Sewer lines can be a hidden problem for home buyers


While the sewer in the street is usually the municipality's responsibility, the pipe running from the home to the street is usually the homeowner's responsibility.

Many home buyers and owners don't realize that until that pipe breaks, sending sewage into the house and creating a memorable emergency.

Repairs can run into the thousands of dollars and be particularly costly if the pipe is far underground or requires tearing up a basement floor, sidewalk, driveway or street to reach.

There is no way to know what condition this sewer line is in without a specialized inspection.

At best, a home inspector may warn buyers of the potential for problems with a sewer line based on the home's age, the trees in the yard, the condition of the plumbing inside the home and their experience with similar properties in the area.

A sewer line inspection is particularly warranted if:

A sewer line inspection typically costs $250 to $550.

It involves using a small video camera to inspect the sewer pipe, sometimes called a lateral line or main line. The inspection looks for cracks, breaks and offset or collapsed sections of pipe.

By conducting a sewer line inspection while the home is still in escrow and the purchase contingencies haven't been removed, buyers can use any negative findings to negotiate with the seller to have the problem fixed or to have the home's price reduced.

Knowledge of the state of a home's sewer line also gives buyers the option to walk away if the problems are too severe and look for a home whose plumbing system is in better condition.

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