Newbie Buyer -- Need Advice about Seller Disclosure Statement

dawiffJune 20, 2009

Hello All, We're just about ready to make an offer on a home, and received a copy of the seller disclosure statement. Two items on it concern us:

1.) It says there is a holding tank and pump for the entire house which is below the town sewer line. We've heard of pumps for bathrooms below the sewer line, but never one for the entire house. Has anyone ever bought or sold a house with something like this? Should we just basically consider it similar to a house with a septic tank? Any idea how difficult or expensive it would be to fix a system like this if the pump needed to be replaced? How likely is it that a system like this would back up into the house? Or got any basic advice?

2.) It says that remodeling was done to the kitchen and dining area without permits or final inspection. A non-load bearing wall was removed between the kitchen and the dining area, and the flooring, cabinets, countertops, appliances and lighting were all replaced during the remodel. I have no idea how this should affect our offer and/or the whole buying process. How do we find out if the remodel was up to code? Is that something we ask our home inspector? What issues should we be concerned about with this non-permit situation?

We last bought a house over 25 years ago, so we might as well be first-time buyers.

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Don't know about #1, but #2, ask an inspector how much he can see. Sometimes because of closed walls appliances in place a full inspection is not possible without wall damage. I've bought and sold houses with non permitted work, an inspector should be able to know if the wall was non-load bearing, electrical, plumbing issues concern me, but again, ask your inspector. Why did they not get a permit, for me I was unable to obtain a permit since my house was legal nonconforming, I had plans from a top architect, work done by licensed contractors but I was not permitted more upgrades to my house for several more years, so I did it without a permit. I discloed this to my buyer and had them sign an extra letter confirming knowledge. A different house the seller didn't want to trigger increased property taxes, I bought then sold, disclosing no permits, no problem for me or next buyer.
The kitchen seems like a simple upgrade, nothing to worry about.
Technically some items require a permit, but one is rarely obtained.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 10:49AM
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Please, check with your local building department about the permits. This could affect your insurance, especially if electrical stuff was done and a fire occurred. No permits--insurance might not pay.
This is a question that only your building dept can answer, not any HI, even the best of them.
My DH was a building inspector for a large west coast city and he saw and had to deal with so many problems your describe. In turn they had to get an occupancy permit, and yes even buy permits for work someone else did, or have it brought up to code. We sold a house and the people did exactly the same thing you described, but not as big of a job, and when the people bought it (3rd party) found some safety issues. The city came back to us and we had to prove we had not done the remodeling, but we knew who did and they got warrants for doing work without permits. Real messy situation.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 12:45PM
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"It says there is a holding tank and pump for the entire house which is below the town sewer line. We've heard of pumps for bathrooms below the sewer line, but never one for the entire house."

Who is responsible for the tank and pump? Owner or city?
Why does it have to be pumped into the sewer line, if the house lines are above the sewer line?
I know of pumps for basement baths where the sewer line is above grade and sewer lift stations in the hill country, but I would be concerned to have a house dependent on one pump.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 1:07PM
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Find someone that services sewage pumps and holding tanks and order an inspection, and insert a contingency regarding a satisfactory inspection of the system into your offer.

Don't consider it the equal of a septic system. Most septic systems are gravity flow. When you add a pump to the system, it raises the complexity level significantly. There should be float switches to turn the pump on and off, and there should be an alarm system to warn you if the pump system fails.

I once had a next door neighbor who had something similar, except that she pumped up to a septic tank from her holding tank, instead of into a sewer system. However, the principal is the same. For whatever reason, she had endless trouble with her sewage pump.

I never did find out exactly why.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 1:35PM
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Item #1 is known as a lift station. These are used to "lift" the sewage to the level of the sewer main so that gravity flow can take over. Some of these are aldo used to create force if the main is a good distance from your house. There are 3 potential issues with those:
1)Odors - lift stations must be vented. Depending on the size of the sump or holding tank and the amount of your use, the sewage could go stale (aseptic) and could get quite unpleasant if the pump does not go on often enough. Raw sewage doesn't smell great, but it gets really bad if it goes stale.
2)Clogging - even if the pump is equipped with a grinder, it may get clogged with solids and need to be cleared.
3) maintenance - like septic tanks, solids may precipitate out if the wastewater stands too long before being pumped. You would probably have to have the solids in the tank removed periodically.
I would recommend a good inspection by a licensed professional and make sure you get the details on the settings of this particular station (i.e. float settings, pumping frequency etc.)

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 8:46PM
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Thank you to everyone for all your excellent advice! We decided not to make an offer on the house in question, and instead went with one that was a very close second choice. We filled out all the offer papers today, and will be waiting all day tomorrow to find out how they respond. The second house had absolutely nothing funky or disturbing in its seller disclosure.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 1:48AM
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I know this is OBE, but I just viewed a condo under remodel and it was pretty disturbing. I understand the numerous reasons people don't pull permits, but when you get into electrical and plumbing, you have to be careful!
No permit posted anywhere, electrical exposed was clearly not to code, dangerous! Instead of running the wiring THROUGH the studs, someone had cut little chunks of drywall away and was running the wiring AROUND the studs (i.e. will eventually be between the stud and the drywall). It was apparent that they were just going to patch over the holes and later some unsuspecting owner could try to nail something to the stud and hit the live wire - there's a good reason for codes!
Needless to say, we crossed this place off the list, fast!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 8:24AM
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dawiff, even though you have (wisely) chosen to pass on this house, be aware that home inspectors are NOT code inspectors by nationally accepted standards as well as most if not all states that license the profession. They are two totally different and separate professions.

Therefore, do not expect the HI to find code violations if any exist. And beware of any HI who claims to inspect for code violations, as this is beyond the scope of a home inspection.

If any HI claims to be able to inspect for code violations, require that the HI provide documentations that he is educated, skilled and experienced in code inspection. If this is a town that licenses code inspectorsÂ..ask to see the license.

Most code officials specialize in one area of codeÂÂ.such as plumbing, or electrical or structural. Rarely if ever will you find one who is experienced in all. Beware of anyone who pretends otherwise.

Last but not least, always require the home inspector to provide you with the contract BEFORE you hire him, in order that you know exactly what the inspection does and does not cover. As the old expression goes, "Get it in writing".

Best wishes.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 1:16PM
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