Whether a property has an adequate and clean water source, how much the monthly water bill runs, what kinds of conservation programs a utility has and whether a home or building has any possible problems with aged plumbing are all questions that can come up in a real estate transaction.
A REALTOR® can be a good resource for finding the answers to those queries, says David Etzhold, a former chairman of the El Paso Planning Commission who has been in the real estate business for more than three decades.
“REALTORS® aren’t required to do that sort of due diligence for clients, but if they are good and adept, they can point a buyer in the right direction to get the answers to their questions,” said Etzhold, who is a licensed real estate broker, REALTOR® and has researched those issues for clients for a separate fee.
“It all depends on the scope of the work to be performed,” he said.
“Properties within a city are most likely on a municipal utility system and have a water meter and have testing and other requirements,” he said. “So getting the utility bill for the customer should provide basic answers and tell you who to contact with additional questions.”
That agency should also be able to provide information on conservation programs. In El Paso, which Etzhold said has one of the best water-saving efforts in the country, he said the local utility provides financial incentives for installing high-efficiency toilets and shower heads, as well as replacing turf grass yards with plants native to the desert terrain on which the community was built.
If a property is in the countryside outside a utility service area and has a well, Etzhold said, wise buyers should make sure the drinking water is safe and isolated from the septic system.
“You don’t want to be sipping out of the toilet, so to speak,” he said. “That sounds kinda gross, but that’s what can happen. The buyer might want to hire an expert to verify that the systems are working properly and the groundwater coming from the well is clean. Sometimes people bring in their cousin to drill a well and then their brother puts in the septic too close to the well, which could be a problem.”
Etzhold said he’d like to see more public education on the subject of water quality.
“I haven’t seen a lot of discussion at the REALTOR® level about that aspect of residential properties,” he said. “I’ve never seen a seminar offered or any kind of educational material talking about that. I’ve picked it up myself over the years because of my involvement in real estate transactions.”
Though city utilities generally provide clean and safe water to their customers, he said the recent scandal in Flint, Mich., showed that’s not always the case. In that situation, state officials — in a money-saving move — failed to add the proper chemicals needed to prevent corrosion of lead pipes and that led to possible lead poisoning of thousands of Flint residents.
“Obviously, you can’t overstate the importance of the availability of clean water and the infrastructure that provides it,” Etzhold said. “That’s why conservation programs like the El Paso Water Utility has are so important because we certainly have a finite amount of water around here.”