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Oil flows downhill.

A case study from a real client.

Closing Time

Sam loved the house. He’d looked at it a bunch of times, and had completed all his inspections, including a tank sweep, which didn’t turn up any underground storage tanks. I knew he wanted to install an underground pool. Also, because I knew the neighborhood, I knew that the house was at the bottom of a hill. In fact, I had closed on several properties on his block, Sam’s soon-to-be neighbors. The interesting thing is that in those other cases, tank sweeps had revealed the presence of old deteriorated oil tanks, requiring cleanup. They were uphill from Sam’s dream home.

I asked him to do a soil test, the kind that tests for the presence of hydrocarbons, to see if the soil was contaminated. We got pushback from the Seller’s attorney who had allowed other “normal” testing. But, given the circumstances, my client’s request was reasonable and besides my attorney review letter gave me the right to ask for it. Eventually, the Seller relented. Sam’s inspector took soil samples. We first knew there was trouble when the samples smelled like heating oil. The lab report showed the presence of a substantial leak. “But there’s not tank – what gives,” Sam asked.

In speaking with the inspector and the lab, we determined that the property next door (uphill remember) had a 50+ year old oil tank that, over time, had started to contaminate our property. It was eventually determined that it would cost a fortune to clean up, more than the cost of the house. The Seller did not want to clean up the contamination, although at that point he didn’t have a choice. Sam did not want to buy anyone’s problems, so he had me cancel the contract. He bought me a beer after the closing on the next house he saw.

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