Check it out
The County Tax Assessors Information is usually the first piece of a property puzzle and easily collected on the county’s web site. In addition to the assessed value, I can quickly verify property information such as: size of the property, number of bedrooms, baths, zoning, the previous selling price, the original amount of the recorded mortgages and historical sales information. A last name or property address will produce a plethora of recorded information about any property in the county.
Not all property information can be found on the county’s web site. If the property is serviced by an individual well and septic system, a trip to the Department of Environmental Management is required. For a small fee, county staff will furnish copies of any information that they have on these two important systems.
The location of a well is easily identified when previewing a property but its most critical characteristics require additional scrutiny. Where is the well location in relationship to the septic tank and disposal field? What are the well depth and its production? Has there been a bacteria analysis of the water? The county, prior to 1990, did not always require well drilling permits but well drilling informational filings were a requirement by the state Water Resource Board located in Sacramento. The Board’s information is confidential and even with a property owner’s permission the filing information is difficult to locate.
Currently, the county does not require a well inspection or potable water sample upon the sale of a home but should and probably will in the future. Although regulations have not been implemented, our county’s General Plan requires safe drinking water for all county residents. A well inspection, production flow test and bacteria analysis insures that a property has an adequate water supply and is free from obnoxious microorganisms. Investigating only the past history of the well, however, is no guarantee of its current condition; subsequently, a well inspection should be on every homebuyer’s checklist.
Septic systems in various forms have been around for a few thousand years and 33,000 exist in our county. Like wells, the location of the system, including disposal fields, is important. Over the years, the septic tank location may be forgotten and disposal fields become gardens and pastures. As long as the system is functioning properly, they are mostly forgotten. Disposal areas should remain undisturbed but I frequently discover they are fenced for livestock, driveways cross over them and I have seen barns and other outbuildings built above them.
The county has information on some septic systems dating back to the 1960s. More detailed engineered systems and permits have been a requirement since 1990. Like wells, the county does not require periodic inspection of a septic system or certification upon a sale but every buyer should. The system must first be located, the tank risers or opening exposed and the septic tank pumped prior to a though inspection by a courageous qualified individual.
After collecting any available information on the well and septic, an interested party will want to preview the Department’s soils map. Serpentine is a common green rock common in 44 of 58 counties throughout the state including El Dorado. Our official state rock contains asbestos, a natural mineral fiber used in many commercial applications including insulation and fire protection. Although there are no known state or federal standards for quantifying the potential risk associated with prolonged exposure to naturally occurring asbestos, research has shown that breathing high levels of the fibers isn’t all that healthy. The California Air Resource Board found that most people living in the county are not exposed to significant risks of naturally occurring asbestos but areas located near dusty roads, old quarries or veins of asbestos may have a higher content of the noxious fibers in the air. A quick check of the soils map may help you breath a little easier.
The county has been requiring some type of building permits since 1961. Over the years the permitting process has become more complex, comprehensive and expensive resulting in many homeowners bypassing the permitting process entirely. I once came across an entire house that was built without any permits. Unpermitted barns, decks, workshops and even room additions are not uncommon. When selling a home, sellers need to disclose any unpermitted work but often sellers are not aware of a homes previous history. Fortunately, the County Building Service Department maintains the historical building and permitting records on most homes. In addition to reviewing permitting history, a check of the property file will reveal any outstanding issues such as a notice of non-compliance, expired permits or permits issued but not finalized.
If I am researching a rural property or one with questionable lot lines or easements, a stop at the County Surveyor’s office is in order. The Surveyor’s office reviews all parcel maps, corner records and lot line adjustments. The office also issues “Certificate of Compliance” certifying a parcel of land is in compliance with the Subdivision Map Act and local ordinances.
Performing a thorough property investigation will prevent costly mistakes when making a buying decision. It may be okay to buy a property that has defects and unresolved issues but buyers should know the full story before writing the check.