Archeologists have discovered plumbing systems that date back as early as 4,000-3,000 B.C. in the Indus River in India. Ancient Rome was famous for its aqueducts and elaborate indoor baths, all of which predated today’s modern indoor plumbing.

Residential plumbing became commonplace in the 1840s in the United States in most urban areas. It was not until the 1930s, just after electricity was made available to residences, that rural areas had access to indoor plumbing.

Plumbing issues involving leaks, low water pressure, inadequate hot water and blockages can cause problems for sellers and buyers, resulting in headaches and trauma for real estate agents.

Two factors will define the potential plumbing problems: the age of the home and its location. Houses and apartment buildings that are less than 50 years old will, for the most part, have fewer plumbing issues than older homes. Residences that are 50-plus years old are more prone to repairs and renovations by plumbers and handymen with varying degrees of skill.

Pipes deteriorate as they age, and even shifting and settling ground around a building can cause them to bend or kink. Location is a factor because cities and towns will utilize public utilities and treatment facilities for water and waste, while less densely populated locations will rely on septic systems for waste.

A public water and waste system represents a monthly expense for the homeowner but absolutely no maintenance on their part. Septic systems are less expensive to maintain, but the homeowner must be vigilant in having the system pumped annually. A licensed plumber can investigate a septic tank via a septic camera, which will report conditions below ground.

Older homes come with older landscaping and tree roots which can infiltrate underground pipes, crushing them and causing blockages. When touring the exterior of older homes, look for evidence of tree stumps, which will still have underground roots that could have caused damage or still actively encroach pipes.

Real estate agents should be aware of the three main plumbing issues: 

  • Faulty sewage system, evidenced by a sewage smell. 
  • Water heater issues, prevalent in water heaters older than 10 years.
  • Toilet and drain-related issues.  

Even a slow, small leak in a pipe or fixture can cause extensive damage to a structure while attracting an infestation of bugs, certain to cause apprehension on the part of the buyer and trauma for the real estate agent.

Most houses and apartment buildings will have exposed plumbing lines in cellars and basements if you look carefully. The older the structure, the more repairs and the greater variety of piping used.

In the 1900s, all pipes were galvanized iron or steel. Brass, cast iron and galvanized pipes can last up to 100 years. Copper pipes will last over 50 years and copper can be recycled and reused. More expensive than other types of piping, copper can be difficult to install in tight spaces.

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride pipes, and PEX, or polyethylene cross-link pipes, are the white pipes seen in new construction. These pipes are lightweight, versatile and resist blockages. PVC and PEX pipes may release toxins into the water, warp due to hot water and have limited size options.

If you’re a real estate professional, taking a look at the most common plumbing problems and their solutions will help put your buyers’ minds at ease. A licensed plumber is always the best solution to any plumbing issue, but with the right tools and guidance, maintenance and repairs can be carried out.

1. Leaky faucet 

The cause is a washer that is torn, worn, dislodged or stuck. By turning off the water source below the sink, dissembling the faucet and replacing the washer, the drip should disappear. 

2. Slow-draining kitchen sink

Food scraps and grease congeal cause blockage in kitchen sinks. Any clogged drain may yield to baking soda and vinegar poured into the opening. With some energetic wrist action, you can use a plunger to unblock a drain or employ chemical clog removers. 

Be careful with chemicals as they can damage pipes — and always wear rubber gloves and goggles.

3. Clogged shower or tub drain 

Hair and soap scum can build up over time and slow the effectiveness of any drain. Again, the use of baking soda and vinegar, a plunger, and/or a plumber auger or “snake” will open the drain. After unclogging, a drain guard will prevent future issues.

4. Clogged toilets 

Paper and solid waste can clog toilets, in addition to flushing other items such as wipes down the drain. The combined use of a plunger and a plumber’s auger or snake, available at any hardware store, can open the drain.

It’s wise to remember that toilets are made of fired ceramic and can crack if you use too much force. 

5. Running toilet 

Water running continually in a toilet tank can waste 200 gallons a day. A faulty flapper is usually the culprit, and a kit is typically available at a plumbing supply store or hardware store that will repair this annoying issue.

6. Hot water heater 

If hot water stops abruptly, the pilot light under the hot water heater may need to be reignited, or the thermostat may need adjusting. If a pool of water is under your hot water heater, it’s leaking and will need to be replaced.

Hot water heaters will have a date of manufacture on their label, or a serial number will indicate the age if you inquire with the manufacturer.

7. Loss of water pressure 

This can be as simple as the hot water heater’s shut-off valve not being entirely open or as complicated as a blockage in the pipes. Low water pressure is sometimes caused by sediment in a showerhead. Soaking the showerhead in vinegar or replacing the showerhead will result in a stronger flow of water.

8. Garbage disposal blockage 

The reset button under the sink is the simplest and most effective way to solve garbage disposal concerns. If the reset key is not available, an Allen wrench can help you make adjustments.

9. Leaks at pipe joints 

Tape, compounds or filler can provide temporary relief, but it is more likely that the pipe should be replaced.

10. Sewer backups 

The crucial question is the location of the blockage. A professional plumber can determine if the issue is from the main sewer line or in the plumbing within the responsibility of the homeowner. These repairs can be costly and involved, so it is wise to act quickly.

Real estate agents can benefit from some simple tips and an understanding of plumbing issues and how to resolve them. A home inspection and repairs by a licensed plumber can put a buyer’s mind at ease in most cases.

Gerard Splendore is a licensed associate real estate broker with Warburg Realty in New York. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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