in and make sure it doesn’t get disconnected. If the home has a garbage disposal in the kitchen I would remove it. You don’t want any unnecessary stuff going into it.

I would not worry about having a septic, there are plenty of homes out there that have them. Like everyone stated above just get it pumped out on a regular basis and you will be fine.

@Bastian Kneuse

Lived in Paradise CA before it burned down in the campfire. The whole town was on septic, 50k people. You just have to know how to works skeptics systems. Dont put the wrong stuff in the system and add bacteria regularly to dissolve the matter. I had friends who didn't pump their septic for over 10 years. They only put biodegradable toilet paper and poop.

My son a few years ago put an offer on a house and the realtor had the inspector check the sewer connection. It wasn't until then did they know that it was on a septic tank. The realtor wanted him to back out of the deal but my son and daughter in law both grew up with septic tanks and didn't see it as a problem. Bought house. 3 years later still no problems.

@Bastian Kneuse Septics aren’t that big of a deal. Where I’m at in Michigan, there are literally thousands of homes within 15 miles of me with them. The biggest problem people have with septics are generally hygene product related (sorry ladies). The property I have under contract has a septic that’s something like 30 years old. I had an interNACHI inspect check it out for 200 bucks. He told me that as long as I only flush things I should be (fluids/gray water/human excrement), it will last indefinitely.

I think getting the inspection is the key. I get that it’s scary for investors because we don’t know anything about them. We need to hire good people who do to let us know what to expect!

I’ve been living in my home for 6 years now, and I’ve never seen my septic tank. I’d also like to echo a few other comments about wasting money on septic products. It’s all a “load of crap”, pun intended!

Good luck on the house!

@Mark Cruse I wouldn't say it is a killer deal. I would called it a solid one. I think it is slightly above the average in this area. 

@Sue K. I think the septic system is in the back of the house. It is fenced in, hence there shouldn't be a concern with driving on it. But I will double check. Thank you for bringing this up. 

@Michael Noto I think most of the people in that area are renters. Not sure how knowledgeable they are about septic systems. But I will definitely make sure to include that in the inspection. Thank you.