“This is the call I never like to make,” said my realtor. “The septic failed.”

Those are definitely not words you want to hear a week before your closing, and just before a holiday weekend.

By now I was supposed to be moved into my new place, spending Labor Day laboring on garden projects or painting my porch swing or just sitting and gazing out at the water with an experimental house cocktail in my hand. But my house had different plans for me.

My closing had been delayed a couple of times already, first because of the difficulty in getting building supplies for required repairs, and then because of delays in underwriting caused by everyone and their brother refinancing their mortgages due to low interest rates. And now this.

Ever the optimist, I moved out of my rental in Alexandria at the end of July, planning to stay at my mom’s summer house 12 miles up the river until closing in late August, while my possessions stay in storage.

But of course, it’s 2020. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Except… the septic hadn’t exactly failed. It’s just that it’s not exactly a septic system as we know them today. It’s more of a, what did the engineer call it? Oh yeah… a cesspool.

Now, I’m not an expert in these things, but that doesn’t sound good.

The sellers are not willing to contribute anything to the repairs. They’ve just spent a bunch of money to try to get us to closing by fixing some other stuff, so the house now looks amazing.

Here’s just one of the gorgeous improvements on my gorgeous house:

There are no records at the court house, or the health department, to show that any work had ever been performed on any septic system at the house. The seller found one receipt from a decade ago showing that it had been pumped. But no one, not the sellers or any of the neighbors who have been all too eager to tell me about all the other problems the house has, has any recollection of any problems with the septic.

So it works, but…

There’s no guarantee it will continue to work for another month. But it could work for another decade.

So should I buy this place, knowing that I will have to sink a lot of money into not only a new seawall, which I knew about from the beginning, but also at some point in the probably not so distant future, a new septic system?

I had convinced myself that I should go ahead with it anyway, because it’s a great piece of land and it’s on the water, and it’s near my sister and her family, and I just want it! And I do think it’s worth it.

But then…

The bank isn’t sure they can give me a mortgage for a property without a septic system. The system isn’t broken. It does work. It’s just not what the bank sees as a legitimate septic system. So I’m waiting to hear back from them about that.

In the meantime, my excellent realtor, who is really working hard to earn her commission on this one, is trying to make sure that if the system really does fail, I can put in a new system on my property.

So of course the engineer said he can’t guarantee that I could put in a new system, because of rules about how far the septic needs to be from the neighbors’ wells. The only way to guarantee it is to apply for and get a permit to do so. For $2500. And it already cost me $500 to get that piece of advice. So I’m feeling a little bit squeezed at the moment.

And all I can think is