Tag Archive for: The Berkshires

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What to Know About Septic Systems in the Berkshires

If you’ve had a sewer line connected to your home, the whole concept of a septic system might be new to you. You might think that it’s just another kind of sewer. However, the problem is that rules about septic systems in the Berkshires are very detailed and, if there are problems, you own them—not the government. Septic problems can be very expensive to fix.

No one wants to think about septic systems but…

Septic systems are very common in the Berkshires. In some communities, it’s the only choice for handling waste. What’s The Problem?

Septic systems in the Berkshires must pass a Title 5 inspection within two years before a sale. Title 5, Massachusetts’ regulation 310 CMR 15.000, governs septic systems and contains rules that specify how to install, use and maintain these systems.

So, what happens?

We’ve seen it happen all too often: a seller waits until they have a buyer under contract before scheduling the inspection, the septic system fails, and the closing can be extended indefinitely until repairs are made or a new system is installed. A once-friendly buyer and seller become mortal enemies because they can’t agree on the appropriate kind of repairs or time frame for completion.

It gets worse. Eager buyers who are getting a mortgage are often dismayed to learn that the bank won’t fund the loan until they have a passing Title 5 report. Interest rates can change. Sellers may discover that their home is no longer going to sell.

Why would somebody wait for Title 5 inspection?

Sellers are often hesitant to do the Title 5 inspection before they believe that they cannot offer a house for sale that has failed an inspection. Or, the seller is afraid that the Board of Health will make them fix the system immediately if it fails. In reality, if a system fails the inspection, you can offer the house for sale and inform the buyer what you are doing to remedy a problem. An owner has two years to make the required upgrades and can work with the local Board of Health or MassDEP to come to an alternative schedule.

Of course, let’s not assume the worst. It may be easier to sell a home if you have passed the Title 5 inspection. It is one less thing to worry about and to wait for.

What does the Title 5 inspection involve?

The purpose of the Title 5 inspection is to protect groundwater supplies and determine if septic systems in their current conditions can protect public health and the environment. The inspection includes determining the location and condition of cesspools, septic tanks and distribution boxes. It does not guarantee that a septic system will function adequately or that it won’t fail later. The system must be inspected by a MassDEP-approved individual using the MassDEP-approved inspection form. The inspection report must be submitted to the Board of Health within 30 days of the inspection. The buyer of the property with a septic system must also receive a copy of the inspection report.

Inspections generally are good for 2 years. If a property is sold more than once in the 2-year period, the single inspection is valid for all property transfers. If a system is pumped annually and the pumping records are available, an inspection is valid for 3 years. If weather conditions prevent inspection at the time of a sale, the inspection must take place within 6 months afterward, but the seller must provide written notice to the buyer of the need to complete the inspection.  

Conditional pass or failed Title 5 inspection

A septic system in the Berkshires may receive a “conditional pass” if there are certain components that need repair, such as a cracked septic tank, broken pipes, uneven distribution box, or malfunctioning pump chamber. In these cases, the seller must make the appropriate repairs, at which time the Board of Health will issue a Certificate of Compliance.

If a septic system completely fails the inspection, it is the owner’s responsibility to replace or repair the system within two years. If a system fails shortly after a sale, the buyer may have legal recourse, but it may be very hard to prove that the system was in failure at the time of the inspection.

What about mounded septic systems?

A common point of concern among both buyers and sellers is that if a septic system fails Title 5, the owner will be forced to install a “mounded” system, resulting in an unsightly mound or bulge on the property. The Title 5 regulations changed in 1995 to require that the bottom of a septic system must rest four feet above the high-water table which, in Berkshire County, ranges between 12 and 30 inches below ground. As a result, almost all standard septic systems installed after 1995 in Berkshire County are mounded. That is, the bottom of the septic system rests near the top of the ground so sand or soil can absorb the waste before reaching the water table, and the top of the septic system protrudes slightly above ground level.

There are ways to get around an unsightly mound, including grading the area around the septic system so the mound doesn’t appear elevated. Most towns will grant an automatic variance allowing the system to be installed 3 feet, instead of 4 feet, above the water table.

If an owner is willing to spend a bit more money on a tertiary treatment or filtration system, they could be eligible for a 2-foot variance. Massachusetts recently approved a new alternative system called an Elgin System, which is more affordable than any of the other approved alternative systems. Unlike the other systems, it does not require an annual maintenance agreement and only requires 2 feet of separation to groundwater.

Hope this wasn’t a waste of your time…

More Resources

Read more about buying or selling property with a septic system: https://www.mass.gov/guides/buying-or-selling-property-with-a-septic-system

Read the full 310 CMR 15.00: Septic Systems (“Title 5”) here: https://www.mass.gov/regulations/310-CMR-15000-septic-systems-title-5

Disclaimer:  The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice or services. Your review of this post and/or use of the Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP website does not create an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP or any of its attorneys. Information provided herein or on the website should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with legal, accounting, tax, and/or other professional advisors.   Since any electronic communication between you and Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP through this website will not be privileged or confidential, it may be disclosed to other persons and may not be secure. Accordingly, please do not send any e-mail to the Firm that contains confidential or sensitive information without first speaking with an attorney at Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP and receiving permission to do so.

