What to do about an underground oil tank


Q. I’d like your opinion on buying a house with an in-ground oil tank (under the yard) that is still in use. The home needs work but the tank seems like the biggest problem to me. I want the sellers to have it taken out of the ground and installed above-ground at their cost. I plan to switch to gas once I have the money to do so. I’m not even sure we could get homeowner’s insurance with the tank as is, and it seems the sellers don’t have a clue about what they might be dealing with if the tank were to leak. (The house’s crawl space was affected by Hurricane Sandy). I’d just like your take on this, since I wouldn’t buy the house before the tank is raised.

A. Since there’s no rule that you can’t have an in-ground tank, I think you may be asking for something that would be nice to have someone else pay for, but isn’t required. In-ground tanks present problems, from potential leaking due to age to possible spillage caused by hydrostatic (water) pressure during surge flooding, or even ground-shifting as soil collapses from sinking. If you can make it a part of your negotiation to purchase and the buyer is willing, then that would be great for you.

I’m not aware of insurance company limitations for in-ground oil tanks, but with all the other questions and qualifications insurers impose, it wouldn’t surprise me. There is some risk with an in-ground tank. This is a question to ask your real estate closing attorney, as it is part of your negotiation/offer to purchase the home.

In this market, especially in a flood zone, sellers have been doubly burdened, first with the flood, then with the value drop in property prices. There seem to be two kinds of survivors of the storm: those who will stay and rebuild, better, and those who are looking to sell in the near future. Many people tell me they plan to sell right away, or after restoring their home, or within the next few years, basically because they don’t want to be here for the next wave of high water, for whatever reason it comes ashore, either by storm surge, nor’easter, or high tide. My take on this is that if I were a seller hit first by the storm and then by dropping prices, I would sell the house “as is” and the buyers can do what they want. If I put myself in the position of the seller, the effort of tank abandonment, then replacing it with a new tank that the buyer ultimately won’t be using for long wouldn’t be worth it. Good luck!

©2014 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.