Does septic tank your home's value?
February 13, 2011 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Does having a septic system negatively impact the value of a house?

We are thinking of selling our house this year. We are currently on septic. The septic works just fine. However, we could pay $5000 and hook up to the city sewer line.

Would this $5000 investment pay off when we sell the house? Would the selling price of the home be higher, or are we just throwing money down the drain?
posted by crazycanuck to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You would not recoup this investment. Not except perhaps for a tiny fraction of it. Though, you should document that the system was inspected, properly maintained, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 PM on February 13, 2011

Sure, the price would be higher if you were hooked to the mains, but whether it would be $5000 higher would depend a lot on the comparable houses in your area.
posted by Oktober at 7:10 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAR, but if the system is working well and you have no history of problems, I would say the only thing that would make hooking up to the sewer attractive is:

- the rest of the neighborhood is going city sewer and you're starting to look like an exception. IOW, it might be a true statement in a vacuum that houses with sewer are more attractive than those with a septic tank (I'd rather be on a sewer), but if you're in a neighborhood that mostly uses septic tanks, that's already sort of "baked in" to the value proposition, and you're not going to magically improve a lot by hooking up.

- I've never actually had a septic tank, so pardon my ignorance, but if the septic tank has had 20 trouble-free years but is "due" for a lot of maintenance trouble due to its age (like a car with 100K on it that has been running great but statistically is due for problems soon), it might be a good time to switch. I do know from friends with septic systems that you can spend $5K on septic tank troubles in a hurry.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only time being on a septic system *directly* impacts the value of a house is when the choice of septic v. sewer actually exists for the given location and the homeowner has chosen septic over sewer.

Why? Because at some point in the future, it is highly likely that the local governmental body will ban septic systems if sewer is available (basically due to problems with environmental health and water quality issues in a nutshell). At that point, the homeowner will have to shell out the cash to connect to sewer. (I'm speaking from experience here and not as a homeowner; about 10 years ago, I was on the local county health board. The state public health department issued an edict from above basically in line with the above scenario. As a lower agency dependent on funding from the state agency, we had no choice but to issue a local ordinance banning septics when sewer was available). Boy, did the shit fly at that point when homeowners started realizing the cost of connection.

(FWIW, the Webhund house has septic and no option to connect to sewer as we live in an unincorporated part of an Iowa county that has seen a 62% growth rate in census numbers over the last 10 years, one of the highest percentages and raw number increases in the country, also FWIW.)
posted by webhund at 7:16 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

As with all real estate questions a large part depends on where you live and what your local regulations and real estate market or like. Therefore, it may help people responding to your question to have a general idea of where this house is.
posted by dfriedman at 7:48 PM on February 13, 2011

We had our septic tank serviced (emptied out) a year or so ago because we were seeing some standing water above the field and I guess that means some of it's getting plugged up. It was shockingly inexpensive considering they drive a big truck out, open up a hole in the ground, pump out a bunch of ... stuff, and haul it away and do something to get rid of it. I think it was a couple hundred bucks. So for us, maintenance on our septic system while we've lived here (15ish years) has averaged about the cost of a good pizza per year.

If your system is currently working, but has not been emptied for a long time (or if you don't know the last time it was), maybe having that done would be cheap and a nice comfort to a buyer?

In your place, I'd say if it's worth an extra $5k to a buyer to have the house hooked to a sewer, they can spend it themselves.
posted by fritley at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2011

Best answer: I agree with webhund. Buyers will go "eww gross" at septic regardless, and will likely pass on a place that has the option for sewers but hasn't hooked up.

I also agree that you wouldn't recoup the cost. Depends greatly on if we are talking about a $70,000 house or a $250,000 house. Former, not likely. Latter, quite possibly.

It is sort of hard to tell though. I mean, you could price the house $5k higher, and then "give in" if the buyer balks at the septic and drop the price $5k for the sewer hookup. Or anywhere inbetween.
posted by gjc at 8:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep the septic and make it a selling point: "No monthly sewage bills."
posted by sageleaf at 8:57 PM on February 13, 2011

Response by poster: This is in King County, WA so it ain't the sticks. There's a mishmash of septic and sewer in this particular neighbourhood. It was only a few years ago when we got the sewer pipe running close enough to our house to make sewer viable. There are other folks on septic nearby but the number is shrinking.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:27 PM on February 13, 2011

