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Buy a house with a backyard sump?
Old 07-02-2018, 06:44 AM   #1
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Buy a house with a backyard sump?

My son is likely making an offer on a house. Backyard has a black cap, that from Googling appears to be a backyard sump pump. The yard itself looks fine - all grass, no bald spots etc. But, the driveway adjacent to the yard (it leads to a detached garage) has some metal grating that sure as hell looks like it's a drainage grate. And, the driveway is only paved from the sidewalk up to where it meets the yard; at that point it's crushed rock.
Would this be a deal breaker to buy the house? My son loves being outdoors, and would use the backyard with his 2 kids and dog. Can that crushed rock portion of the driveway be black-topped?
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Old 07-02-2018, 07:01 AM   #2
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If basic things like that are unknowns, I'd wait on making the offer until he had a good understanding of what he's getting.

A "black cap" could be the top of an underground propane tank, or a well. Never heard of a back yard sump pump, but if Google says it's a "thing," then sure. Seems like one of the first things I'd ask the seller or realtor.

And consider the cost of paving the rest of the driveway when making the offer. You didn't say where, but if it's anyplace that gets snow, plowing or snow-blowing a gravel driveway is not fun. Likewise, if the area is prone to heavy rains, re-grading is also a chore.
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Old 07-02-2018, 08:12 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by mystang52 View Post
My son is likely making an offer on a house. Backyard has a black cap, that from Googling appears to be a backyard sump pump. The yard itself looks fine - all grass, no bald spots etc. But, the driveway adjacent to the yard (it leads to a detached garage) has some metal grating that sure as hell looks like it's a drainage grate. And, the driveway is only paved from the sidewalk up to where it meets the yard; at that point it's crushed rock.
Would this be a deal breaker to buy the house? My son loves being outdoors, and would use the backyard with his 2 kids and dog. Can that crushed rock portion of the driveway be black-topped?
Are you getting a home inspection before buying the house? That should turn up any issues that may affect your purchase decision.

As for the black cap that could be anything. It could be a cleanout for a septic system, an access for a drywell, part of a gutter/foundation drainage system, etc. Even if it is a sump pump of some kind, if the yard doesn't look like a swamp it's apparently doing it's job.

Regarding the driveway our entire drive is crushed rock. Other than topping it off with a bit more gravel every several years, the only issues we have are the occasional weeds and dust when it's dry. You could certainly have it paved, or pour concrete slabs, or install pavers if you have the time and money to do so.

I would consider a driveway drain a positive. I installed one in our driveway many years ago. Because of the slope of our property, we used to have a small lake in front of our garage during heavy rains. I installed the drain to redirect the water off over the side of our hill and haven't had an issue since.
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Old 07-02-2018, 08:13 AM   #4
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Your son can make the offer and then have this checked out thoroughly during the inspection phase. Once you have the facts from a professional, your son can decide whether to proceed or back out. In our area, the typical option fee is about $100. Inspections are around $400. You could also check the seller's disclosure form. And of course, the realtor might be able to get some info from the seller, but that may or may not be as reliable as a professional inspection.
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Old 07-02-2018, 08:21 AM   #5
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Paving depends on the rules of the municipality/county/state. In my city, they have changed the "impervious surface" rules quite a bit through the years, leading to many restrictions on paving or adding footage to driveways.

Agree the "sump" could be anything. Also in the city here, we have city sewers. We also have topography. There are cases where people have holding tanks in their back hard with an ejector pump that needs to raise the sewage up to the level of the city sewer. Typically this happens on undesirable lots that got built out late in phase. These systems are not something I'd want, personally. Too much maintenance, too much risk during power outages.

Personally, I'd want to know what that "cap" was before I'd put down an offer.
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Old 07-02-2018, 08:27 AM   #6
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It should be fairly simple (and important) to find out what is under the cap in the back yard. It could be a lot of things. If it is a sump or lift station/pump, I'd want to know if it the homeowner's responsibility to maintain it and pay for electricity, or if it really in an easement and part of a larger drainage or sewer system (for the neighborhood?) and powered/maintained by somebody else. And, regardless of who owns it, what will be the impact when it stops working (backyard flooding, house flooding, basement flooding?).

Home inspection: Your son should make sure he gets a good inspector and one who will allow him to go along with him/her. Realtors are not always a good source for a recommendation for an inspector--the real estate agent wants the house to be sold, thorough inspectors only gum up the works from their perspective.


Your son should hope for a really good local downpour and then visit the house to see how the yard drains. That's also a good time to get up into the attic and see if the roof has problems. A day later is a good time to check out the basement.
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Old 07-02-2018, 09:02 AM   #7
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From personal experience and from the experience of friends/family: There are two types of added drainage systems. Those that have failed and those that will. If any artificial system has been needed in the past, I would look elsewhere. As always, YMMV.
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Old 07-02-2018, 09:56 AM   #8
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Check with the municipality building inspectors. They should have records of exactly what was done and when.
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Old 07-02-2018, 10:04 AM   #9
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Be careful.
I saw a house with a pump like that, it was because all the neighbor houses gently sloped their property towards this one.
The house had severe water issues, it was a forclosure and was full of mold growing at the back of the house probably due to the backyard flooding every heavy rainfall.

