Posted by: Timothy Ellis (The Tim)

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

41 responses to “Homebuying Tip: Get a Sewer Scope Inspection”

  1. Pegasus

    Here’s to hoping you don’t have a colonoscopy done any time in the near future. I fear that too would provide material irresistible for you to keep from posting…..

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  2. Kary L. Krismer

    Last year I had a client do a side sewer inspection on a house. The house was in north Seattle and basically waterfront of Puget Sound if you ignore the train tracks. The sewer for the neighborhood was down the hill toward the tracks, probably at least 100 feet lower in elevation than the house.

    The sewer scope couldn’t get far enough to even get outside the footprint of the house. The pipe had deteriorated under the slab the house was built on. That made it impossible to test the rest of the pipe, but if there had been problems further down, getting equipment in to fix it would have been very problematic (as if fixing the pipe under slap in a living area isn’t problematic).

    The downside to sewer scoping is many of these companies are also in the sewer pipe repair business, so they will make minor problems appear major.

    If anyone has a sewer scoping company they would like to recommend, I would love to lengthen the list of companies on my referral list. Email me or post it here. And Tim, let me know in an email about Hydro Physics.

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  3. Kary L. Krismer

    At the 2:33 mark I think I saw a kitten kicker! /MichaelB

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  4. Serafina

    Our agent suggested we get a sewer scope done in preparation for selling our house. We were very happy with Hydro Physics. All was well except for a few roots growing in. Amazing to see 100+ year ceramic pipe still working! Hydro Physics recommended Fritz’s in Ballard to cut the roots, which they did quickly and economically. I was relieved because a previous house I owned had an aggregate sewer line that had disintegrated.

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  5. Frank the Tank

    I think the sewer scopes that are done in Seattle are a scam. In rural areas 100% of the sewage is intentionally leaked into the soil around the house. It is called a septic tank and drain field. If there is a crack in a concrete sewer pipe, does it really matter that a few drips of sewage end up in the soil? In effect, you have 99% city sewer, 1% septic system. There are plumbers that make thousands of dollars on every house sale for a bunch of non-sense in my opinion.

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  6. Ray Pepper

    Better yet…make the offer subject to the sellers scoping of the sewer at their expense…I had two Buyers request this post inspection by request of their inspector who had concerns…..It NEVER hurts to ask and better to keep the money in the Buyers pocket prior to closing Escrow. Because, quite literally, CRAP happens and watching the video at the sellers expense is far more entertaining then on your dime..

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  7. Haybaler

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 2RE: Frank the Tank @ 5

    Frank, clearly you have never had a sewer back up into your basement…typically caused by tree roots blocking or a collapsed tile. It’s not about what leaks out of the pipes into the ground…it’s about the pipes’ ability to drain the material away from the interior of your house reliably.

    Kary, When I employ sewer scope techs or pest inspectors or roof inspectors, I always make it clear to them at the commencement of their inspection that, no matter what they find, they will not be considered for the repair job if any is needed….. I think that keeps the motivation to exaggerate negative conditions to a minimum.

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  8. MichaelB

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 3

    Kary,

    Your sewer needs scoping. Take a dump buddy – being constipated just makes you have that funny expression on your face all the time!

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  9. wreckingbull

    RE: Haybaler @ 7 – I’d argue that it is about health and the environment too. If you had a malfunctioning drain, and effluent started percolating up in your neighbors yard, would you want their kids playing in the muck? E coli is no laughing matter.

    It is actually very difficult to get a traditional septic system approved in many rural counties. You need excellent soil conditions, otherwise they make you install a mound or subsurface drip system.

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  10. Kary L. Krismer

    By Frank the Tank @ 5:

    I think the sewer scopes that are done in Seattle are a scam. In rural areas 100% of the sewage is intentionally leaked into the soil around the house. It is called a septic tank and drain field. If there is a crack in a concrete sewer pipe, does it really matter that a few drips of sewage end up in the soil? In effect, you have 99% city sewer, 1% septic system. There are plumbers that make thousands of dollars on every house sale for a bunch of non-sense in my opinion.

    First, a septic system has a drain field which is usually over 100′ in length. A crack in a pipe does not.

    Second, the concern isn’t so much cracks, but blockages. Those can cause problems.

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  11. Kary L. Krismer

    By Serafina @ 4:

    Our agent suggested we get a sewer scope done in preparation for selling our house.

    This would be a great future topic, and it could be called: “Who the F does your agent think they represent?”