Nthing those who say that it's entirely contingent on the area, the kind of buyers it attracts, and the expectations they're going to bring with them about utilities. We looked at a mixture of houses, some with sewer, some with septic, and the sewer line was definitely a selling point, though septic wasn't a dealbreaker. It was, however, somewhat intimidating because of its unfamiliarity.
posted by holgate at 10:32 PM on February 13, 2011

I live in King County, WA, and I have bought real estate here. When we bought our house, we actively avoided houses with septic. It probably wouldn't have been a complete showstopper if our dream house had a septic system, but for us it was definitely a minus, and there were plenty of houses on sewer in nice neighborhoods on the market. With the current real estate market, there are even more houses on sewer in nice neighborhoods on the market. We had absolutely no problem finding a ton of good options with sewer, so we didn't even bother looking at anything with septic. Of course, we didn't have our heart set on one specific neighborhood (which might have limited us to septic only), but I don't think most buyers do.

I won't pretend to know how much, if any, it would impact the amount you'd get for your house. But there are buyers who won't want septic, and there are a LOT of houses on the market right now. You have a ton of competition, a lot of which is on sewer.
posted by sharding at 10:49 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It also may come down to whether or not getting the most money possible is your priority, or if the important part is selling the house quickly. If a quick sale is the priority, I would consider switching, since there are some people who will skip on a house due to a septic tank.
posted by markblasco at 11:31 PM on February 13, 2011

It ultimately depends on what all your house has to offer, but if my choice was down to two houses, one on septic, the other on sewer and they were otherwise evenly matched, I would chose the one on sewer. In a buyer's market, it's the little things that can make the difference between your house and someone elses. Personally, I don't want to have to think about septic maintenance.
posted by cecic at 11:55 PM on February 13, 2011

I am a real estate investor and contractor. I own several homes as rental properties, and am always looking for more.

When I look to buy a home, there are not too many things that will cause me to pass. As a contractor, I can fix things cheaper than others. I do not own any septic tanks at any of my properties, and I do not want to. A septic tank is a definite pass for me.

If there a problem with a septic tank, it is rarely an easy fix. Often it is a $5,000 to $10,000 fix. They are just not easy to fix.

Also, many regions have issues with older tanks leaking nitrates into the water-shed. State legislatures are slowly starting to take this issue up. Florida (where I live) actually had a law passed, but the newly elected Republican governor and legislature over-turned it. These laws are probably a good idea for the environment, but anyone who owns a septic tanks is going to have an extra expense as a result.

I know other investors who are not bothered by septic tanks. They always get a good inspection before purchase. Personally though, I never buy a house with a septic tank.
posted by Flood at 4:33 AM on February 14, 2011

Some friends just passed on a place because they weren't confident the septic system was inspected properly and got into all kinds of back and forth with the owner, trying to get things like assurances in writing. They are pretty new to home ownership but if the place you're selling could be considered a starter home, then it might make for a faster sale. If I was selling a place in a good market, I'd probably go for it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:25 AM on February 14, 2011

What kind of septic? Is it something modern and self-digesting like an HAU/ATU? Or is it a 25 year old metal cistern in the ground that needs honeydipped every spring?

If it's modern and doesn't require a gray-field/black field, I would quite honestly try to represent this as a positive.

Although, a $5k tap-on fee isn't really too much---assuming that it includes tapping into your existing lines and safe removal of your biohazard.
posted by TomMelee at 6:49 AM on February 14, 2011

Keep the septic and make it a selling point: "No monthly sewage bills."

Exactly. I grew up on a septic system, and know they work perfectly well for long, long periods of time. I think of septic as a feature, lowering my monthly expenses.
posted by Malor at 10:53 AM on February 14, 2011

"Is it something modern and self-digesting like an HAU/ATU?"

FWIW, these alleged "modern and self-digesting" aerobic systems were exactly the type of systems that our state Dept. of Natural Resources cracked down on in the last few years. Why? Because when you put a bunch of these together in one area (say, in a group of 20-30 homes, each pumping cute little rivelets of sparkling "clean" water out), the end result is a large, concentrated accumulation of waster water that is just chock-a-block full of fecal bacteria. The discharge from these aerobic systems is not very clean. Ever see one of those cute little ex-urban ponds surrounded by nice new homes? Well, if those homes are on septic, chances are pretty good that the homeowners are basically gazing out over their own manure pits from their balconies. Pee-you!
posted by webhund at 6:58 PM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks guys, I like gjc's approach - offer the buyer credit off the price of the house to hook up to the sewer line. This advertises that sewer is available without taking the cash out of our pocket before the house sells.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:36 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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