URGENT! Septic issues 2 days before closing - holdback an option?


Hello all, I’m in desperate need of advice. Here’s the deal:

I am in escrow on my first park. It’s a very deal, given that it’s in a growing area in the Pac Northwest and clocking in at 9.1% cap, which will go higher once rents are raised to market. Park is on city water, but septic for sewer.

We are days from closing, but last week, one of the septic tanks started overflowing. Looks like the drain field, which is about 10 years old, is saturated.

HOWEVER, the company that installed the drain field a decade ago put in a DIVERTER so that the old field could be used. The managers were unaware of this, and have never used the diverter valve. The company said that they wouldn’t have put in the diverter if they didn’t think the old field could be restored, and surely now, after 10 years, that old field is very likely to be fine and ready for use. Another, unrelated company said the same thing: diverters are great, and SHOULD work. BUT, we won’t know for a couple of weeks.

The seller is balking at waiting another 2 weeks (the deal has already been delayed multiple times) and after all, I said I would buy the park “as is” – barring any catastrophic issues.

So, my questions:

  1. Is anyone out there familiar with diverters, using old fields, etc? How concerned should I be about a park that effectively needs two fields to operate?

  2. The realtor – who is representing us both – suggested a “holdback” at close. Say, $20K would be held back at escrow to go towards any fixes that are deemed necessary, and released after a certain amount of time. Has anyone used these? Thoughts on whether this is a viable option?

Thanks so much in advance!


First park and septic-trouble. If the park is such a great park the owner will be patience or maybe he sees an easy sale. Really smart to be an experienced operator before buying a park that may be you last one. First park try buying one on city utilities… Have +30 years experience; the questions your are asking should be reason enough to pass on this one. Please folks be not in a HURRY buying parks. Your word {desperate} is a very large RED FLAG!!!


Life is way too short to lose sleep over a piece of property. Walk away? Lose your deposit? Renegotiate the price? Sue the seller? Ask seller to fix and repair? Get a credit from seller? Call city ask for help hooking it up and how much?

May God be with you and your new park.


Alternating between two drain fields may work… or it may be a bandaid. Hard to say with out more info. If there is adequate space for a new drain field the $20,000 hold back should be adequate to replace a drain field but get some estimates asap. But biggest question is why did the drainfield fail? Soil aborption rate inadequate for flow, grease blow out from tanks due to inadequate pumping, roots,… Unless you know why a new drainfield may have same problem


Did your inspection show the drain field was saturated. It should have showed up when distribution box was inspected. Is this a drainfield for the whole park or just a few homes?


@PhillipMerrill have you seen any success using tank aerators / diffusers with anaerobic systems? There are lots of interwebs claims these can save a drainfield consumed by biomat, curious your thoughts and experiences.


Looking back at the initial information WHY would you ever buy a property ( as is) being your first property. WHO advised you to use that statement–the broker?, the seller? Please inform us of such!!!


Thanks Phillip for the CONSTRUCTIVE replies :-). I’ve been working this deal since September. When we did the initial DD on the septic back in early Oct, nothing showed up to indicate a problem, which is why this is such a surprise… coming 2 days before close at that. Clearly, they’ve had saturation issues before – thus the new field 10 years back. This is an area in the Pacific Northwest that gets a lot of water, so not terribly surprising. The folks who put the new system in put in the diverter in anticipation of this, but again, it hasn’t been used so we don’t know if this will work (they seem to think it will, claim they wouldn’t have put the diverter in if they didn’t think the field could be restored with time.) Per manager, whom I trust, the field always has standing water in the spring (the whole area has standing water in the spring!) but has never had tank backflow issues, so she is freaking out a bit too. (After 4 months, I’ve gotten close to the current manager, who has been managing the place for 20+ years.)

We have an inspection this afternoon – I’ll follow up and let you know what we learn. THANK YOU again!


Wondering the same – anyone know if aerators / diffusers / anaerobic systems work?


Bottom line a drain field should never be put in an area with standing water at any time during the year!!! There is no way for the soil to absorb the sewer water you are sending it if the soil is so saturated it has standing water. The drainfield will be inoperable while there is standing water and it also indicated the soil has a low permeability.

Regarding adding an aerator to your septic tank: The aerator will grow more microbes which will consume most of the organic matter in the waste stream. This will reduce organic loading to the drainfield which will starve out the biomass. The drainfield will thus do very little treatment and be mostly a disposal system. If the problem was biomass overgrowth reducing the ability of the drainfield to take water it should work. However if the problem was not biomass overgrowth but with the soil or soil interface it will not solve the problem. The soil could just have such a low permeability that it cant handle the volume of water. Or the soil interface or perforations could be plugged from grease, or other solids blowing out the tank due to not pumping the tank frequently enough. Jetting might help with grease or solids depending on how bad it is. If you run a camera down the drainfield lines the sewer company should be able to see what is up.

However Im extremely concerned about the area having saturated water. The drainfield system will never work will saturated or with standing water. I would dig some test holes all around the drainfield and measure the water table. If the water table is within 36 iches of the bottom the drainfield the system is most likely not up to code and if it higher than that the whole system is doomed.

Sorry for the bad news


Arghhhh. Thank you again… I’d rather hear this now than later. I thought that was typical - the whole area up here floods in Spring, as I’m sure it does in your area! But I certainly see your point. Thanks again for all your time and thoughtful replies.