    I’m not a big fan of a seller doing inspections because no buyer with half a brain is going to rely on an inspection performed by a seller. Beyond that, a typical inspection has probably at least 20 items mentioned, so that means the seller either needs to fix them, or disclose the ones which are material, and deciding that itself is problematic. Going further, even the best inspectors are sometimes wrong, calling out items which are in fact fine.

    But let’s turn to the sewer inspection. If the sewer pipe has been operating without issue during the ownership of the property, and no problems were disclosed on the prior Form 17, I know of no basis for seller liability if a buyer buys a property and it later develops problems. Let’s say though that Tim’s seller had conducted the sewer inspection. The video clearly shows one or two dips in the pipe, and a couple of places where the pipe joints do not meet cleanly. Likely minor conditions that nothing was done about. If Tim’s seller had done the sewer inspection, they would have known about those conditions. If they caused problems for Tim this past year (or longer), then arguably there would be exposure to the seller for the repairs.

    Seems like a heads they win, tails you lose proposition for sellers. No one is going to offer more for a house knowing a sewer inspection was done, but the seller will have additional liability. So why would a seller want to do an inspection when they might end up footing a $5 to $10k repair bill, or $50,000+ in litigation expenses?

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  12. Kary L. Krismer

    By Haybaler @ 7:

    Kary, When I employ sewer scope techs or pest inspectors or roof inspectors, I always make it clear to them at the commencement of their inspection that, no matter what they find, they will not be considered for the repair job if any is needed….. I think that keeps the motivation to exaggerate negative conditions to a minimum.

    That could certainly help, but I’d still be concerned that their “normal” behavior would carry over. It could be that’s all they know–that they were trained to say certain things need to be corrected.

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  13. Pegasus

    RE: wreckingbull @ 9 – Yup and the county inspectors are about as helpful and knowledgeable as the stuff that flows through those pipes. One idiot’s solution for me one time was to place a mound system(spelled MONEY) twenty feet from my artesian water source. I had to work through the county hierarchy to get him fired from my case.

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  14. softwarengineer

    Speaking of Maintenance Calls

    Anytime after a test and they want a big repair [or even medical surgery on you]; get a second opinion.

    Just high pressure blowing your roof composites and glue board side panels can lead to rot between the cracks, when no rot would have happened had you left the house alone.

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  15. Nicholas Beaudrot

    Is this needed when buying new construction? Sewer scoping saved us from taking on way more risk than we were willing to with a house we put an offer on earlier, but now we’re looking at a house that was built this winter. Seems silly to pay someone $250 to ensure they did the job right, especially when the work is warranted (warranteed?) for a year.

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  16. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Nicholas Beaudrot @ 15 – New houses need inspections too, because things are often done incorrectly. And a warranty is only as good as the financial solvency of the seller.

    That said, older houses are more likely to need these inspections due to the materials used for pipe, and because trees and such have had more time to work against them.

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  17. Tim McB

    We also had a sewer cam done when purchasing and I’d agree its a must do on inspection regardless of the age of the home. You never know when a contractor does a botched job on new construction of a home but just good enough to pass inspection, especially those that were built during the bubble years. I’d also add a other suggestion. Find a plumber who lists not only the length but depth on the camera reading. Its just as valuable info to have especially if you end up needing to do work on the line at some point in the future. If you end doing it gives you an idea how far down you have to go to repair the break, if you hire it out you can skip them having to cam it before digging and of course charging you for it. If you end up buying the house this is your chance to get as much information as you can on it. Just my 2 cents.

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  18. Tim McB

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 10

    Or pipe collapses which often can happen over time, or after earthquakes.

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  19. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Tim McB @ 18 – I was a bit imprecise in my language. Rather than blockages I should have said conditions which cause blockages.

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  20. David Losh

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 11

    Number one Fritz does a great job, and is very reasonably priced, He’s honest to a fault.

    In parts of Seattle it is wise to pre scope before the property is listed, and fix potential problems before an inspection. Ray is also right that a savvy buyer would have the seller pay for the service anyway.

    Kary, this comment shows the difference between agents with experience, and those without.

    An experienced agent can bring a lot to the table.

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  21. Kary L. Krismer

    By David Losh @ 20:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 11

    Number one Fritz does a great job, and is very reasonably priced, He’s honest to a fault.

    In parts of Seattle it is wise to pre scope before the property is listed, and fix potential problems before an inspection. Ray is also right that a savvy buyer would have the seller pay for the service anyway.

    Kary, this comment shows the difference between agents with experience, and those without..

    David, I would not in a million years describe you as an experienced agent, so I don’t know why you think you could possibly judge such a thing.

    I’ve already explained why having a seller inspect is a rather risky move. You haven’t refuted a single point. Put up or shut up.

