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Old 07-19-2011, 01:27 PM
178 posts, read 514,502 times
Reputation: 148


I'm looking into buying a home within a couple months. Although almost all my home buying/selling experiences have been positive, I encountered one very unethical seller who's made me approach offers and inspections with more than the usual amount of caution. So I'd really appreciate your thoughts on the following two choices I'm presenting considering:

Home #1: Late 70's ranch: privately contracted build, much bigger and nicer than "average" ranches of its day (approx 1800sf with ell and attached 2-car). Unfortunately it appears to have the original roof and original septic, but is on public water. 3 large BRs (each can fit a king or queen set) but only 1 bath. The one bath is however huge and may be dividable into 1.5 baths. The kitchen could use updating but isn't too bad. Enormous 4-season room overlooking the back yard in addition to the generous LR. Laundry is in the basement, and there's a sump pump and a generator. The home is on a rather large, beautifully landscaped lot in an extremely desirable area (water) of frankly more expensive homes, beautiful views, recreation, etc. Very close to work, reasonable distance to the highway.

Home #2: 10 year old ranch: built by developer at the end of a dead-end street, exceptionally pretty neighborhood with restrictive covenants. Only 1400 sf above ground, with ell and attached 2-car. Really gorgeous kitchen and 2 baths incl. MBR w/bath, but the 3 BRs are not as big as house #1 and the LR/DR area is smaller. There is a recently finished basement of almost another 1400 sf but it has the tiny basement windows and no walkout. I would not consider this true living space due to the lack of normal windows, although presently it's furnished with expensive family room and office furniture. Basement is dry with no sump pump. There is public sewer and private water. The level lot is about the same size as House #1 with no houses in the back or on one side.

House #2 is currently overpriced but if/when the seller accepts reality (comps) the price should be not much more than House #1.

Dilemma: House #2 is clearly the winner in terms of being nearly new, move-in-ready, with no major maintenance projects in the foreseeable future. However the area is not as desirable as House #1 - this one street is really pretty but everything else around is just basic suburbia, although it's still close to work and closer to the highway.

House #1 has the far better location (where people pay appreciable amounts of money to stay a few weeks in the summer and most houses are out of my price range) but I'm frankly scared of the 30+ year old septic system and the overall older construction. My heart leans towards #1 but my brain is waving big red flags. Isn't a 30 year old septic system likely to give up the ghost at any time? I have enough money put aside to take care of the usual emergencies, but am not looking to fund catastrophic failures.

Thoughts? Advice?
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Old 07-19-2011, 03:21 PM
Location: Mokelumne Hill, CA & El Pescadero, BCS MX.
6,958 posts, read 20,978,006 times
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In my part of the world, as long as the septic tank isn't constructed out of redwood, you're probably OK. Even if it was made out of wood, the cost here to replace the tank is only about $2500.

The leach field may be more problematic and I'd suggest you have a septic inspection done by a company that has a camera that they will send down the line to see if roots are intruding. In the old days, they used a pipe made out of terra cotta called Orangeburg. With the advent of plastic, there are fewer failures in leachlines. These days a new system uses what are called infiltrators, which are basically upside down "U" shaped structures. https://www.thenaturalhome.com/septic.html#septicfield

Basic septic systems don't have any moving parts, so they can last an awfully long time if they are installed correctly and pumped on a regular basis.
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Old 07-19-2011, 03:24 PM
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Septic systems are really just big concrete tanks, so they'll last for many many years. What may break down are the pipes that drain the tank. They're not cheap to replace, but it's not like you have to replace the entire system.

What you DO need to pay attention to is local regulations. Lots of towns will let you keep the septic, but if it needs massive repair, they'll make you replace it with the aerobic systems. Great systems, but THAT'S when you're looking at a big price tag.

Get a good septic inspection done and that'll help you make your decision.
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Old 07-19-2011, 03:47 PM
Location: Newton, MA
324 posts, read 1,020,814 times
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I wouldn't be deterred by the septic. House #1 would be my choice (contingent upon inspection, of course!)

IMO, a great neighborhood makes all the difference.
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Old 07-19-2011, 10:03 PM
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Tough call. I am on septic and it made me nervous because every house I have ever lived in was on city sewer. Our house is 15 yrs old. I live in the back of the sub and it was one of the last homes built. I have noticed since I moved in 2 yrs ago, 5 or 6 homes in the front part of the sub have replaced their systems. Those homes are about 2-3 yrs older than my house. I will be honest, I'm nervous. I have my tank pumped more than the norm just to baby it. I also dont go crazy with laundry and so forth. I can tell you that some of the homes that had their systems replaced were for sale. The seller paid for the expense. Maybe if something comes up in the inspection the sellers will replace the system.
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Old 07-19-2011, 11:11 PM
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Our septic is from 1957 and still functions fine, checked annually by the local company. Given the fact our leach field is 6 long lines on 1 acre of land, that could be why it is so useful. just do not plant anything where the roots will grow into and clog the leach lines from the septic.
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Old 07-20-2011, 09:34 AM
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The best thing you can do is pump your septic tank regularly. If solids start getting into your leech field, its dead. Your septic system can last forever if you take care of it.
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Old 07-20-2011, 08:12 PM
Location: El Dorado Hills, CA
3,724 posts, read 9,347,623 times
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There are many things you can change or update on a house, but location is never one of them. My choice would be the desireable neighborhood but you have to look at how much different the locations are and how much value it has to you.

Also, just because house 2 is overpriced and comps put it in the same price range as house 1, it doesn't mean the sellers will accept the lower price. So while you are haggling it out, and perhaps not coming to an agreement, someone else might buy house 1.

Good luck with your decision, it's not always an easy one.
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Old 07-22-2011, 07:33 PM
Location: Barrington
61,383 posts, read 42,072,330 times
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I am aware of many, many high end propertis with 50+ year old septic systems. Know the maintenance record and get it inspected.

If the roof is original, replacement will not likely be a tear off. Get an estimate.
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Old 07-22-2011, 07:51 PM
178 posts, read 514,502 times
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Thanks everyone. I appreciate all the responses, and especially the details and tips on septic systems. Just fyi, the more expensive house #1 turns out to have one of the worst floor plans on the planet - as in you need to build an addition to make the LR any kind of normal size and configuration. No Property Brothers magic can happen there. House #2 has a good, interesting floor plan which can be easily adjusted due to the layout and position of load bearing walls. Adding a 1/2 or 3/4 bath would be a piece of cake without sacrificing needed space. It's also clean and well-maintained to within an inch of its life. There is nothing that can be faulted in the condition and fit of anything. It looks like a brand-new home, not a 70's era. Only one unexpected flaw is keeping us from putting in an offer, which has to do with the land behind the house being pine scrub land, which couldn't be seen from the road or photos. There's no real place to sit and enjoy the yard, nor to garden. It's not a pleasing landscape and would cost a small fortune, I imagine, to have it leveled and all trees and stumps removed. But the info on the septic will not be wasted!
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