The Cost of a Sweep
A question I'm asked often by a buyer of a home is whether it's a good idea to have a “sweep” of the property done for the presence of any oil or other "underground storage tanks" (UST) before you buy a home? My answer is: unless you are purchasing a condominium, or townhouse or cooperative, a sweep is a very good idea and a worthwhile investment. For around $300, you're getting the peace of mind of knowing whether or not an active or abandoned oil tank (or perhaps any other tank or structure) is on the property you're about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for. And if a tank is discovered, you're in a position to negotiate its removal with the sellers during the inspection phase of the transaction. Otherwise, once you close title, the tank is yours.
Why Should You Do It?
Years ago, you were permitted to leave oil tanks in the ground and simply remove the oil and sludge and fill them in with a sand like substance. But today, that is no longer permitted, and the tanks need to be removed completely. Even tanks that were properly abandoned before the new regulations came into effect need to come out and the surrounding soil tested for contamination.
Generally speaking, the cost of removing an underground storage tank is not the real issue since that cost can be contained and is fairly predictable. The real question is whether the tank ever leaked oil and contaminated the surrounding soil. If that has occurred, you are then looking at possibly tens of thousands of dollars in soil remediation work that will need to take place. Who is paying for that is the real question.
Looking at the Past
One final point to keep in mind is that in addition to the actual physical sweep of the property, you should ask for a review of local and state records to see if there is a history of remediation work and if there are any reported incidents of contamination or environmental issues relating to the property. It is wise to keep copies of all your inspections and searches since it may come in handy one day when you sell the home. The buyer of your home one day will be asking the same questions you are asking.