It often surprises people, who associate septic tanks with living in the boonies, to learn that many parts of Alamo are still on septic. The little street I lived on when we first moved to Alamo (Sunnybrook Road) just brought sewer down the street”exciting news, especially for the people with homes to sell. One home is pending, but two others are new to the market on Sunnybrook”smart timing since the septic tank came with certain remodeling limitations and give buyers a general sense of uneasiness.
Septic tanks themselves are nothing to fear, but it is important to understand the implications if you are buying or selling a home with a septic tank.
The first thing you™ll notice in the world of septic tanks, is that they are fascinating subjects for men. I don™t mean to be sexist, but seriously¦.if you are a man in Alamo attending a cocktail party, and you are knowledgeable about septic tanks, you can expect to be a hit at the party. Women are more practical: we don™t really care how it works, just be clear: we really can™t use bleach?
If you are a man reading this, you may want a brief explanation about how the septic tank works, so you can prepare for your next cocktail party. I am a woman, therefore not really qualified to give you the low-down, but my husband suggests www.howthingswork.com for a more detailed explanation.
But even though I am a woman with the traditional œI really don™t care how it works, just as long as I don™t have to smell it attitude toward my own septic tank, as a realtor, I need to be able to advise my clients. Truly, I lived happily without giving my septic tank a single thought (except the obvious things about being careful what you flush, and not using bleach); until it became an issue for my buyers and sellers. Growing up in Colorado we had a septic tank and a œparty line (guess which one was more annoying to my teen-age self?).
There are new rules and regulations that affect the repair and replacement of septic tanks. If you live within 300 feet of the sewer line, you live under different rules than if you live 301 feet or more away.
A very typical scenario in Alamo today: a small house on a big lot sells, the new owners want to add on. If there is a septic tank, there will be restrictions. It may surprise you to learn that there is no limit to how many bathrooms they can add. However, they will be limited to how many bedrooms they can add. And certainly you cannot build directly over the tank–my friend who lives at the end of Arbor Lane (2 streets removed from Sunnybrook) was reminsicing about when they brought the sewer line down her street. She described at as a difficult week to share the road with the equipment because Arbor is such a skinny lane but said, “It was all worth it to know that it’s not somthing that will be an issue if we were to sell,” and in the meantime, “it is nice to know we can build on the property without restrictions. At one point we wanted to built an addition but couldn’t because the area we wanted to build on was over the septic tank.”
The most important thing to understand about septic tanks is that they, like us, have a lifespan. And if the septic tank needs to be replaced, it will cost in the neighborhood of $10,000. More (much more) if the leach lines need work or to be replaced. However, you won™t even get a chance to spend all this money if you are within 300 feet of a sewer line: you will be required to connect.
As a buyer you should have a septic inspection if there is any doubt of the condition of the tank, but keep in mind that it is a very intrusive (and expensive) inspection involving digging up some of the yard. The old redwood tanks have a lifespan of about 50 or 60 years. If a house sits empty, this is very bad for the septic tank: they stay in good shape when they stay active.
As a seller, you must be aware of the condition of your septic tank, and be prepared to answer questions about it. Before going to market, pump the tank and ensure that it has some good life left in it. Otherwise, you have handed your buyers a major negotiation tool, particularly if you are within the 300 feet mark.
What does it cost to connect to the sewer? The answer to that question will vary enormously depending on such factors as how far away the line is, if there is a hill, how far apart the homes on the street are spaced, etc.
I checked in with my friends and former neighbors on Sunnybrook to see how the installation went. They said the project took time to get underway due to a holdup in getting the plans approved. All but two of the homeowners participated, making the project more affordable for all. I remember when we looked into it a few years ago, we were told that if all 14 homes agreed to share the cost, then we™d be looking at around $9,000 per household to bring the line down the street. But if only half the households elected to share the cost, it will double”but if those homes later elect to connect, the people that originally footed the bill will get a refund. Even if you move to Arizona, if you leave a forwarding address, you™ll get a check in the mail. Connecting the house to the line will cost another $15,000 to $20,000.
I learned those specifics a few years ago by talking to Russ Leavitt in the Sanitary District at the County. Russ is a wonderful guy with a huge amount of patience and even more knowledge. He™s the person that will organize a œstreet meeting if your street wants to chat about the possibilities. And¦if you can get him to your cocktail party, he™ll bring that septic chit-chat to a whole new level!
That™s the poop on septic tanks¦.it™s not all stinky news. Just be sure you™re aware of the potential pitfalls and so you can gracefully avoid them. And there™s no question that the grass is greener over the septic tank, so plant a beautiful garden and watch it grow!