Saturday, February 4, 2012

Turning to Sewers

You've probably seen references in the local papers to the new sewer lateral ordinance in town. Beginning in August in Piedmont, and now this month in Oakland, sellers (generally) are responsible for ensuring that the connecting sewer line (or ''lateral'') from the house to the City main is intact, with no offsets or root intrusions. The city main may be in the street in front of your home, or perhaps in a right of way at the rear of your yard.

Berkeley has had such an ordinance since 2005, so agents and sewer specialists are quite familiar with the process and timelines. By the time most Piedmont transactions have closed in the last few years, buyers have been inspecting, and then insisting that sellers either address a sewer lateral problem, or give a credit so the buyer can do so. The typical culprit is clay pipe which in our moving landscape tends to crack and ''offset'' over time, allowing fluids to leak in and out. Some older homes might even have storm drain or sump pump water going into the sewer line, which as you can imagine can overwhelm the treatment plant further ''downstream.''

Replacement is typically taking a couple of weeks these days, and costs can range from $1200 to maybe an absolute high of $16,000, depending on how far your house is from the City main, and how complicated the journey might be. Typical charges total about $5,500, I would say, and include a video inspection in the $100 range and about $350 for EBMUD's testing. If you know your line is clay pipe, many would argue that you should save the video inspection fee and just jump to replacement as 99% of the laterals from the clay-pipe era have failed.

Buyers clarify in their standard purchase offer who will pay for replacement (if necessary), so it's good to get testing and replacement out of the way early as you plan to go to market. Once replaced, the EBMUD inspection certificate is ''good'' for 10 years, so you could even do it this fall and use the certificate when you sell in three years.

Of course just because a buyer wants a seller to replace the sewer doesn't mean it must be that way. Everything is negotiable. But EBMUD has a very detailed process, including a $4500 performance bond and an 180-day completion deadline, should the buyer take on that responsibility. I even heard this morning of a case where the lender wouldn't allow the transaction to close, even though the buyer had agreed to jump through the hoops and take care of the sewer after the closing. At this stage, the ''default'' is definitely for the seller to do the work.

Call me for sewer replacement recommendations--

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