What Are Common Closing Costs in Massachusetts?

“What are common closing costs in Massachusetts?” This is perhaps the most common question we get from prospective buyers and sellers. Every transaction is different, so the question is not always easy to answer. However, there are some standard fees that one should expect. Read our list!

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Massachusetts Buyer Closing Costs

  • Recording Fees —Various documents are recorded at the Registry of Deeds at closing. The Commonwealth currently charges (as of September 2022) the following amounts for the following documents:
    • Deed – $155Mortgage – $205Municipal Lien Certificate – $80Declaration of Homestead – $35
    • Certificates and Affidavits – $105
  • Plot Plan — If you are buying a house, as opposed to unimproved land, your lawyer will almost always order a plot plan from a local surveyor to ensure that there are no encroachments on the property. This typically costs between $350 and $500.
  • Title Exam / Abstracting — Your lawyer will order the complete record of recorded documents pertaining to the property from the past 50 years from an abstractor. This typically costs between $300 and $400.
  • Municipal Lien Certificate — This is the tax certificate that shows the exact amount of the property taxes and whether any taxes are owed. Towns and cities typically charge between $25 and $50 per certificate.
  • Adjustments for Property Taxes — Property taxes are pro-rated, so you will pay the seller for any property taxes that have already been paid for the current tax period.
  • Adjustments for Propane/Fuel/Heating Oil — Buyers must pay sellers for any propane or oil that is left in the tank(s). This is calculated based on the current price per gallon and a reading of the gauge a few days before closing.
  • Title Insurance Policy — Title insurance protects owners and their lenders from financial loss resulting from a hidden defect in the title to a property. It is a one-time payment that covers homeowners for as long as they own the property. The payment is a factor of the purchase price of the property. Commonly, it’s calculated as $4.00 per every $1,000, but this can change for properties over $1 million and depends whether a lender’s policy is being issued simultaneously. You should ask your attorney to calculate this for you.
  • Legal Fee — This can vary depending on the purchase price of the property, whether the buyer is getting a mortgage, and whether any special considerations are involved.
  • Bank Fees — If you are getting a mortgage, the lender will charge various additional closing costs. These can vary greatly between lenders. Typical bank fees include underwriting fees, appraisal fees, credit checks, and rate lock fees. Your lender will provide you with a loan estimate when you apply for your mortgage.
  • Homeowner’s Insurance — The premium for the first year is usually paid at closing and can be included in your closing costs. If you are getting a mortgage, your bank will require this to ensure that the home will be insured as of the closing date.
  • Buyers do NOT pay realtors’ commission.

Massachusetts Seller Closing Costs

  • Commission to Realtors — If you are using a realtor, you will have an agreement with the realtor stating the rate of their commission. This is almost always a percentage of the sale price. A listing agent typically splits the commission with the buyer’s agent.
  • Recording Fees — Sellers do not pay to record the deed, but occasionally a seller must record a document at closing, such as a trustee certificate, easement, agreement or affidavit.
  • Transfer Tax (“tax stamp”) — Sellers in Massachusetts are required to pay a “tax stamp” when they sell property. The tax is currently set as $4.56 per every $1,000 of the sale price.
  • Unpaid property taxes, HOA dues, water/sewer bills.  

Want more information on buying and selling homes in Massachusetts? We think you’ll find our our downloadable guides of interest. Click on the images below for The Purchase and Sale Agreement and Realtors, Attorneys, and the Contract.

Buying and Selling a Home in the Berkshires The Purchase And Sales Agreement

About Lazan Glover Puciloski, LLP

Lazan Law has overseen thousands of closings over our 35 year history. And we’ve never been busier! We most frequently work with home buyers and sellers in the Berkshires: Alford, Great Barrington, Hancock, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, North Adams, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sandisfield, Sheffield, Southfield, Stockbridge, South Egremont, Tyringham, West Stockbridge, and Williamstown, as well as communities beyond the Berkshires.

Contact us if you’re about to embark on a home buying journey!

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice or services. Your review of this post and/or use of the Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP website does not create an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP or any of its attorneys. Information provided herein or on the website should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with legal, accounting, tax, and/or other professional advisors.   Since any electronic communication between you and Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP through this website will not be privileged or confidential, it may be disclosed to other persons and may not be secure. Accordingly, please do not send any e-mail to the Firm that contains confidential or sensitive information without first speaking with an attorney at Lazan Glover & Puciloski, LLP and receiving permission to do so.