In todays real estate market houses are very plentiful, prices are at very low levels and sellers are more than eager to make a deal. If not for tighter financing this would be the ultimate time for buyers and especially first time home owners. Termites however have never been concerned with your FICA score and could care less that the home you’re considering to buy may be your biggest purchase you’ve ever made. It all tastes the same to them, mm mm good.
While it’s always been prudent to have a home inspected for termites before purchasing there has been a slow movement away from such services. Partly because of relaxed HUD requirements and the recent house buying and selling frenzy in which deals were flying so fast nobody seemed like they wanted to be bothered with this formality. Since more and more homes have changed hands as of late without this vital inspection now might be the most important time to insist on a quality termite inspection.
A traditional WDO/WDI report (wood destroying organism/insect) is what is usually required by lending institutions and it is not much more than a check list. Yes there is evidence or no etc. but this report can and does often give you an incomplete picture of the true termite history of a home. While all the reports I’m aware of do have a comment section it’s very rare that a bug company will stick it’s neck out on a limb stating what they ‘suspect’ about the evidence they see. These reports are by design only suppose to reflect what’s visible at the time of the service and that’s it. You should be prepared to talk with the inspector when they are done but even I find it hard to give my opinion about ‘what I think’ because truthfully I don’t know in most cases and whether verbally or in writing I’m not willing to open myself up to the liability. While this seems like a dead end you can glean valuable information if you know the right questions to ask.
5 questions to ask the exterminator
#1How many stickers were found and what did they say?
In all the states I’ve done pest control we were required to put inspection and or treatment stickers on the fuse box, water heater or someplace deemed permanent inside the home. These stickers can give you dates of treatments, chemicals used and target pest. You can readily find out if the home has been repeatedly treated which may indicate a chronic problem. You may also see that since the original service there has been no recorded re-treatments but it has been inspected annually. One caveat is that not all treatments may be recorded, whether it was an outside only visit or the tech simply forgot. In some cases maybe they installed a new hot water heater or fuse panel so the sticker was completely removed.
#2 Did you see any paperwork such as a contract?
In my inspections I always ask if the home is under any current contract or guarantee. At times the seller is prepared and has the paperwork handy but not very often even if they say yes. Regardless if your inspector sees it or not you should demand it so you can look it over to see what kind of protection you may have. Look for repair or retreat verbiage as well as if it is a transferrable contract that you can pick up. You should also get all the receipts of not only the annual re-inspections but any re-treatments as well. Normally you’d think paperwork would be the first thing listed but so often homeowners don’t keep or lose it even if they are under contract. Treatment stickers are hard to lose.
#3 Were there any excess or unusual drill marks in any areas?
This may be a real key in unlocking a termite history of a home. Recently I inspected a home which had a whole bunch of ‘extra’ drill marks in the garage. Of course the current owner claimed there were never any termites and that the job was just to prevent a problem. The realtor knew better (she deals with me all the time) and with this information she was able to probe a bit and found that the home had chronic termite swarms that they had been battling for a few years now. Termite work is hard enough so any extra drilling usually indicates a problem and is worth checking out.
#4 Has your company done any work in the immediate area?
A simple question and hardly seems relevant in some states. In Florida established companies have probably done work in many neighborhoods. In Oklahoma however it may be more interesting to hear that just next door termites were discovered this spring. You may even find out that several homes have been attacked and if nothing else it will make you aware of the termite ‘pressure’ that may be real close.
#5 Were there any moisture problems or other conducive conditions?
Not all states ask the exterminator to list wood decaying fungi and for sure no states that I’m aware of list water damage such as on a shower wall. This however is one of if not the key element that termites look for when searching for a food source. While not all water damage is wood rot (or wood decay) it’s still a prime concern. Also if there is abundant wood to ground contact or any other such thing that will lead to termites, what are they and where? Notice I didn’t say can lead to but instead I said will. It may not be visible at the time of inspection so perhaps they are already there but conditions like these will eventually lead to termites and you should be aware of them and what it might take to correct the conducive condition.
While you won’t see any of these questions with a yes/no box to check on your inspection report and granted they are not definitive they should be on your note pad and ready for you to take some notes. With this added information you should be able to make a better and wiser decision on buying your home.