Things to Look for When Buying or Selling a Home

07 April, 2008

Nothing else can complicate the sale or purchase of a home like wood destroying insects - termites, wood borers, carpenter ants and bees. In an already slow market, the discovery of these creatures forces the seller to spend money since he is responsible for treating the problem. And the presence of an insect which threatens the home's structural safety might persuade buyers to look elsewhere. But as familiar as people are with the damage these insects can cause, many misconceptions exist about the insect inspection and report which accompany most residential real estate transactions, says Ehrlich Termite & Pest Control Company.

More commonly called a "Termite Inspection", a Wood Destroying Insect Inspection is required when you buy, sell or refinance a home. It is usually ordered by the seller or his realtor. During the inspection, an independent pest control company examines the interior and exterior of the home looking for signs of current infestation, evidence of previous damage or treatment as well as conditions which may attract insects. The inspector then issues a Wood Destroying Insect Report to the seller to document the findings.

According to Ehrlich, these reports can yield useful information to the buyer, but in the excitement of buying a new home, most people don't take the time to understand the purpose of the inspection or the findings. "Many people view a wood destroying insect report as a guarantee about the presence or absence of insects," said an Ehrlich Representative. "In actuality, the report documents what the inspector could see or reasonably conclude. Wood destroying insects choose very secretive hiding spots that can often times be impossible to detect -- above ceilings, in hollow doors or behind walls. If a problem is visible, it will be noted on the report, but the inspector cannot report a problem he doesn't see."

This means that insect activity and damage can go undetected during an inspection, only to emerge for the new owner days or even months later. The homeowner is understandably upset. A termite inspection was performed before the home was purchased, which he thought guaranteed an insect-free house. The structural damage and emotional upset wood destroying insects cause leads the worst of the cases into the court room, where many parties, including the seller, builder, pest control company and real estate broker, are often alleged to be liable.

The specialists at Ehrlich says that the fact that the seller or his realtor orders the inspection complicates matters even more. In most cases, the seller is not anxious to invest a lot of money in a home which is being sold, nor is the realtor anxious to find anything which could complicate the sale. While it's rare, there have been situations where sellers who request Wood Destroying Insect Reports until they have a favorable one they can give to the buyer. Worse yet, there have been cases of people building over or hiding insect problems when trying to sell.

Ehrlich’s Termite Specialists suggest a few common sense steps buyers and sellers should take to protect themselves. For instance, buyers should make sure the language in the agreement of sale regarding wood destroying insects sufficiently covers the seller's costs to treat the home if a problem is discovered - typically between $800 to $1,500 for an average size house. Ehrlich also recommends that buyers order their own inspection and accompany the inspector during the examination. In this way, you will know what areas were seen and which were inaccessible. Also, know what the inspection covers before it is performed. Get a blank report and read it carefully. And last, get a copy of the completed report before settlement so that you have time to review it. Many buyers don't see these until closing, which doesn't give you an opportunity to research anything questionable.

When selling a home, your best protection is to simply be honest about insect activity in the house. And, of course, do everything you can while living there to prevent a wood destroying insect problem in the first place.

Other Resources Ehrlich can Offer on Wood Destroying Insect Inspections

  • An opportunity to accompany our inspector on an actual inspection
  • An opportunity to photograph actual insect infestation or damage
  • More information on insects and treatments -- "natural" vs. synthetic
  • Interview with Ehrlich manager