Have you ever seen the movie, “The Money Pit” with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long? The couple moves into their dream home only to find that whatever can go wrong will.
Certainly you would never find yourself in that kind of situation. After all, that’s what home inspections are for, right?
And yet, there’s a serious issue that’s often missed by inspectors. This “dirty little secret” can easily cost you thousands… tens of thousands… plus destruction of your property. It’s definitely the sort of thing you want to find before you sign a contract.
If you don’t know about this issue, and many don’t, it can quickly become a nightmare for both the buyer and the seller.
I know all about it. The problem just happened to a client of mine, a couple, who recently bought their dream home.
Today I’m going to tell you what it is and how you can avoid it in the first place.
Jill and Robert, my clients, bought a lovely home. But the night they moved in, when they ran a shower for the first time, they found water backing up in the drain. That’s weird.
So, they called in an expert who discovered that their sewer pipe had been destroyed by tree roots.
The estimate to fix the broken pipes? $10,000. There goes all their remodeling money.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE “BROKEN PIPES” NIGHTMARE?
Up until recently, no home inspection came with an analysis of your external pipes. Sure, inspectors ran faucets and checked drains — but all of them were only on the inside.
Now that many homes are aging, old clay sewer pipes are becoming choked with roots and other debris. Sometimes they even crack and break down entirely.
People are just starting to wise up to this. Some buyers now do specialized pipe examinations, and you, the seller, are liable for any repairs. And a full replacement connecting your pipe to the street can often cost anywhere between $10-20,000. Ouch.
In addition to tearing up the street and curb, the backhoe can take out established landscaping, expensive bushes, pavers — well, anything that gets in the way.
There’s insurance you can buy, but it only covers damage inside the home and caps out at about $4,000.
For buyers, I always recommend doing special inspections of sewer pipes.
HOW YOU CAN AVOID ALL THIS S–T
I’m telling you this little secret because I don’t want your downsizing experience to be hellish.
If you’re the seller, I want you to keep as much money as possible from the sale of your house. You have better uses for that cash.
And if you’re the buyer, I don’t want you to have that surprise on the other end, if you’re purchasing a new home, and find out that you’ll be cash poor because of broken pipes.
So how exactly can you avoid this literal big mess before you put your home on the market?
STEP 1: THE EASY STUFF
Look for red flags. Is water backing up out of any drains? Is there a gurgling sound?
Even if not, there is regular maintenance to be done.
- Fill all your sinks up as high as you can and drain them, at least once a month.
- Try to release any pressure build up in your pipes. Figure out if you have a sewer cleanout line. It’s usually a short, round white pipe with a rubber cap located in your yard. Pry open the cap and let it breathe.
- Do not use over-the-counter chemical unblockers. That’s a great way to corrode your pipes.
- Don’t snake your pipes yourself. If you’re like me, a lot like Lucille Ball, you’ll run the snake right through your pipes.
IF THAT DOESN’T WORK…
If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, hire a company to run an augur (a fancy word for snake) or blow jetters of high pressure air through your clog. Roto Rooter can do it. Or somebody local. That’ll cost you between $150-400 (approximately).
If that doesn’t fix the problem, they can run a camera through the system and find out what’s going on down under. That could cost between $200-500.
An internal clog is easy to remedy. But a sewer line clog might be unseen and can cause extensive damage inside your home (like raw sewage backup). Trust me, you don’t want that.
Your one main trunk line runs into the street and any water going in or out will cause problems. Big problems.
WHEN IT REALLY HITS THE FAN
Trees. Tree roots are attracted to the warmth and moisture of a sewer line and send feelers through tiny cracks or loose joints. Once in the pipes they attract debris and become logjammed.
Lots of street pipes were installed in the 1930’s. They are made of clay and they are falling apart. What’s happening isn’t just normal blockage that you can easily fix.
It is now common for both sellers and buyers to look for and uncover this corrosion and you don’t want to be responsible for the repair.
DEEP IN DOO DOO, DEEP IN DEBT
When your main sewer line clogs up with roots, here’s what you can do.
- There’s a chemical foam you can insert that breaks up the tree roots, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will all flush away. This is the least expensive approach, but doesn’t always work.
- You can try pouring copper sulfate down your toilets, but not all municipalities allow it.
- As mentioned before, you can replace your line for $10-20,000.
- Or, you can reline your pipe with an epoxy that is sort of like a new pipe within the old pipe. This is the most expensive method, with prices that can take your breath away.
- Some companies are trying out a new method — trenchless sewer line repair. It eliminates the backhoe, but is also exorbitantly expensive.
AVOID FLUSHING YOUR MONEY AWAY
First things first. Please maintain regular maintenance and you can avoid much of this. If you suspect a major problem, call in an expert and have it taken care of right away. Your cost will always be lower than your buyer’s estimates once you’re under contract.
Most importantly, don’t ever put yourself in the position of being surprised. It will put you on the defensive, it will make negotiations difficult, and it will make the experience of downsizing unpleasant, which it doesn’t have to be.
And that’s no secret.