Posted by Jeff Wahl on 8/13/2019 to Real Estate Considerations
All rural home or cottage sales require a bacterial water sample as part of the financing requirement of the transaction. This has become a topic of controversy, as purchasers have experienced difficulties after the sale with bacteria and adverse water quality. In the province of Ontario, there is currently no requirement for who takes the water sample for the real estate transaction, only that it must be tested by an accredited laboratory. The sampling is commonly conducted by the selling realtor or by the property owner at no charge with the local Health Unit. The vast majority of samples taken are done so in an ethical and responsible manner. When adverse samples occur, action is taken to correct the situation and treat the water followed by a resampling to verify bacterial absence in the water.
However, there are an unknown number of samples that are taken from different locations, from bottled water or a municipal water source and used to represent a sample from the property for sale. These unethical sampling processes go undetected and without scrutiny or persecution, as there are no legislation or procedures for sampling that are required by the province or legal system. The motivation for this dishonest practice is driven by the monetary gain at the closing of the deal. For example, the money earned on a $299,000 dollar transaction is $14,950 dollars with a 5% commission being paid to the realtor.
New owners of property are still very much in the “bliss” stage of ownership and rarely conduct a second water sample to verify bacterial safety after the purchase. It is not until someone becomes ill or adverse water quality is noticed before most owners resample the water or contact a water treatment company.
Real Life Example
A recent example clearly illustrates this point. A realtor, who shall remain unnamed, sampled water at a cottage property for sale on Manitoulin Island. The sample results came back as unable to test due to “unsuitable for drinking water” reasons. A second sample by the same realtor was conducted the next week and resulted in an inability to test due to “background interference”. At this point, I was contacted by the realtor to assess the situation and was unable to gain access to the property as the seller refused to allow anyone into the residence. At a point after I was contacted and before the closing date, a third sample was taken by a different realtor from the same company and the results were 0 for coliform and e.coli, showing no bacterial contamination with the water.
With this being the case, the sale proceeded and the new owners took possession. Concerned about the quality of the water, they arranged for me to be onsite the day they received the keys and ownership. I came prepared to sample properly for bacteria and additionally for water hardness, iron, pH, total dissolved solids as well as sulphur. When the tap was turned on, the water flowing into the sampling container was orange and had a distinct odour. Both of these characteristics are common and distinct indicators of iron being present. However, as the property had not been used for some time, I decided to “flush” the pipes and let the tap run for a half hour to allow for accurate sampling. There was no change in the colour or smell.
Iron commonly begins to stain and cause problems at levels of 0.5 to 0.75 ppm. The test results at this cottage were 9 ppm, and repetitive testing for an additional 15 minutes yielded no change. As the colour was very dark, I instructed the homeowner to flush out the well and run the water over the weekend as much as possible. Leaving three sample bottles, I instructed them to take samples on consecutive two day intervals. Once completed, they were brought to our office the following week for testing. All three sample bottles had iron levels of 10+ ppm and a colouring of a dark orange. One of the samples taken were submitted to the local health unit for bacterial analysis and resulting in an inability to be sampled due to “unsuitable for drinking water” reasons.
How did the second realtor submit a water sample from this property when none of the other three samples were suitable for submission over a three week period?
This is one of a multitude of examples that I have personally been involved in, although countless others have no doubt occurred. Third party, certified water testing should be a requirement in real estate transactions conducted by an accredited individual who is not associated with the buyer, seller or real estate agent. This would eliminate the “loophole” that exists within the system as well as provide clarity for all parties involved, eliminating the potential for unethical sampling. Without certified water testing requirements through government legislation and law, there is no guarantee that water in your real estate transaction is secure and conducted in an ethical manner. Eliminating the potential for misconduct in real estate water transactions allows for a reliable purchase for the end consumer and ensures water safety at their new property.
Volume 3 – Issue 5 Wahl H2O - Water Awareness
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