Monday, December 05, 2005

Q: We're considering the purchase of a waterfront cabin on Vashon that's owned by a friend of ours.

It will be a vacation place for us since we live in Portland. We had the place appraised and have agreed on a price. The main problem is that we don't know what issues there might be with the property. While visiting the cabin a neighbor told us that the shared water system was in poor shape and that the house might not even have a septic drainfield. We don't know anything about these things. Can you advise?

A: I visited the property at your request and recommend that you have a licensed home inspector do a complete inspection. There appears to be significant deferred maintenance and rot. I'd also recommend that you have a geotechnical engineer take a look since this is in an active landslide area.

It appears that there's almost no flat land at this location so it's possible that there's no place for a drainfield. You should hire a septic engineer to determine if a drainfield can be installed. You might start with a local septic pumping company who may have some history with the system. The current owner should be able to provide that information.

The water system is a spring coming out of a nearby hillside. You should review the title to the property to determine if there is a legal easement to give you the right to use it. Although that kind of water system is probably not legal for new construction, they were common when this cabin was built. You should have it assessed by someone who designs and installs water systems. At the very least it might need a purification system if you want to drink the water.

It's good that you are considering this as just a vacation place since it's unlikely that you could enlarge it or change it significantly. The main reasons are the septic system, water system, limited size of the property, it's closeness to the water and the extreme slope. Check with King County.