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Old Septic Tank Under The House

(or why falling in love with an old house is a seriously bad idea)

So my wife and I are trying to take the plunge into home ownership, as the monthly on a mortgage is significantly less than our rent is (living in the Triangle area of North Carolina). This house was built in 1934, for some reference. It has had 3 additions - for the most part the inspector indicated they were well done and generally nothing to worry about. It needs a new roof, but hey, what man or woman doesn't want to spend five days clambering around thirty feet off the ground, ripping up shingles?

Aaaand here's the problem: there's an old, improperly abandoned septic tank under one of the additions. It appears to be concrete and a big old hole has been busted into the cap. Like, if someone was setting a trap for home inspectors, this would be a good way to do it - the guy wouldn't even go into the nearest crawlspace entrance to it (there are 3) for fear that he'd fall into a separate hole and die covered in poo water.

Some cursory reading indicates that a lot of states won't even let you sell a house with an improperly abandoned septic under the residence. Even if it's possible, and the bank allows us to go through with it (which is seriously in doubt), it would really, really, really need to be repaired. No idea where the pump for this thing is so getting the water out might be tricky - oh yea, it's filled up with water because the house has been unoccupied for a while (estate sale) and the gutters backed up and poured rain into the foundation, not bad enough to really destroy anything but it's made the septic an even more hilarious chore.

I'm figuring at this point we really just need to walk away from the house. I'm only hesitant because in addition to eating the fees for the inspector, we've put up what's called 'due diligence' money, which is a hilarious concept that forces us as the buyers to pay the seller for the right to ensure their building isn't a death trap. All told we'll be out about a thousand bucks on this, if we walk, and that's not chump change for us. I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this and lived to tell the tale. If so, how badly did it go for you and how did you fix the problem?

LoL & Spiral Knights & MC & SMNC: Carrington - Origin: CarringtonPlus - Steam: skdrtran

Posts

  • zagdrobzagdrob Registered User regular
    (or why falling in love with an old house is a seriously bad idea)

    So my wife and I are trying to take the plunge into home ownership, as the monthly on a mortgage is significantly less than our rent is (living in the Triangle area of North Carolina). This house was built in 1934, for some reference. It has had 3 additions - for the most part the inspector indicated they were well done and generally nothing to worry about. It needs a new roof, but hey, what man or woman doesn't want to spend five days clambering around thirty feet off the ground, ripping up shingles?

    Aaaand here's the problem: there's an old, improperly abandoned septic tank under one of the additions. It appears to be concrete and a big old hole has been busted into the cap. Like, if someone was setting a trap for home inspectors, this would be a good way to do it - the guy wouldn't even go into the nearest crawlspace entrance to it (there are 3) for fear that he'd fall into a separate hole and die covered in poo water.

    Some cursory reading indicates that a lot of states won't even let you sell a house with an improperly abandoned septic under the residence. Even if it's possible, and the bank allows us to go through with it (which is seriously in doubt), it would really, really, really need to be repaired. No idea where the pump for this thing is so getting the water out might be tricky - oh yea, it's filled up with water because the house has been unoccupied for a while (estate sale) and the gutters backed up and poured rain into the foundation, not bad enough to really destroy anything but it's made the septic an even more hilarious chore.

    I'm figuring at this point we really just need to walk away from the house. I'm only hesitant because in addition to eating the fees for the inspector, we've put up what's called 'due diligence' money, which is a hilarious concept that forces us as the buyers to pay the seller for the right to ensure their building isn't a death trap. All told we'll be out about a thousand bucks on this, if we walk, and that's not chump change for us. I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this and lived to tell the tale. If so, how badly did it go for you and how did you fix the problem?

    First of all, if you are walking away from a sale for a reason (such as being unable to secure a mortgage due to the home failing inspection due to dangerous conditions) you should get your due diligence money back. That's what our realtor told us anyway. Due diligence money is only lost if you back out for no good reason or can't secure financing due to bad credit or something like that.

    Second, it's possible that the septic tank could be pumped out and back-filled with either dirt or cement. That's what my parents had to do with an old cistern - they just had a dump truck come in and fill it with dirt. It wasn't completely under the house, but it did the trick. Since it sounds relatively inaccessible it might be a bit harder, like having to pump in cement or something like that...but talk to a few contractors about it and they may be able to give you an estimate. I'd bet a couple grand? Probably less than a new roof.

