When Phobias Collide-The Termite Who Cried Wolf

As with any WDO (wood destroying organism report) I make sure to list the things that hindered my inspection such as furniture, wall coverings or insulation in the attic. The report itself states that it is a Visual Inspection only and there is no guarantee something isn’t hidden deep in the wall where no one can see. That clause put in by the State hardly holds anybody back however and almost 90% of all litigation comes from WDO inspections regardless of the legal disclaimers. Such was the track I found myself on with one such inspection.

I knew the new owners to be were quite picky because they hounded me, the home inspector and the previous owner for the minutest of details and insisted on micro managing each phase of our work. Though I did a graph, typed up everything that I couldn’t see through (which wasn’t much since they made me move every stick of furniture) I knew that if anything were to go awry, this job would bite me directly in the butt. As Murphy’s Law set in, 2 weeks after the inspection I got that dreaded call and my heart sank to the floor with the revelation that this home had swarmer termites.

Long story short the swarm castle was behind some drywall next to the garage door and protected nicely from view by brick veneer. There was nothing visible at the time and very little even after the swarm, well that is if you discount the thousands of winged termites that filled the garage. The home owner was livid of course and demanded to know how this could have happened and only seemed to settle down slightly as I reminded her that both her and her husband watched my every move and saw nothing amiss as well. For awhile it seemed that reason was the better part of valor but something changed for the worse over the next few weeks. Reason gave way to doubts and doubt to fear and fears to out right paranoia.

I’m pretty sure the new owner called every other company in town out for their opinions and estimates and I could see in my future Judge Judy glaring at me her glasses perched at the end of her nose as she passed down the stiffest sentence ever. I received many calls over the next few weeks and the lady kept referring to hidden damage and using facts and terms that normal housewives would never know. This ‘new found’ knowledge served no real purpose except to confirm this lady was being fed all sorts of tales and this fueled a vivid and wild imagination.

No one in my town had a dog at that time or any kind of thermal device which might see into the walls and clue her in to the full extent of her problem but she did make the calls. Someone somewhere down the line suggested that she have a company cut the drywall away in several spots around the home where she was now convinced she had termites and the most extreme damage. They even went so far as to tell her to hand me the bill. She didn’t like it much when I pointed out what great lengths she was proposing which went far beyond my visual inspection and that should be vindication enough that the scope of my service was limited and therefore I wasn’t going to pay for such a service.

When fear turns to anger it’s still fear but much uglier.

The paranoia this woman displayed had to be eating her up and she genuinely was distraught and besieged by things she wasn’t even sure about but I still felt bad for her. I had offered to treat for free and take care of any damage in the area the termites swarmed but I was sure my insurance company wasn’t going to go for any exploratory surgery and I dang sure didn’t have the money to foot the bill. With so many negative ideas put in her head this lady became extremely angry and called me everything but a child of God. She was convinced her newly bought home was riddled with termite damage and the dreaded word “lawyer” was now being used on a regular basis. In these few weeks she screamed at me, cried on my shoulder,joked and laughed and even offered me dinner one late afternoon after another hour of scouring the empty home she refused to move into. All the while I stayed calm and kept stating the facts we knew and implored her to not listen to those who were just interested in a sale and others who had no license. In the end I finally relented and agreed to have a contractor come in and cut away the walls and by this time I could feel the paranoia that consumed her start to build in me.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

The morning of this ‘exploratory surgery’ found me a nervous wreck and I saw first hand how fear could grip someone even though I was quite sure that 95% of where the woman wanted cut away would be just fine. This was it, do or die- Either I would be the goat and this woman’s worst fears of termite damage were all true or I’d be the hero who was right all along but my reputation still would take a hit. I knew I was sick of this circus and wanted no part of any lawsuit so for me it would be the end of a miserable ordeal either way.

As the contractors knife cut into original area of the swarm the lady held onto her husband poised for the bad news and perhaps bracing herself for her worst semi self imposed nightmare. He removed 2 large squares of drywall between adjacent studs and in an instant I knew I had dodged the biggest hit. It was what I had told her the entire time was probable and indeed was true. The termites had constructed a large swarm castle with plenty of mud and some smoothed drywall but literally no damage to the wood at all. For me I knew the worst was over but my schizophrenic client wasn’t satisfied yet. As more walls were opened and nothing was found her insecurity slowly made way for some rational thought. Paranoia relinquished to fears and fear was reduced to worry and worry to doubt until with the last opening it gave way to a sheepish admission, “I guess you were right Jerry, I’m sorry for all the trouble I put you through.”

Without missing a beat I slipped her a piece of paper asking her to sign a statement that this matter was settled and closed and gave her the bill for the handy man. You see I never gave in to her paranoid persuasions or the others who chummed the waters of fear in her mind. I only agreed to pay for her proof if indeed it was true and fortunately for me, this time was a case where The Termite Who Cried Wolf could have still cost me dearly had I not learned to stay clear When Phobias Collide.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. Pestcemetery.com was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.
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  • Great article and informative. Always tough on these reports, ours is the same way – visible evidence on that day….

  • Thanks Keith,

    I know you know what it’s like in Florida as well as Arizona… seems like it’s pretty standard but so is the home buyers expectations- ‘they want you to SEE the invisible’

  • Thanks Keith,

    I know you know what it’s like in Florida as well as Arizona… seems like it’s pretty standard but so is the home buyers expectations- ‘they want you to SEE the invisible’

  • Thanks Keith,

    I know you know what it’s like in Florida as well as Arizona… seems like it’s pretty standard but so is the home buyers expectations- ‘they want you to SEE the invisible’

  • Mel

    Liability and having my reputation tarnished through a lawsuit because of my inability to see through walls is why I’vc never had the desire to learn termite inspections or the work involved. As always, it is another awesome jerry article, but what caught me attention was the picture of the wolf. I love it. ha ha

  • That was a good pic! I know of two companies that actually got out of the termite market about 15 years ago– bought some equipment from one– The reason was exactly as you state here. Then Termidor came along and premise and baits and it seemed we once again had the upper hand. One of the two got back in but stayed a ‘country mile’ away from real estate inspections. The money is a BIG lure and even though I don’t treat the inspection as a lead, it does filter down to extra work. http://pestcemetery.com/wdo-inspections-sales-lead/

    Have you seen my profile pic? I’m not ‘gray’ because of my age– perhaps I should be listening to your advice to save what’s left of my youthful appearance. lol

    Thanks for your keen insight once again.