When Buying a New Property, Remember: It’s Location, Location, and Water

By Brian Oram


During my regular networking meetings, my friend, a commercial real estate broker, and I always end up arguing about what is more important with respect to real estate. He always says it’s “location, location, and location,” and I contend that it’s “location, location, and water.” Water is a critical decision point! Adult human beings are 50 to 65 percent water and we need to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. A four percent loss of water results in more stress, and ultimately, dehydration; a 15 percent loss can be fatal. We use water for a wide range of daily activities, including hydration, personal hygiene, sanitation (e.g., washing dishes, flushing toilets, etc.), and recreation. After reading this article, I hope you will have a slightly different perspective regarding your quest for a new home and the importance and role of the area’s water when deciding to purchase.

What is the Keystone Clean Water Team? | Video by Know Your H2O

Suitable Drinking Water: The Source

In many areas, “clean” drinking water is readily available from a municipal water supply or city water. However, in some areas, you may need to drill a private well, use a spring, build a cistern, or in very remote locations, have water trucked into your home. What defines “clean” drinking water? Normally, “clean water” must meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and your state county’s drinking water standards. But “clean water” could still contain, for example, five to ten parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic, five to 15 ppb of lead (there is actually no level of lead designated as “safe”), 0.2 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of aluminum (a known link to Alzheimer’s Disease), seven million asbestos fibers per liter, 0.2 mg/L of cyanide, 0.07 mg/L of glyphosate (herbicide), 0.03 mg/L of uranium, and 0.08 mg/L trihalomethanes (a chlorine by-product that is a suspected carcinogen). This doesn’t sound very clean! A location’s water only needs to meet standards set by government entities for trace metals, organics, and microbiological agents, but it may not meet your standards. 

To help educate and inform water users, regulated water systems must provide customers with a consumer confidence report, but there are also new emerging contaminants that are not routinely monitored and reported. A new series of “forever chemicals” can be found in rainwater, recreational waters, and your drinking water. By virtue of living on planet Earth, or in certain locations on Earth, every organism within a specified region is exposed to forever chemicals via the environment. Many large urban public water supply systems rely on the use of surface water sources, creating a major issue. Due to upstream development and air pollution in a water source’s region, these supplies may be vulnerable to surface and subsurface releases and spills. A recent example of this situation was the release of a synthetic latex chemical in the Delaware River just 13 miles upstream of the water intake for a portion of the City of Philadelphia. It is important to “Know Your H2O” and its source or sources; know where it comes from and travels through before getting to you.

If the water is not provided by a public water supply system that is regulated by the EPA, state, or county, you may have a private system that relies on well water, surface water intake, a spring, or some other water source. In this case, there are no agencies or authorities checking to see if this water even meets the EPA drinking water standards or if there are any hazardous activities near the source that could contaminate the drinking water. This could even include some bottled water or trucked-in supplies. In these cases, it would be wise to order a Neighborhood Hazard Report for properties located in the USA and to get the water tested.

Credit: Bluewater Sweden

Suitable Drinking Water: Interactions with Home

The quality of water can also be affected by the type of plumbing fixtures in a home, the stub pipe (if present) connected from the municipal supply to a home, and how a housing plumbing system is used and maintained. In some cases, especially for larger homes that are less frequently used or unoccupied for long periods of time, it is possible for water to react with plumbing in a home, resulting in higher levels of metals, organic compounds, or biological agents.

In either case, do not simply rely on the standard real estate transaction water testing requirements that may be part of the mortgage process or the old fallback, “If the water looks good, smells good, and tastes good, it must be good.” Because many contaminants may not produce a taste, smell, or create any visual warning signs, it is critical to not only conduct the real estate water testing and inspections, but also make sure to conduct your own comprehensive informational water test. The type of testing kit will depend on the water source, such as city water or well water.

Credit: Manki Kim

Water for Recreation / Visual Landscape

Water aids in maintaining your mental balance. It can provide aesthetic beauty that helps reduce stress and anxiety.  A sunset is even more powerful against a water-filled landscape. Homes with water-based landscapes or waterfront settings not only help us to relax and unwind, but this feature may also increase the value of a home by over 100 percent compared to homes without a waterfront location. In some cases, surface water features (ponds, lakes, streams) are vulnerable to harmful algal blooms (HABs).  In pets, such as dogs, HABs have caused death via liver failure because they do not have systems able to process the algal bloom. Initial symptoms include physical discomfort and stress, staggered walking, excessive salivation, vomiting, blood in stool, black (tarry) stools, jaundice, diarrhea, fatigue, convulsions, and erratic behavior. Often, an owner might think their pet ate something in the home and not attribute it to a few licks of what might look like clean water from the beautiful shoreline.

Credit: Cyrus Crossan

How to Use This Information

When you find your dream home, please do the following:

  1. Determine the source of your drinking water for your new home, condo, or apartment.
  2. Order a Neighborhood Environmental Hazard Report and our Drinking Water Guide.
  3. If the home is part of a regulated system or city water, get a copy of the consumer confidence report. This is often available via online sources for your municipality.
  4. Conduct all inspections and real estate transaction water testing and get informational city water or well water tests completed.
  5. If you have a lake, stream, pond, or other water feature, you may want to get the surface water tested and checked for microbiological contaminants and nutrients. For example, many public-beach-accessible properties along the East Coast of the USA provide regular testing with online test data.
  6. Have the information reviewed by the Know Your H2O team or another water professional.

Your Drinking Water Hidden Dangers | Video by Know Your H2O

You can contact the Know Your H2O team on their website or Mr. Brian Oram at brian.oram@knowyourh2o.com