  • XaquinXaquin Right behind you!Registered User regular
    walk away

    the house I currently live in is 10 years newer than that one and has had a slew of problems that have cost thousands.

    and none of them were near as bad as an improperly abandoned septic tank.

  • ThanatosThanatos Registered User regular
    Are they not required to disclose something like that before you lay down your due diligence money and shell out for an inspection?

  • supabeastsupabeast Registered User regular
    Thanatos wrote: »
    Are they not required to disclose something like that…

    It probably depends on state law, and maybe the seller didn’t know, but generally yes.

    Don’t even think about buying this house. If an abandoned and damaged septic tank is what your inspector found then you don’t even want to know what he missed!

    Lovely
  • The Good Doctor TranThe Good Doctor Tran Registered User regular
    Thanatos wrote: »
    Are they not required to disclose something like that before you lay down your due diligence money and shell out for an inspection?

    It's an estate sale on behalf of the widow of the guy who owned it. I'm not sure what the legal requirements are there, but I know that on our offer they disclosed precisely nothing, including the roof, and when we offered 18 grand below the asking price (we'd learned about the roof via the GC who was involved with the house previously), they came back with 'as-is' on the offer before accepting. So yea, I have no idea what all the deal is here in terms of their obligations.

    I should be clear that we're getting a good price for the house, assuming the cost of the roof (~12k) and a few grand of other little things. This to me just seems like more than a few grand of work given there is a house on top of a fetid pool of water/possibly sewage.

    LoL & Spiral Knights & MC & SMNC: Carrington - Origin: CarringtonPlus - Steam: skdrtran
  • JaysonFourJaysonFour Classy Monster Kitteh Registered User regular
    You could always make it a condition of the sale that the seller takes care of the problem or the deal's off.

    steam_sig.png
  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    If they're selling as-is, they are probably not going to take care of it ever. This is not "a few grand of other little things." The house isn't safe and can't pass inspection. I am pretty sure you get your money back if you walk away due to a failed inspection. Talk to your realtor, they'll know... but you may be looking at real money just for a patch, and the fact that it's there may cause more problems down the line and even prevent YOU from selling it when it's time.

    I've got my own life and I've got my own plans
    I hope you understand, and like the way that I am
  • DjeetDjeet Registered User regular
    edited March 2013
    Selling or buying as-is doesn't necessarily mean the owner takes poor care of the house (though in this case it looks like there was some long-term neglect); as-is makes the transaction cleaner so it doesn't get bogged down in negotiation (you ask for price reduction due to material defects, they counter that they will fix, and if you agree now you're beholden to the seller to effect repairs that may not be up to your standards if you were to have fixed it, etc). In our offer letter to buy our current house we put the as-is clause in there cause we knew it needed some work, but we wanted cash back at closing to fix it for ourselves.

    Talk to your realtor, he/she should've crafted the offer letter and worked the contract such that if during your option period you find big problems (especially non-disclosed defects) then you can let the option expire and get your deposit back, or can re-negotiate the contract. Your realtor isn't very good if he/she did not craft the contract that way.

    I wouldn't assume too much about how much it's going to cost to fix without getting several estimates, for work that's up to code.

    Djeet on
  • The Good Doctor TranThe Good Doctor Tran Registered User regular
    Djeet wrote: »
    Selling or buying as-is doesn't necessarily mean the owner takes poor care of the house (though in this case it looks like there was some long-term neglect); as-is makes the transaction cleaner so it doesn't get bogged down in negotiation (you ask for price reduction due to material defects, they counter that they will fix, and if you agree now you're beholden to the seller to effect repairs that may not be up to your standards if you were to have fixed it, etc). In our offer letter to buy our current house we put the as-is clause in there cause we knew it needed some work, but we wanted cash back at closing to fix it for ourselves.

    Talk to your realtor, he/she should've crafted the offer letter and worked the contract such that if during your option period you find big problems (especially non-disclosed defects) then you can let the option expire and get your deposit back, or can re-negotiate the contract. Your realtor isn't very good if he/she did not craft the contract that way.

    I wouldn't assume too much about how much it's going to cost to fix without getting several estimates, for work that's up to code.