    Ray’s point is rather bizarre. Should the buyer also ask the seller to pay for their general inspection? And if the seller pays, do they get to pick the inspector? Adding a $200 item to the seller to pay is merely another item which would make it less likely the seller would pick your offer in a multiple offer situation. And it’s not just about the $200. If there are two similar offers and one lets it be known they are going to do a sewer inspection, the seller will pick the other offer. Why tip off the seller over $200? Personally I can’t think of worse advice to give. Penny wise and pound foolish.

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  22. Kary L. Krismer

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 21:

    Personally I can’t think of worse advice to give.

    I went a bit too far there. Advising a seller to do a pre-inspection is far worse advice. Advising a buyer to ask for the seller to pay for a sewer inspection just makes it more likely they won’t get the property. That’s typically not the end of the world.

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  23. Question Mark

    Heh, the first part of that trip eerily reminded me of bus rides I’ve taken through the downtown Seattle bus/train tunnel (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etT_wVuKy_I).

    No, I’m not anti-Metro or anti-transit.

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  24. David Losh

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 21

    Once again I should stop right here: “David, I would not in a million years describe you as an experienced agent, so I don’t know why you think you could possibly judge such a thing,” but I continued on, as usual, because it is fascinating to me.

    In parts of Seattle, like an older home, with trees, it is better to be prepared for the inspection that will surely be coming. It costs you less to repair if a seller hires a contractor before listing, when they have time to shop, than knowing a Real Estate transaction is at stake.

    This is really very basic, Kary. There are many things that a pre-inspection can point out that cost less to address before you list a property. Shees.

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  25. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: David Losh @ 24 – David, don’t complain about my comments that come back when you pull that “experienced agent” BS. If you want to imply I’m not an experienced agent I’ll come right back at you. The fact that you eat up comments like “have the seller pay for the inspection” just proves you’re not an experienced agent. That’s the type of comment aimed at consumers. It sounds good to them when really it’s not in their interest. It’s funny how you complain about agent sales pitches, but when you hear one you eat it up!

    As to pre-inspections, once again you don’t know what you’re talking about. That is total nonsense. It doesn’t matter how much less it will cost you do to a repair beforehand if it isn’t something the buyer asks you to do. That’s money down the drain.

    Just as an example, in my house there was a reverse polarity plug and another electrical issue. That would cost someone incapable of doing the work (e.g. my seller) at least $75 for an electrician to come out and do the task. Or on one of my recent buyer transactions, the deck wasn’t properly secured to the house. That was something my buyer preferred to do himself, as is common with many buyers. As you might have reason to know, inspection reports are typically filled with at least a dozen such items.

    Read my latest blog piece. In it I explain how Annie Fitzsimmons suggests adding a liquidated damage clause to contracts where I represent the seller and the buyer’s agent sends the inspection report to me unsolicited. She’s suggesting that the buyer pay damages for something that you want the seller to do to themselves! LOL.

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  26. ARDELL

    RE: David Losh @ 24

    I would have to agree with David as to Sewer Scopes, though I would agree with Kary’s position with regard to most other Inspection issues. Using Hydrophysics for the scope and someone like Fritz to clear any roots in the pipe, can save a seller up to $10,000 in the long run.

    Depends on how the roots penetrated the sewer pipe. But often not worth risking the information not being known in advance due to the high cost of sleeving or replacing the pipe.

    I am not saying any buyer should use a seller’s video vs getting the inspection done, again, themselves. Only that a seller finding and remedying the clog in advance can save many thousands of dollars vs waiting for it to be a negotiating point at time of inspection.

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  27. Kary L. Krismer

    By ARDELL @ 26:

    RE: David Losh @ 24

    I would have to agree with David as to Sewer Scopes, though I would agree with Kary’s position with regard to most other Inspection issues. Using Hydrophysics for the scope and someone like Fritz to clear any roots in the pipe, can save a seller up to $10,000 in the long run.

    Maybe I’ve just not come across the type of damage that you’re referring to, but how can you have a situation where fixing something in advance saves you $10,000. Please explain. Are you hiding damaged pipes?

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  28. David Losh

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 25

    So your buyer is going to repair the deck themselves? Your seller has a reverse polarity plug, knows about it, but won’t repair it because the buyer may not notice?

    Then you finish it off with liquidateded damages because a buyer’s agent sent you an inspection report you didn’t want to see?

    Let me get to that blog post to get back to you on that.

    As far as having the seller pay for the sewer inspection, they will be liable for that inspection no matter what. If the buyer finds a problem the seller has to disclose.

    That might be some of those liquidated damages you are talking about.