I’d be concerned with any standing water as well. It would be very helpful to know if the standing water was only above the fields or over the whole property. Septic in the northwest, where there’s likely a lot of rain, sounds like a bad combination overall.


@PhillipMerrill ’ve seen conflicting opinions on whether aerators will fix a non permeable biomass similar to @jhutson. The logic behind what you said about the air in the tank using more of the nutrients thus starving the biomass makes sense. If the aeration does work though, wouldn’t it take awhile to reduce the amount of biomass? I would think that there will still be biomass living in the field because nutrients are still sent out so I bet it’s still possible for the reduced biomat to completely block the drain field. My guess is if the aeration does work, it depends on whether the surface area of the drain field is large enough so that the biomass doesn’t have enough nutrients to grow around it completely. I’ve also heard that the aerobic bacteria in the tank can kill or inhibit the anaerobic bacteria in the field somehow. Someone could write a book on this topic. It was nice to hear your experience though.


I was speaking from a theoretical prospective regarding septic aerators. There are a lot of variable as to how sucessful they would be in starving out the biomass in the drainfield: how long it takes to grow an adequate population of microbes in tank, is a enough air being supplied to the tank to actually grow enough microbes to significantly reduce organic load to drain field ( this is a major concern), can you keep theses microbes in the tank or will you wash them out into the drainfield? If you dont have enough air the whole concept doesn’t really get much done. Above I was giving the theory behind how it could reduce biomass but just slapping an undersized aerator in your tank may or may not work. Lots of design criteria to determine sucess

An aerated tank is basicly just a baby package plant (you are trying to have a activated sludge system) but with none of the process controls.


PLEASE aphils, who indicated the use of (as is) in the contract. Was it from an attorney , seller’s brokers, a friend; who??? I have been quiet on the septic system since for a first time buyer there are too many potential problems but with experience ownership and being successful broaden your choices is great. Have operated sewage plants and many years be on septic tanks. With new state regulation we know can ONLY use aeration systems which use 2 motors and need monthly attention with a starting cost of $8,000 for really only one home----as stated there are too many variables as per state to state requirements as to get into the details but Phillip M has done a great job in his explanation. Seems you are determined to buy the park since you have been trying to buy it since Oct. disregarding some experience owner’s thoughts–best of luck!!! Walking away from a questionable deal is fine–DD is a critical time to evaluate a property; not to fall in love!!


Hey Carl, I appreciate your concern – I really do. For the benefit of others on this forum, here are my answers to your questions:

  • Regarding “as is”: This is an older park (as the all are.) I stipulated that “as is” meant, “buying based on what the seller was disclosing at the time.” There was a lot of deferred maintenance – fine. I was OK with that. IOW, I wasn’t asking the seller to take down those trees, paint that shed, fix that roof. I secured a 60 day DD period to verify that “as is” was in fact what the seller claimed. In other words, I did NOT waive my right to inspections or due diligence. I used the full 60 days and them some. Point is that by saying “as is”, I was committing to not nitpick or haggle on the obvious, observable stuff after going into contract (yes, I know this is a strategy encouraged by Frank, but in my area, where deals are VERY competitive, I opted not to do this. In terms of getting the deal, this turned out to be the right choice: it got me the deal over the competing deal, because the owner was old and didn’t want to play games.) Had something major come up during DD that had not been disclosed or known, I would have walked or asked for concessions (as I said in my original post, "as is barring any catastrophic issues") And that’s what I started/am starting to do upon this late discovery of the septic issue…
  • Regarding septic for first-time buyer: in my area, ALL parks are on septic. Most are on wells. Per Frank – he said this at bootcamp – sometimes you have no choice. So you take the septic and deal with it. I would NEVER have touched a lagoon or plant – but septic is very common in our area. There are plans for city sewer to go through the area, but I’m not counting on it anytime soon.
  • We’ve gotten estimates, and it’s about $6-8K for a new, large, standard field in our area.

Again, I appreciate the concern and warning. And to Frank’s point at bootcamp: no park is perfect. But for this surprise, this park fits all my criteria in terms of location, size, and terms. Thus the reason I’m fighting to save it…

Now, for an update, see next post…


OK all you helpful friends, here’s an update. As always, thoughts appreciated.

The deal nearly died, but we’re back on. Here’s the scoop.

Went to the health dept and spoke with inspector. No history of complaints from tenants. All systems permitted, so park has right to repair/replace any system that fails. Inspector was optimistic that we would be able to add another standard leach field, but of course, wouldn’t be able to say for sure without inspection.

But seller was still refusing to give time for the inspection, which of course was the prereq for getting bids to see if this is a $7K or $70K fix. (@Carl, in our area, run-of-the-mill septic systems are surprisingly affordable.)

So we got to an impasse. He refused to give time. I started to walk away. The deal nearly died and contract came within hours of expiring.

Today, cooler heads prevailed. Seller extended escrow period to allow inspection and bids. Seller agreed to credit the cost of the new leach field at close of escrow.

So, we are back on. My biggest concern was: will this be a major fix/will county require the very costly replacement of the existing field? This has been addressed. I’ll know in a few days, and either way, the seller has agreed to finance the repairs.

I’m feeling good about this. Any reason I should not be?

And: THANKS AGAIN TO ALL for your feedback!


How did this work out? Did you close on the park?