When searching the Cape & Islands MLS, you’ll frequently encounter references to something known in Massachusetts as “Title V”, a state regulation pertaining to septic systems. Many buyers of Cape Cod homes live off-Cape in metropolitan areas such as Boston and New York City and are unfamiliar with septic systems. If you are one of these people, here’s a brief summary of what you need to know when buying a home on Cape Cod.
The Journey of Waste
Nearly very home has a large drain pipe in the basement or under the house that passes through the foundation and exits the home. Every toilet, sink, shower, bathtub, and washing machine drains into this primary drain pipe, so that all water and waste exits the home. But where does it go once it leaves? That depends on where you live.
The majority of Americans are serviced by sewer systems. Sewage exits the home and connects to the municipal sewer system where it is drained, treated at a treatment plant, and returned to the environment. In some rural areas like Cape Cod, sewers are just starting to be installed. Instead, each home is serviced by a private sewage system located on its own property. Older systems are typically the cesspool variety, whereas newer systems are referred to as septic systems (see diagram) that must meet current state regulations known as Title V.
In both cases, the system is buried in the ground outside the house. Homeowners have the tank pumped periodically to remove the solids that accumulate over time.
Enter Title V
In the mid-70’s, in an attempt to protect especially groundwater from being adversely effected by sewage, Massachusetts adopted Title V, a set of regulations governing the proper siting, construction, upgrade, and maintenance of septic systems and the transport and disposal of sanitary sewage. Local Boards of Health are tasked with the enforcement of Title V. One of the key rules related to Title V and effecting both homeowners and home buyers is that all homes with private sewage systems must pass a Title V inspection before being sold. The inspection is generally initiated and paid for by the seller, and typically costs in the neighborhood of $400. It should be noted that in many Cape Cod towns, presence of a cesspool system is an automatic failure, so no test is needed.
If the system passes, the homeowner is issued a Title V certificate by the town that is good for 2 years. If the home is sold again in 2.5 years, another inspection must take place. If the system fails, a new septic system MAY need to be installed, but not always. A brand new system typically costs in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars, but could run as high as FIFTY thousand dollars, depending on a variety of factors, such as being located in a flood zone.
There is no law dictating who pays for the new septic system, although the cost is generally absorbed by the seller. Ideally, the new system should be completely installed and approved prior to the sale, although there are situations when the town will allow the sale to take place prior to the final installation and approval. Financial assistance, in the form of low interest rate loans, is available to help homeowners finance the cost of a new septic system.
In summary, if you are a Cape Cod homeowner who is thinking of selling your home and you are serviced by a cesspool or septic system, it may be in your best interest to have the system tested BEFORE you list your home so that you’ll at least know whether or not you need to factor in a brand new septic system. If you are a buyer looking to purchase a home on the Cape, one of the first questions you should ask is whether or not the Title V inspection has been done and if so, if it passed. Whether you are the buyer or seller, your real estate agent should be able to assist you with Title V compliance issues.
For more information on Title V, click here.
For more information on Title V financing assistance, click here.