Have you got your heart set on that lovely country cottage? Can you picture yourself walking the dog through the open fields or sitting in the garden with nothing but the sound of birds tweeting?
We don't want to shatter that peaceful image, but if you're thinking about a move to a rural area, you'll need to get your head into the world of off mains drainage systems. Not literally, you'll be glad to hear - but buying a property with a septic tank, cesspit or sewage treatment plant without some serious fact finding could prove very costly. Don't be in a situation where you find out that you have septic tank problems soon after moving in.
Follow our top ten things to check when buying a property with a septic tank (or other off-mains drainage system) below, and you can't go wrong:
- Ask the buyer if the septic tank, sewage treatment plant or cesspit has been maintained regularly - ask for invoices or receipts for tanker visits and/or service visits. Typically a septic tank or sewage treatment plant will need emptying annually, but a sewage treatment plant will also need to be regularly serviced as it has mechanical parts within it. If a drainage system hasn't been maintained regularly, this could spell future trouble.
- Find out how often the system is being emptied. If, for example, the property has a septic tank which is being emptied every few months, this could be a sign of a problem.
- If you're working out your ongoing costs of owning the property, find out how much the tankering and any servicing costs. You might be able to make some savings on the tank emptying, but it will give you an idea at least as to the annual costs of maintaining the system.
- Some people rely on homebuyer surveys to tell them what's going on underground - but the majority of these only take a very basic look at a property's drainage system. It is vital that you get a full pre-purchase drainage survey undertaken before buying a property with off-mains drainage (and we're not just saying that because we happen to do very thorough inspections ourselves!). It is important that the tank is emptied during this inspection, to make sure that the walls of the tank can be inspected as well as any pipework.
- Ask for a plan of the drainage system. If the property has a septic tank, does it connect to a soakaway? Where does the pipework run?
- Find out if any part of the system is on third party land - either the tank itself, the pipework or a soakaway system. Is it on a neighbour's property or farmland? This can be a real problem. We have dealt with a lot of situations where access is refused to repair or replace the system, or where the right to access it hasn't been put in writing. Find out what the relationship is like with the neighbour or landowner. This bit is key because even if you have a legal right to access the system, if you are denied physical access to repair or replace it, you'd still have to pursue this through the courts. I don't want to labour the point, but in all seriousness you should run a mile from buying any property where there are any issues/ill-feelings with any neighbour who has any part of the drainage system on their property.
- Does the drainage system serve just this property, or is it shared with one or more neighbours? If it is shared, and it's a sewage treatment plant, who is paying for the electricity? Is there a formal agreement in place to allow for each property contributing to the costs?
- What is the access like to the property? Tankers need to get within 30 metres of the tank itself in order to empty it. If you are planning any future works or extensions, this access would need to be maintained.
- If the property has a septic tank, where does the waste water go when it leaves the tank? If the waste water goes straight to a watercourse or a ditch, this is no longer legal under Environment Agency legislation. In fact, as of 2020, any septic tanks discharging to a watercourse will need to be replaced with a compliant solution (e.g. a septic tank and soakaway system, or a sewage treatment plant) and this could be costly for you. You can find out more on the Environment Agency website here.
- If any works are found to be needed to the drainage system before you move in, they will need to comply with the recently published DEFRA General Binding Rules document. You can read our guide to septic tank regulations here, this should help explain what it all means.
Don't let us put you off buying the dream country cottage with talk of dodgy septic tanks. Call our specialist team today (01628 788600 from a mobile or free from a landline on 0800 028 9903) and we will take care of everything drainage related, to make sure that the reality lives up to the dream!