    Cash back at signing wouldn't be a bad option as a re-negotiation deal, providing I can get her to agree to substantially less than my prior offer. I'm definitely going to ask for even more off than whatever the estimates come back as, if only because I feel like it's gross negligence not to even look in the crawlspace of a house you're trying to sell, or have someone do it for you.

    LoL & Spiral Knights & MC & SMNC: Carrington - Origin: CarringtonPlus - Steam: skdrtran
  • KiplingKipling Registered User regular
    edited March 2013
    Your home inspector could not properly and completely inspect the house because it was a hazard to his health. The house has a load pushing down on an empty (?) septic tank for who knows how long, so that part of the house may have settled as well. And since he couldn't check the crawl space for that, you don't know.

    Call whichever part of the county/city does building permits for that area - they may be able to help you out as well.

    Edit: I bought a 40 year old house and the previous owners gave me the original map of the septic tank system and some of the construction paperwork. I wish more people were like them.

    Kipling on
    3DS Friends: 1693-1781-7023
  • mtsmts Registered User regular
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    camo_sig.png
    EsseeDhalphirJaysonFour
  • see317see317 Registered User regular
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    Ringo wrote: »
    Well except what see317 said. That guy's always wrong.
  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    see317 wrote: »
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    No cage, they just force the criminals to live in their houses.

    I've got my own life and I've got my own plans
    I hope you understand, and like the way that I am
    EsseeDhalphirbowenDisco11
  • The Good Doctor TranThe Good Doctor Tran Registered User regular
    Listen, it has delightful wainscoting and the evidence of black mold is entirely fabricated. SuperMax can't beat this decor.

    LoL & Spiral Knights & MC & SMNC: Carrington - Origin: CarringtonPlus - Steam: skdrtran
  • Dr. FrenchensteinDr. Frenchenstein Registered User regular
    my batcave is totally not up to code.

    Disco11
  • azith28azith28 Registered User regular
    Speaking of that, you could turn it into a very smelly batcave!

    You are an orphaned billionare right?

    steam_sig.png

  • Dr. FrenchensteinDr. Frenchenstein Registered User regular
    can you imagine the terrible superhero you would become if you fell in there as a child?

  • iRevertiRevert Tactical Martha Stewart Registered User regular
    edited March 2013
    ceres wrote: »
    see317 wrote: »
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    No cage, they just force the criminals to live in their houses.

    Or you could just re-purpose the septic tank!

    No but seriously, and this is coming from someone who recently purchased a run down older house that didn't seem "that bad" to fix up, you need to look a hell of a lot closer.

    How well is it insulated? Not just attic but walls, I ended up putting in around 16 inches of blown in insulation into my attic and then pulling down every single piece of drywall and plaster and re-insulating all the walls.

    How new is the furnace and waterheater? What is it oil/nat gas/wood? What condition is the chimney (liner) in?
    What form of heating system is it? Forced air (vents) or hyronic (radiators)? When was the last time the vents were cleaned and more importantly when was the last time they were inspected for leaks?

    I ended up re-piping the entire hydronic system in my house because whoever did it initally had no business plotting out a loop, I also replaced the furnace from an oil burner to a HE nat gas one...The furnace alone cost me almost 10k and I had to have a hookup/meter installed.

    Waterheater age? Type? Tankless/tank nat gas/electric?

    How is the wiring? Do you have an old fuse box or is a updated circuit breaker? On visible wiring is older or updated? Is the wiring up to code? I went into my house knowing I had to update the electrical but when I started knocking down drywall to re-insulate it showed how bad it was and how many against code mistakes were there.

    What condition are the floors in? Do they have really thick carpeting in any rooms? Thick heavily padded carpet is often used to cover up horrid unlevel floors for a quick sale. A big red flag is when there is new carpet in one or two rooms that is very soft and cushioned. This also can be done to cover up asbestos tile flooring.

    What is the status on the asbestos waiver? Is it "None to my knowledge"? I've uncovered asbestos siding, flooring, and insulation in my house and basically sued the everloving fuck out of the previous owners (who were a few members of a family selling a house that they inherited) in the mean time I had to hire a crew to come in and do it and that is not cheap at all. The best I can hope for is getting back what I paid for the crew and nothing more.

    The roof needs to be replaced? Is it just the shingles or are you going to need to do a full replacement? Any warping? How many layers of shingles are on it as is?

    Is it a "as-is" sale? If so walk the fuck away now, never ever ever buy a house that is "as-is" unless you are willing to take massive hits in the pocket book.