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  29. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: David Losh @ 28 – You might want to look up the term “liquidated damages.” We’re not talking about that because the topic is sewage! ;-)

    I don’t understand your first paragraph at all. What’s wrong with a buyer repairing a deck them-self so that they know it’s done right? Some decks are improperly bolted to the side of a house and then fall injuring people.

    As to the reverse polarity plug, I doubt the seller knew about it, and they clearly didn’t refuse to fix it since they weren’t asked. It was simply that’s something I could easily fix myself, almost easier than drafting a request to have the seller fix it. Actually, I replaced just about every plug on that entire floor, so if the seller had fixed it that would have been a complete waste.

    Finally, you apparently don’t understand when a seller has to disclose conditions. It’s only if they are told of it or know of it. If a buyer just backs out, then there’s nothing to disclose.

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  30. ARDELL

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 27

    It depends on the type of pipe and how the roots are getting in, Kary. If it is a clay pipe and the roots broke through and made a hole in the pipe, then there is no savings in finding it in advance. But you will decrease the risk of a buyer simply walking when they find that problem. It’s fairly extensive. Some pipe joints allow roots in without the pipe having broken or deteriorated at all. In that case it is best to clear the roots out in advance, as a buyer may ask for a new pipe even though it doesn’t need one. Clearing the roots in advance will allow the camera to see that there are no breaks in the pipe. So no…you are not concealing a problem. Quite the opposite. You are shedding light on the fact that there are no breaks in the pipe by clearing the camera’s view.

    A buyer does not have to ask for the simplest or even most appropriate remedy to a problem. Some problems are better fixed in advance for that reason.

    As to David’s deck comments, I would have to agree. The average buyer may ask for the cost of a whole new deck, so securing it so that there is no problem at time of inspection is likely the better call.

    Reversed polarity and GFCI issues are often OK to let the inspector point out vs fixing in advance. You want to leave something for him to “do”. Same with cleaning out the gutters. In fact, often if you clean the gutters immediately prior to listing the home, the inspector still calls them because he can see where they overflowed prior to your having cleaned them. Then it’s hard to explain why you don’t need to clean them again.

    Any owner of an older home should have a scope done every now and then even if they aren’t selling their home. Often the problem can be remedied cheaply before it gets so bad that the pipe is adversely impacted.

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  31. Kary L. Krismer

    By ARDELL @ 30:

    As to David’s deck comments, I would have to agree. The average buyer may ask for the cost of a whole new deck, so securing it so that there is no problem at time of inspection is likely the better call.

    They can ask all they want, but that’s hardly the solution for a deck that’s not bolted to the house. When the inspector says it’s a safety hazard because it’s not bolted, bolts are the solution.

    I would agree about leaving something for the inspector.

    The problem I have with doing things in advance is that buyers’ reactions are totally inconsistent and unpredictable. I’ve seen buyers go nuts over minor things and ignore major things. What you end up having to do, if anything, is too dependent on who the buyer is.

    On the topic of sewer roots, I’m surprised the Form 17 doesn’t ask more questions about sewer connections. It seems very focused on septic, for obvious reasons, but to the point of almost ignoring sewer. If you have to clean roots out of a sewer every year or two, I’d consider that a major defect, but there’s no question that seems to apply if the roots have been recently cleaned out.

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  32. David Losh

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 29

    You’re making my head hurt again.

    I read the blog post about the legal help line being the best thing ever. Then you go on with the liquidated damages from an inspection report you don’t want to see.

    The crowning touch was, even if you inserted the language for liquidated damages you would be beyond your scope as a Real Estate Broker, making the whole transaction fodder for Real Estate attorneys.

    Like Scotsman says if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you’re an attorney the best thing in Real Estate is to have a Real Estate attorney involved.

    This is a sewer scope post, and thread.

    It’s simple, the sewer is a big expense. The scoping is about $200 to $300, depending on length. If a problem comes up, no matter who pays for the scoping, it becomes the sellers problem.

    I could go on, but Ardell covered the points perfectly.

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  33. Kary L. Krismer

    By David Losh @ 32:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 29The crowning touch was, even if you inserted the language for liquidated damages you would be beyond your scope as a Real Estate Broker, making the whole transaction fodder for Real Estate attorneys.

    That language was added because the answer becomes available to other agents who are not also attorneys. She’s warning agents not to draft their own language. But an attorney wouldn’t need to draft the language each time for every transaction done by the agent. Just once.

    This is a sewer scope post, and thread.