There is a bad reason for that sump pump.
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Old 07-02-2018, 10:42 AM   #10
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I would find out what it is before any offer. Waiting for an inspection will lead to out of pocket cost that there may be no reason for. For example, if it was a sewage lift system, that might be a deal breaker for you no matter what shape it’s in. If it’s a drain clean out, then it might be worth looking into further with an inspector. Knowing ahead of time, assuming it is not a deal breaker, will give you time to do some research and ask an inspector or the municipality the appropriate questions.
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Old 07-02-2018, 02:30 PM   #11
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OP here. Brief update: my son forgot to tell me, before I had posted this, that he had checked with the town. Apparently all new construction (this house was torn down and rebuilt from scratch) must have some sort of seepage pit, and this tube is access to it. Or something like that.... Yes, if he gets the house he will definitely be getting an inspector. Thanks, all.
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Old 07-02-2018, 03:36 PM   #12
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OP here. Brief update: my son forgot to tell me, before I had posted this, that he had checked with the town. Apparently all new construction (this house was torn down and rebuilt from scratch) must have some sort of seepage pit, and this tube is access to it. Or something like that.... Yes, if he gets the house he will definitely be getting an inspector. Thanks, all.
That changes everything! Sounds like a run-off mitigation device. This is becoming more and more common.

If it is passive without a pump, then I wouldn't worry much.
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Old 07-02-2018, 05:43 PM   #13
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And consider the cost of paving the rest of the driveway when making the offer. You didn't say where, but if it's anyplace that gets snow, plowing or snow-blowing a gravel driveway is not fun. Likewise, if the area is prone to heavy rains, re-grading is also a chore.
I live in a winter climate and paving a gravel driveway isn't required. Simply drive over the first few inches of snow to pack it down and then use a blower for subsequent snow falls.
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Old 07-02-2018, 05:47 PM   #14
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I live in a winter climate and paving a gravel driveway isn't required. Simply drive over the first few inches of snow to pack it down and then use a blower for subsequent snow falls.
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Old 07-02-2018, 07:38 PM   #15
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I live in a winter climate and paving a gravel driveway isn't required. Simply drive over the first few inches of snow to pack it down and then use a blower for subsequent snow falls.
In my experience, that packed down area turns into an ice skating rink once you have a few freeze, thaw cycles. And a few rocks always end up as projectiles from the blower.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:25 AM   #16
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OK, I admit it. I'm biased. I had my driveway paved a year ago.

I wish I'd done it 38 years ago when I bought the house!

It's true that, some winters, the driveway would compact nicely and freeze that way, without too much trouble afterward. But that was rare, and didn't usually last. Eventually, melting would occur, ruts would develop, rocks would be hurled by, or jam up, the the snowblower, and every spring for 38 years, I'd have a mess of rocks to clear off the lawn before I could mow. I lost a pane of glass to a rock thrown by the mower once. Thankfully I never hit a moving car in the road! And of course, plowing a non-paved driveway is nearly impossible to do without leaving a pile of stone/gravel/dirt/grass somewhere it doesn't belong.

If your experience is better, great! But not everyone will be that fortunate.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:41 AM   #17
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I handled snow on a gravel drive for over 25 years. Yes, if I could have stomached putting any more money into that house, a paved drive would have been better. However, it can be done with gravel. First, I tried normal methods and had the same results as CaptTom. Plows push rock and snow throwers throw rock. The first success I had was to put wheels on a snowblower instead of the skid plates. Elavate the blade so that your skimming all but an inch or so of snow. Basically going over the rocks. The best method was when I got my own plow on a small Kabota tractor. Same principle but better results. Use the skid plates so you don’t dig into the rock, again, skimming, and then, most importantly, don’t push the snow past the driveway line. That way, any rock that did get picked up would fall back to the driveway when it melted. I had a double wide driveway so this was possible. Lastly, in the spring as early as possible, use a powerful leaf blower to blow the rocks back onto the driveway. You’d be surprised how easily they roll with the leaf blower. Much better than trying to rake rock.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:46 AM   #18
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I live in a winter climate and paving a gravel driveway isn't required. Simply drive over the first few inches of snow to pack it down and then use a blower for subsequent snow falls.
+1

Additionally I no longer trust any home inspection. Their liability is typically the price of the inspection. We purchased a home that had been inspected, the basement wall had shifted in 12" and it passed.
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Old 07-03-2018, 07:27 AM   #19
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+1

Additionally I no longer trust any home inspection. Their liability is typically the price of the inspection. We purchased a home that had been inspected, the basement wall had shifted in 12" and it passed.
But they found the small crack in the outlet plate, right?
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Old 07-03-2018, 07:33 AM   #20
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But they found the small crack in the outlet plate, right?
How did you know?
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