homelinksEmployment OpportunitiesContact
About UsBLOGLand DevelopersCommercial DevelopmentMunicipal ConsultingSeptic SystemsArchitectural Team ProjectsCase StudiesResource DirectoryFAQ

PMP Associates Blog

Archive for October, 2009

Septic Systems – What your Real Estate Agent should know!

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

By Michael E. Perrault, P.E.

How long has your house been on the market? That is a very common question, especially during this “economic slow down”.  Are you using a Real Estate firm to help you market and sell your property? What are you doing about your old Septic System?

If you have a septic system and live in Massachusetts, you are obligated by law to have your septic system inspected when you are selling your property. Before 1995 this requirement did not exist and typically only a token observation was performed. Opening the cover of the Septic Tank and proclaiming, “looks good to me” does not constitute a thorough inspection.

With the changes in the Massachusetts Sanitary Code since 1995, a licensed septic system inspector must follow the Title 5 Code requirements and document the inspection using the standard State forms. A copy of this completed form must be submitted to the local Board of Health office, the seller and a copy must also be provided to the buyer.

When you lsited your property, did your Real Estate Agent tell you about the need for the septic inspection? Did you have it done right away or are you waiting for a buyer?

Over the last 18 months I have been travelling to various real estate offices in Southeastern Massachusetts and presenting a brief seminar on septic systems. This seminar was pre-arranged to be made during the monthy meeting of the brokers, agents and sales staff and would take about 1/2 hour.

The focus of the presentation was on the need for the inspection of the septic system early in the sales process and what to do when the inspection results in a failure.

Septic System Inspection

Septic System Inspection

An important part of my presentation is the question and answer session.  One common question that is typically asked is, “My client’s septic system failed the Title 5 inspection, when do they need to replace the system?”

My advice is to have the work done sooner than latter.

What makes one property more attractive than a very similar property in the same neighborhood?  If both houses needed to have their septic systems replaced and one had all the engineering design completed and plans available for the buyer to review, would that make one house more attractive to a potential buyer?  Showing of the property would include telling the potential buyer exactly where the new septic system would be going and if it would involve building a large “hump: in the yard. What if the house had the system installed and the lawn restored. Would the completion of the work make that house even more attractive? The showing would simply indicate the location of the installed system and that there would be no delays due to the need to install a new septic system.

New Replacement Septic Tank

New Replacement Septic Tank

Some property owners simply do not have the money to pay for the design and installation of a new septic system. My advice is to suggest, as a minimum, getting the soil testing and desgin engineering completed as soom as possible. Once the design plans are completed, the owner can obtain actual construction cost estimates. The cost for replacing the septic system will play an important roll in establishing the acceptable price for the property.

As for the installation of the system, Banks and Mortgage Companies typically do not want to hold back funds at the “closing” to pay for the installation of the septic system. When they do agree to holding back the money to build the system, the amount is typically 1.5 times the bid estimate.

There are contractors that will work with sellers to install the replacement septic system when the sale documents are complete and the “closing”  has been scheduled, pending the installation of the septic system. These contractors are typically listed on the “closing documents” and are paid from the funds generated by the sale of the property.

Not all real estate professionals know about these options, have the contacts to get the engineering completed in a timely manner, obtain legitimate construction quotes or arrange for the “pre-closing” construction.

I hope that my “septic system seminar” for real estate professionals provided a little more knowledge. One other “tool” that was provided to these professionals was a copy of the brochure “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System, Perc. Testing, Soil Evaluation and Design Engineering”. This brochure clearly outlines the steps that need to be followed in replacing a faied septic system. This brochure can be downloaded for free from the www.pmpassoc.com web site landing page.

Municipal Consulting – Roadway Construction

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

The process of converting land into residential house lots along new roads involves months of planning, engineering, permitting and construction. When design plans are first submitted to a Planning Board, they typically are presented in a “preliminary plan” format to allow for initial comments that will guide the project toward the next step. Municipal consulting peer review services at this phase are just not confirming technical compliance with the Planning Board’s Regulations and local Zoning By-law requirements, but should also include suggestions for the Developer and his design professionals to follow in preparing the Definitive Subdivision Plan.

The Definitive Plan phase is where the more detailed engineering plans are presented to the Planning Board. The peer review at this step is to confirm that the plans meet the standards and regulations before they are approved.

Even with the approval of the Definitive Plan, the Developer still needs to obtain other permits associated with the project.  For example, the proposed roadway and lot development plan has to be submitted to the local electric & telephone companies for the design of their utilities. If a site will disturb more than 1 acre, then a Notice needs to be filed with the EPA under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) prepared. Some properties, due to nearby wetlands, are within the jurisdiction of the local Conservation Commission and require permitting approval.

When the Developer decides to actually begin the construction of the roadway, notice is given to the local Planning Board and other local agencies. The Board’s consultant typically works closely with the Developer and the other local agencies to provide construction observation services during critical phases of this process. For the most part, these observation services are performed on an on-call / part-time basis to document the proper construction of the various project components.

Not every project moves quickly from start to finish. As an example, a small two-lot project in Abington Massachusetts required the construction of a short road with a Cul-de-Sac along with a stormwater management system as well as various utilities.

Final Paving in Cul-de-Sac

Final Paving in Cul-de-Sac

The original Developer started the project, constructed the new roadway improvements through the base course of pavement and then abandoned the project.

A new Developer purchases the subdivision after the project is left untouched for several years. Before this Developer begins working, a review is performed by the Planning Board’s engineering consultant to determine the condition of the project and prepares a list of the repairs, etc. that needs to be performed.

Compacting Process for new pavement

Compacting Process for new pavement

These repairs and long overdue maintenance items are performed by the new Developer and confirmed by the Board’s engineering consultant. Close coordination and communication at this phase of work is very important.

Double curb inlet catch basin

Double curb inlet catch basin

For this particular project, the Developer wanted to complete the majority of the required roadway construction before asking the Planning Board for the release of the two lots from the development “covenant”. Pavement activities are observed by the Board’s engineering consultant on a full-time basis since the proper placement and compaction are critical.

Final Roadway Pavement

Final Roadway Pavement

When a Definitive Subdivision in Massachusetts is approved and the plans are recorded at the Registry of Deeds, a signed “covenant” is also recorded. The covenant is a binding legal document (same term as in the Bible) that clearly states that the Developer can not sell the lots or get a building permit until he completes all of the construction improvements as shown on the subdivision plans. There is a provision to get a “release” from the covenant if the Developer is willing to post some form of surety to cover the costs for completing the project. One of the other duties of the Planning Board’s engineering consultant is to establish the list of outstanding construction items to create the “Bond Estimate” for the Board to use in determining the amount of the surety that the Developer must provide before he can get the formal release documents (which are also recorded at the Registry of Deeds).

The more work that is performed and completed by the Developer prior to the creation of the Bond Estimate results in a much lower surety amount.

The Developer of this project decided to install the final paving surface before the two houses are started. The Bond Estimate will include provisions for the repair of the pavement should damages occur.

At the end of the project, the final conditions will have to be observed by the Board’s consultant, necessary corrections and repairs made and confirmed before the Board can decide to release the surety.

(Since 1997,  Michael E. Perrault, P.E. and P.M.P. Associates, LLC has been providing professional consulting services to the Town of Abington Planning Board)