    You then missed the point of my bringing that up. You want sellers to do their own pre-inspections. Knowing what an inspector finds can be damaging to sellers. Thus the reason for a liquidated damage clause–to compensate them for the possible damage. What you want to do can damage sellers! That’s why I brought up the blog piece.

    It’s simple, the sewer is a big expense. The scoping is about $200 to $300, depending on length. If a problem comes up, no matter who pays for the scoping, it becomes the sellers problem.

    It only becomes a problem for the seller if the buyer scopes the sewer, or the seller knows of a problem and doesn’t disclose it. You’re converting it into a problem that if it exists, it’s a problem for the seller. And by all accounts here, that problem could be a five figure problem!

    I can see the point of doing the scoping and cleaning if roots have been a problem in the past, but I do have a bit of a problem with that. Ardell describes that as making the pipe easier to see, but it also could be seen as hiding a root problem (again dependent on how short the duration is between cleanings).

    And in any case it really doesn’t fit within my original scenario where the seller doesn’t know of a problem. If there is a problem with roots, I think it’s likely the seller knows about it if they’ve lived in the house for any significant period. A short time owner, maybe not.

    It also probably depends on location. Most the houses I’ve been involved with where roots would be a likely issue have been on septic. The issues I’ve faced have been more materials and settling.

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  34. wreckingbull

    I run one of these at my cabin.

    http://www.sun-mar.com/

    No root problems, no costly mound systems, just nice black compost for your yard (although I don’t put it on edible plants – just a psychological issue I guess) Pricey, though.

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  35. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: wreckingbull @ 34 – When I was a kid the family motorhome had a device which fed the septic into the exhaust manifold. I don’t remember the name of the product. You didn’t want to be stuck behind that thing going up a hill!

    Not sure why it didn’t build up residue in the exhaust system, but it didn’t.

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  36. Kary L. Krismer

    I’m still having a hard time with this pre-listing inspection of a sewer line. As noted, as an agent I’ve not run across properties with roots, and the issue of roots has only come up once. One prospective purchaser of a listing was concerned about roots in the sewer line on a property without any trees! She apparently had an issue at a prior property. I don’t remember the details on that buyer–whether she made an offer or not, but at the time I remember considering her concern rather absurd. Did she think grass or tulip roots were going to clog a sewer line?

    I did once have a friend who had a problem with roots, and it was a rather chronic problem because the roots would grow back fairly quickly. I don’t recall what he did (e.g. did he kill the offending tree or replace the pipe, etc.), but I do recall it was a very deep pipe, so he was obviously dealing with a tree with very deep roots.

    But here’s my problem. If you have to periodically service your sewer line, I would consider that a defect in the sewer line which needs to be disclosed at the end of Form 17. And if you don’t disclose it, and instead merely service the line prior to listing, I would consider that concealment, possibly rising to the level of fraud.

    I consider it sort of like if you have a house with crawlspace water issues, and you change all the plastic out in May prior to listing to remove the evidence of the water, and then don’t disclose the existence of the water problem.

    If on the other hand you have a sewer line that hasn’t required periodic maintenance, then scoping the sewer would seemingly only lead to the discovery of something bad that you didn’t know about, and that might not be discovered due to the lack of due diligence on the part of the buyer. As long as the seller has no reason to suspect the defect, that loss falls squarely on the buyer.

    So seemingly the only time to do a pre-listing sewer scope is if you suspect you need to cover something up. I’m not comfortable with that at all, unless you disclose the existence of the condition in the Form 17.

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  37. MichaelB

    By Kary L. Krismer @ 19:

    RE: Tim McB @ 18 – I was a bit imprecise in my language. Rather than blockages I should have said conditions which cause blockages.

    Kary, you seem to be projecting your own blockages onto this discussion.

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  38. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: MichaelB @ 37 – Again I’ll ask–what are you, 8 years old?

    Another question: Do you ever post anything even marginally useful here?

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  39. Aryastark

    We had to hire sewer contractors after we repeatedly had water backing up in our basement laundry room (nothing like having my washer and dryer sitting in blackwater…..) They kept finding tree roots and cutting them out, but the problem kept reoccurring. Very frustrating. Finally we hired pros and they had to replace those sections.

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  40. Jared

    RE: Ray Pepper @ 6 – Good luck with that. Even if I was desperate to sell, I would never fork over $350 for an inspection and then have the buyer walk. If the buyer wants an inspection, then that is on his dime

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  41. Knife-Catcher: Year Two Recap of Tim’s Home Purchase • Seattle Bubble

    [...] with a new PVC sewer line. Thankfully, it was an expense we had planned for ahead of time since the sewer scope inspection we had done when we bought the house brought the impending failure to our attention before we even [...]

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