    And finally the septic tank, it is a deal breaker. Do yourself a favor and call any place that deals with septic tank removal and ask them what it will cost to have it:
    A) Inspected
    B) Drained and Removed (and be sure to mention it is under the house with zero above ground access)
    C) Contamination tests done

    Have a chair, a bottle of aspirin, and a diaper ready because that figure alone will cause you to simultaneously shit your pants and have a heart attack, it will make the cost of the roof seem trivial.

    Seriously it is time to walk away or at least put some serious thought into it. The thing about old houses is that one project tends to uncover about 10 others, when I did the walls I found out that half of my windows were incorrectly installed and several of them didn't even have a weep that went outside. I found damage to external walls and water damage, rot, highly dangerous and illegal wiring and plumbing, and just a fuckton of issues.

    A house that I got a "good deal on" because I pointed out all the things that I could (and two different inspectors could) find ended up sinking me around 50k just to get it up to code. Meaning just to get it to the point where I could legally occupy the house, there was structural stuff that was the big thing there but that is a different story for another day. At the end of the day I have a nice house that I can live in for a long time without worrying about any major repairs or projects, but I've also sunk almost 30k more than the house is worth into it meaning I'd lose my ass if I tried to sell it.

    You need to keep these things in mind, as it stands I'm locked into my house for +/- 10 years before I can sell it and turn a profit. I would highly advise you to walk away or seriously sit down and think about things. If this septic tank thing just "popped up" during the inspection and wasn't disclosed to you prior you need to WALK THE FUCK AWAY. If it was I'd be very very very very very very very weary about the house and have another inspector come out as well as find out how much it will cost to have the septic removed.

    iRevert on
    steam_sig.png
  • chrishallett83chrishallett83 Hi! Registered User regular
    All the people telling you to walk away from this house are totally wrong.

    Fucking RUN, and don't look back.

    Whatever happens, do not buy this house.

    terriblepostsigpic.jpg
    AusPAX tickets get [X] Accomodation get [X] Plane tickets get [X] Goodie giftbags made [ ]
  • see317see317 Registered User regular
    edited March 2013
    ceres wrote: »
    see317 wrote: »
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    No cage, they just force the criminals to live in their houses.
    Every night they patrol the city, hoping to find a professional contractor that's turned to crime.

    see317 on
    Ringo wrote: »
    Well except what see317 said. That guy's always wrong.
  • azith28azith28 Registered User regular
    see317 wrote: »
    ceres wrote: »
    see317 wrote: »
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    No cage, they just force the criminals to live in their houses.
    Every night they patrol the city, hoping to find a professional contractor that's turned to crime.

    Thats not a hard job. All professional contractors turn to crime when it comes around to billable hours and labor costs.

    steam_sig.png

  • zepherinzepherin Registered User regular
    How much is the house going for. Is it going for a steal. If the house is going for market rate walk. If the house is going for 40-60% under market rate, and the septic tank is the only major issue, it can be fixed and might be a good buy. If the foundation is cracked, or the electrical is buggered, or other issues, I would walk anyways, unless the house was dirt cheap, like less than 20k for a house cheap.

    For fixing the septic tank, I honestly would pump it out and fill it with concrete. Companies will come and drain a septic tank the price is generally not too horrible. After that I would either put in a new septic tank, or run a line to city sewage. It really depends on the area. Inside the house I would cap the end going to the septic tank and run a new line. As long as it is pumped out and cleaned before hand it is likely to be code compliant to concrete it in. If you go with backfill, you'll need to punch holes in the bottum of the septic tank to make sure it has proper drainage.

    Make sure you check to see if there are other septic tanks abandoned. They may have put a couple septic tanks in and daisy chained them together. It happens more than you'd think.

    azith28: And that is why you should never ever ever ever ever engage in any contract with a general contractor other than firm fixed price. EVER. If an issue comes up out of scope, get a price, but shop around.

    Another issue of note.

    If the water is running towards the house even with the gutters backed up, it is advisable to have the land regraded so that the water is moving away or arround the house. Actually if you have a backhoe(and if you are going to do plumbing outside you'll want one) the price to have that done isn't too rediculous, but it is something to be considered.

