In the Suburbs / Buyers beware of removed oil tanks that may have been contaminated
We finalized a deal on a beautiful new house in Stratford back in January and immediately started planning for our move. Of course, the final plans were contingent on our getting a mortgage (we had already started that process in mid-January), the house passing inspection and an appraisal, among other odds and ends details.
Knowing the age of the house — 62 years old — we knew the inspection could show some age-related challenges. Nevertheless, we approached inspection day with that rush any new homeowner has. Most importantly, we were working with my old friend, Bob Camarda, of Cornerstone Home Inspections, and we knew the inspection would be carefully and thoroughly done. For nearly four hours, Bob and his associate picked and prodded every nook and cranny in this solid colonial, finding the usual pluses and minuses and a few other surprises, as well. Then came the zinger none of us expected. Bob was finishing with the mostly finished basement and opened a small cabinet-like area near the fuse box. He called us over immediately.
Bob said he found the remains of an oil line to an underground tank that apparently was or had been in the front yard. The house had been converted to gas and Bob could only assume the tank was gone.
It was nearly 4 p.m. on a Friday, but we needed to find out if the tank, in fact, had been removed and if there was paper work. Fortunately, the Stratford Fire Department was more than happy to provide paperwork to verify the tank had been removed some 18 years ago and a soil test had been done to show that there apparently were no contamination issues.
Carol rushed over to retrieve the paperwork for our lawyer’s files, while Bob finished explaining the various areas we would probably want to take care of when we moved into the house. Aside from a loose bannister at the top of the second-floor steps, a garage-door opener that needed repair or replacement, some concern about leakage in the basement area where the gas furnace was and the need to replace an old, very corroded hot water heater, the rest of the inspection items were pretty routine. We breathed a sigh of relief and moved on to mortgage and closing.
Fast forward to one week before our closing on March 9. I received a rash of emails from our mortgage representatives, our broker and our lawyer. I learned, to my shock and chagrin, that the underwriter for the mortgage had requested the tank removal paperwork and found our soon-to-be home was placed on an Environmental Protection Agency list of contaminated properties. We would receive no mortgage until a soil test was ordered by the owner (thank goodness) and the property was removed from the EPA list.
We had deliberately given ourselves plenty of time for packing and moving (May 1), so delaying the closing date was not an issue. But suddenly the “what if questions” kicked in. What if the test is negative and the owner has to do remediation to bring the property in compliance with EPA requirements? What if the remediation involves digging up the entire yard?
The bottom line was that neither the owner nor we had a choice. If the owner wanted to sell her property, she would have to have the work done, and fast. If we still wanted to buy the home, we would have to wait and hope that all would turn out fine.
The seller contracted with a tank removal company for a soil test, but was informed the ground was way too hard to do a test before March 23. The results would be back by the following day, and even if the soil is fine, my understanding is that the EPA would still need to sign off on the results and remove the house from the contaminated list before any closing could take place. And if the soil is not fine, there would need to be immediate remediation (excavation) of the soil and sig- off before closing.
Meanwhile, our mortgage lock is only until March 18 and we feel we are entitled to an extension.
And there, faithful readers, is where I have to leave you until, I hope, I have good news. I can only say that I am thankful this nightmare happened now. But as a reminder to any buyers: Be sure that your inspector checks for buried or removed tanks and current soil tests. Those tanks will haunt you to closing.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.