Can I Sell My House With a Failed Septic System?

Nick Durante
by Nick Durante

There is nothing easy about selling your home. Often times, when selling a home, you are in the midst of buying or building a new home yourself. Because of that, it can be overwhelming tying together loose ends with the house you are selling.

Selling a house means that you have to do all that you can to make your home desirable. That typically involves making any repairs or polishing any blemishes. However, sometimes due to money or other circumstances, problems such as failed septic systems can hold you back from selling your house.

In fact, you can sell a house with a failed septic system, but only in some areas. Each municipality varies based on local codes, so you must check to see if can sell a house with a failed septic system where you live. Depending on local codes, you may need to spend the money and replace your failed septic system, or simply disclose it to your realtor.

Let’s explore the ins and outs of selling a house with a failed septic system.

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How to Determine Septic System Failure

Luckily, it is easy to determine whether or not you have a failed septic system. There are several obvious signs that can let you know your septic tank is failing on you, including:

  • Septic smell outdoors near septic tank
  • The leach field retains standing water, yet it has not rained
  • Your plumbing fixtures are not draining quickly enough
  • A septic odor seeps through plumbing vents

As you can see, most of the warning signs of a failed septic system can be caught right away. If you are outside and pick up on a septic odor near the septic tank, call a septic contractor immediately. Sometimes, that simply indicates that the tank needs to be pumped.

Septic tanks need to be pumped every 3-5 years, but if there is a bad odor in the leach field, it is a sign of further problems. Pay attention to how well your plumbing fixtures drain. If your sinks are slowly funneling water down them, it could point to septic failure.

One of the tell-tale signs of septic failure is the buildup of water in the leach field.

Is it Dangerous if Your Septic System Fails?

If your septic system fails, it carries several risks and dangers with it. That is one of the main reasons many places won’t allow you to sell a house with a failed septic system. Some of the main things to be concerned about if your septic system fails are:

  • Contaminating the soil
  • Bacteria in the air
  • Gaseous fumes (methane)
  • Mold

Because septic systems disperse filtered wastewater through a percolation field into the soil, a damaged system can leak contaminates. When said contaminates from the waste get into the soil, it can also cause bacteria to enter the air both indoors and outdoors.

Breathing in septic-born bacteria can cause respiratory illness. More immediate dangers such as methane fumes and mold can also occur when a septic system fails. Methane fumes are highly flammable, and of course, mold can be destructive and cause illness.

Can You Sell a House With a Failed Septic System?

Depending on your local laws, you may or may not be able to sell a house with a failed septic system. Some states, such as Michigan, have lax laws regarding septic and sewage systems. In other places, such as New Jersey, it is not outright illegal to sell a house with a failed septic system, however, lenders will not grant loans and it will be a hard sell.

Keep in mind that legality may vary county to county as well. If your state lets you sell a house with a failed septic system, you must disclose it to the realtor. If you are unaware that your septic system has failed, and it is revealed during an inspection, you should fix it. Chances are that the prospective buyer will either request that the seller makes the repairs, or they will simply walk away from the deal altogether.

Your best bet is to contact a septic contractor and get a quote about repairing your septic system.

How to Sell a Home with a Failed Septic System

Although selling your house with a failed septic system is legal in some areas, it does come at a price. While it is recommended to fix your septic system before putting your home on the market, if you decide to try to sell it anyways, you have two options:

  • Escrow money to repair the septic system. Instead of having the system fixed before listing, you can opt to place money in escrow that will cover the costs of the repair or replacement. First, you’ll need to obtain an estimate for the repair and then negotiate with the buyer on the amount to offer.
  • Sell the house as is. In this case you may be wondering if you can sell your house with a failed septic system simply because you can’t afford the cost of the repairs. You can decide to sell the home as is. However, you will have to list it at a significant discount to compensate.

How Much Does it Cost to Repair Septic System?

Septic system repairs typically cost $1,500-$1,600 but can cost more if the damage is severe. There are many components of septic systems, which makes it easier for problems to arise. Each issue that can contribute to septic system failure carries a different price tag.

Septic System RepairTypical Cost
Pipe/Fittings Replacement$200-$600
Septic Pump Replacement$600-$1,200
Septic Pump Repair$200-$400
Tank Replacement$1,500-$2,500
Drain Field Maintenance/Replacement$2,000-$15,000
New Filter$300-$400

The reason that septic repairs commonly only cost $1,500-$1600 is because it usually involves a tank replacement. If the entire drain field needs to be replaced, the bill quickly rises to $10,00-$15,000. Even still, it is well worth fixing your septic system, even if your state does not require it.

Check With Your Neighbors

Before you jump into the replacement process, consult with your neighbors to see what type of sewage system they have. Instead of having the septic system completely replaced, you may be able to hook your home up to a sewer line that wasn’t there when the home was originally built. Septic systems are generally installed on rural properties and if the area has experienced growth since your home was built, there may now be a sewer line that you can connect it to.

This process requires having your septic tank decommissioned and new plumbing lines installed on your property. Depending on the situation and your location, you may also need to pay for permitting and connection fees that are charged by your city.

The cost to connect your home to existing sewer lines can cost between $1,292 and $4,795. Whereas, the fees that your city may charge you for the hook up can range from $500 to $20,000, depending on where you live.

Who Pays For the Inspection?

It is up to the seller to pay for the inspections of the house they are selling. Even if you are allowed to sell with a failed septic system, you will still be accountable for covering the costs of inspections on behalf of the buyer. Individual septic system inspections cost $300-$600.

If by chance your state does not require a working septic system to sell a house, consider fixing it anyway. The septic inspection will point to what the problem is, and it may be as simple as pipes and fittings needing replacement.

The buyer may request that you pay for septic system repairs, even if it is not required, because otherwise, they may not qualify for loans.

Related Questions

How long does a septic system last?

Septic systems often last up to 25 years. However, some septic systems may last as long as 40-50 years, or as little as 15 years. The number of plumbing fixtures plays a role in how long a septic system lasts, as well as sticking to a 3-5 year pumping schedule.

What causes a septic system to back up?

Usually, septic systems back up when the drain is clogged. The same can be said for too much water flowing through a septic system at once, as well as interference from tree roots. Driving cars, lawnmowers, or off-road vehicles over a leach field can also cause it to back up.

Is it okay to leave your septic tank unused for a period of time?

It is okay, and is quite common when selling a house, but make sure there is no water in it. So long as you don’t leave standing water in the system when unattended, it will be fine to be reactivated.

Do You Need Septic System Repair?

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Summing it Up

In some cities and states, you can sell a house with a failed septic system. However, that does not mean that people will buy it, or even be allowed to buy it. Failed septic inspections can cost many prospect buyers the loan that they applied for.

You can repair your failed septic system for $1,500-$15,000, varying greatly based on the damage. Septic inspections only cost $300-$600 and are required when selling a house. Your septic system can 40-50 years if you get the tank pumped every 3-5 years and catch septic failure early one.

You may be able to sell your house with a failed septic system in some places, but your best bet is to get it fixed.

Nick Durante
Nick Durante

Nick Durante is a professional writer with a primary focus on home improvement. When he is not writing about home improvement or taking on projects around the house, he likes to read and create art. He is always looking towards the newest trends in home improvement.

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