  • iRevertiRevert Tactical Martha Stewart Registered User regular
    azith28 wrote: »
    see317 wrote: »
    ceres wrote: »
    see317 wrote: »
    mts wrote: »
    walk
    away

    though if you do go through with it, you and @Dr. Frenchenstein could form a duo and fight crime

    God only knows what kind kind of cage they'd have for their criminals.
    A week or two and they'd probably be begging for solitary in a supermax.

    No cage, they just force the criminals to live in their houses.
    Every night they patrol the city, hoping to find a professional contractor that's turned to crime.

    Thats not a hard job. All professional contractors turn to crime when it comes around to billable hours and labor costs.

    We aren't going to get into this, but no not all do so. There are mainly very skilled and hardworking independent contractors that go extra miles and do many small things to keep people happy.

    That being said there are a ton of crooked pieces of shit out there.

    steam_sig.png
    Essee
  • The Good Doctor TranThe Good Doctor Tran Registered User regular
    So just FYI, we did walk away. Unfortunately, because the widow didn't know anything about the house (or claims she didn't) we're out the diligence money and the fee for the inspector, which stings pretty badly but what're you gonna do?

    It wasn't just the septic tank (although we were trying to negotiate for a < $70k final price when that was the issue). The final inspection report came back with serious structural concerns in the roof structure and floor joists, potentially wood-eating fungus in the crawlspace, the land needed to be regraded...and at that point I basically told them that unless they were effectively giving the place away for free we were done.

    It's really too bad, the grounds are amazing and it's a spacious piece of property in an area that's getting built up pretty badly. Someone could knock down the house and build something new and it'd be incredible.

    LoL & Spiral Knights & MC & SMNC: Carrington - Origin: CarringtonPlus - Steam: skdrtran
  • schussschuss Registered User regular
    You'll want to check with a lawyer, but I believe you still have a right to the dilligence money as it relates to paying for the property inspection and whatnot, if not a full refund. Every real estate transaction I've ever seen has all deposits etc. contingent on inspection.

    see317Essee
  • see317see317 Registered User regular
    schuss wrote: »
    You'll want to check with a lawyer, but I believe you still have a right to the dilligence money as it relates to paying for the property inspection and whatnot, if not a full refund. Every real estate transaction I've ever seen has all deposits etc. contingent on inspection.
    At the very least go over any contracts or anything that you've signed in regards to the money. The place was unlivable, you should be getting your diligence money back.

    I don't know if I'd go to a lawyer though, chances are you'll rack more up in hourly fees with a lawyer then the $1000 you're trying to get back.

    Hope you have better luck finding a place in the future, preferably one that isn't a death trap or a money pit.

    Ringo wrote: »
    Well except what see317 said. That guy's always wrong.
  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    You're going to be out for the inspector, because you hired one and he did his job and so you pay him. I think you should be entitled the diligence money, though. If it's really a good chunk of money, it may be worth consulting a lawyer, at least. If it's under a grand I don't know if I'd bother.

    I've got my own life and I've got my own plans
    I hope you understand, and like the way that I am
    Esseezagdrob
  • zepherinzepherin Registered User regular
    It might be in your best interests to simply ask for the money back.

    If I couldn't get the money back by asking, I might consider small claims if the contract had favorable terms cause it's generally the cost of a filing fee and the cost of sending a process server, and generally a straight forward affair, and there are usually no lawyers.
    http://www.legalaidnc.org/public/learn/publications/small_claims_court/Small_Claims_Chapter_1.aspx

    However you should consult with a lawyer before hand, because it can often be done at low or no cost, and often they can do filing and process serving much more quickly than you can.

  • mtsmts Registered User regular
    honestly though, in the grand scheme its better to be out 1k than god knows how much had you actually made an offer. i think if you can show that the seller withheld the info, thenyou could get it back.

    camo_sig.png
  • schussschuss Registered User regular
    ceres wrote: »
    You're going to be out for the inspector, because you hired one and he did his job and so you pay him. I think you should be entitled the diligence money, though. If it's really a good chunk of money, it may be worth consulting a lawyer, at least. If it's under a grand I don't know if I'd bother.

    In reading NC law, at the very least they should receive diligence money equal to the inspection costs.

    RE: Lawyers - it's always good to know a Real Estate lawyer, and the power of something on their stationery saying "give it back" is often all you need, and shouldn't cost you much at all. The key is finding a good lawyer who's willing to see the long view of getting any business you may have in the future as well as recommendations from you to your friends.

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