How much is septic permit and should land sellers provide it?

farmhousegirlJune 13, 2012

We have an offer in on 3 acres. The land has a perc test that passed, but no actual septic permit. In our offer we asked that the septic approval process and permit be provided by seller as part of the purchase deal. They counter offered saying they will not provide the septic approval/permit.

Our agent is saying this is a 'must have' to sell the property/the seller is expected to have this in place. We don't understand why their agent is not educating them this is actually the case... Is this actually a 'must have' or is our agent incorrect? Obviously we would not purchase the land without having a septic approval; but the question is really if this is something a seller is typically expected to pay for and provide. (Also, what is the approximate cost?)

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All I can say is that it isn't something provided by the seller in my area.

In my county, before the permit is issued for a new septic civil engineering and topographic plan has to be completed for the septic as it relates to to the location of your house so it simply wouldn't be possible for the seller to complete this step. However, perch tests are the expensive part of the process, I would expect permits would be between a few hundred and a couple thousand. Though permit prices vary widely, you would need to call your county/city to get the price.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:15AM
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We have bought and sold multiple parcels of land over the past 10 years. It is my understanding that the buyer can make the offer contingent on the property percing in 1 or more areas and you could specify who would pay for the test (usually the buyer). It used to be that you could just call the county up and have the test done, however things have changed. Most counties will not come out and do a perc test anymore unless you are actually applying for a permit. Hiring a soil scientist is the only option at that stage of the game.

With all that being said, it is in the sellers' best interest to have already had the testing done either by the county or a soil scientist, but it is not a requirement. It does not sound like the seller is interested in entertaining this contingency at their cost. I would recommend you counter offer with the perc/septic permit contingency and that you will pay for the tests/permit. That leaves you an out should the land not perc and you will only be out the amount of money it cost for the test/permit. This way, too, you can specify where the land needs to perc to meet your needs. (i.e. You wouldn't want the seller to get a perc approval right up at the street on the far right corner of the property when you planned to build the house near the back left of the property. If the land doesn't perc near where you want to build, then you're left with 2 options--move the house or pump the sewage all the way across the property to where the land did perc.) Basically, there are benefits to you being the one who takes care of the perc while ensuring you're protected against ending up with a property that you can't do anything with.

As far as cost, we were usually dealing with more than 10 acres with at least 4-6 perc sites. I'm sure there was an hourly rate and I want to say ours ran somewhere in the neighborhood of $1K. Don't hold me to that as it's been a few years since the last one and it was by far the easiest one we'd had done. If you call down to the county, they should be able to tell you if they can do the test for you or recommend a couple soil scientists in the area. You should also be able to get info on cost from them too.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:18AM
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If I understand you correctly, the perc tests have been done and have passed but no septic permit has been issued.

In my area, raw land is sold all the time without the seller providing any perc test information. If the buyer wants the info he usually pays for it although it is not unusual for contracts to be made contingent on perk test results that indicate the land will support a suitable septic system.

As for the actual septic permit itself, in my area those are not issued until the house site is selected and the house plans are solidified including where the driveway and all other hard scape will run, where the house will be situated, and how big the house will be including number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

A leach field and septic system that would be perfectly adequate for an 1800 sq ft 3 bedroom 1.5 bath house would be totally inadequate for a 5000 sq ft 6 bedroom 7 bath home with a swimming pool. The county wants to know what you plan to build before they'll issue a septic permit. So there is no way the seller can get the permit for you.

So here, getting the septic permit is part of the building permitting process. To get a septic permit, along with a ton of other documents, you have to provide the county with a copy of the site map showing EXACTLY where the house and all hard scape will be situated along with where you think you would like the leach field septic tanks to be located. Then the county sends someone out to inspect everything and he designates, on your map, EXACTLY where he has decided that your tank and leach fields need to go. And those spots may or may not be exactly where you thought you wanted them. But once the county designates the spots and gives you a permit, that is where you have to put the field and the tanks. If you change the size of the house or decide to move the driveway over by 20 feet or even add in a sidewalk, you have to go back to the county and get a new septic permit or at least approval for a variance on the old permit.

Since your agent is saying that a septic permit is a "must have," perhaps things are done differently in your area... It would surprise me tho to find that any county would issue a septic permit without knowing how much sewage was likely to be covered by that septic permit. I also can't imagine that having a septic permit in place is a legal requirement to sell raw land anywhere since the seller himself obviously acquired the land at some point in the past and it apparently didn't come to him with a septic permit in place...or he would just pass that on to you. How much experience does your real estate agent have with raw land purchases?

I would contact the county permitting offices (also sometimes called the county development services offices) and ask them to explain the process for getting a septic permit. You'll probably find that the seller CANNOT get one for you because there is just too much that he doesn't know about what you plan to do with the property.

And just to answer you question about cost, my septic permit cost $560.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:33AM
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I just went through this. This issue is very regional and for good reason. In NC, the county health departments handle the septic permits. Local government can be good and it can be bad and there is little you can do about it.

In your particular county, the health department maybe a nightmare and it might be good advice to pass on any land that doesn't already have a permit in place.

When we bought, we had a 4 bedroom permit in place with pump locations and field location already done. This is customary in NC from what I have seen. If you want something different, well you can take care of that after you own the land but at least you know something is possible.

Here we have 3 phases of permit and only the first one was obtained prior to buying the land which would be customary. The second is the CA or construction authorization. For us, that just gave the terrible health department a chance to look over the preliminary permit (can't remember the official name). Flash forward almost 6 months and they finally gave us the CA. Then the last phase is the OP which came after the inspection of the field/tanks etc. That one was no problem and we hadn't gotten to all their stipulations to get the CA.

So I would trust your realtor because your county dictates the local environment.

We didn't pay anything for the permit but the requirements to get a CA cost us $1000 and an additional $5000 in interest.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 5:18AM
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Here in rural SC, we paid for a permit before we bought the land. The perc test included a permit which was good for 5 years. The cost was $280. Generally, the buyer pays for this, as it is not required to sell the property, but everything is negotiable.

I would never buy property to build on without a valid test/permit in hand.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 6:07AM
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The permit usually requires things like number of bedrooms to be known.

How is a seller going to decide that?

Put a perc clause in the contract.

It is up to the buyer to perform due diligence to make sure a permit can be obtained (many places with sewer no longer allow septic systems).

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 9:41AM
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The land has already passed the perc test. They just haven't don't anything else. We are requesting a septic permit for a 5 bedroom house.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 11:29AM
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When we purchased land in San Juan County, about 6 years ago, a septic permit was supplied by the seller. We looked at several parcels and that was common. As part of our offer we requested a permit for more bedrooms than the sellers specified in the listing - they agreed to the change without comment.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:09PM
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I find it interesting how regional this issue is!

Have you called the county/heath department to find out how much a septic permit costs in your area?

If they are refusing to pay for it, and you are concerned about the lot getting one then I would look into the cost of permit. If it is a small amount then make your offer contingent on the lot getting the spetic permit and pay for the permit yourself while everything is pending.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 1:14PM
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Good question about the number of bedrooms. We specified 4 bedroom, as we knew we were only building 2 bedrooms at most. I didn't want a chance on the septic system being marginal.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 5:16PM
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In our NC county perc tests (where you dig holes, fill them with water, and determine the absorption rate of the soil) are no longer done. Instead, a soils analysis is done in order to determine what type of septic system will be required for the location. But, as others have noted, the number of bedrooms and location of the house is an important part of the process.

Have you checked with the town where the land is located to find out what documents they require in order to issue a septic permit?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 8:05PM
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