Real estate agent Alicia Girard knew the pencil-thin tubes dangling about four inches from the ceiling weren’t an architectural feature any home buyer would want.
She recognized the structures instantly as mud tubes, a sign of subterranean termites. These insects build paths from soil and wood to protect themselves while finding food.
“That one was probably the worst that I’d seen,” Girard recalled of a “pretty distressed” house that she aimed to sell. “Had it been treated, it would have been fine.”
Luckily for Girard, a top-selling agent in Tucson, AZ, she’s got a trusted pest inspector on speed dial.
If not, you should add a pest inspector to your homeowner’s rolodex—right next to your trusted painters, handyman and home inspector. A pest inspector can be your best friend when your worst enemies decide to pay your house a visit.
Get a qualified one who’s gone through all the special training you need with this explainer for how to find a top-notch pest inspector in your area. Then, take advantage of all the knowledge and services they have to offer to keep your home pest-free.
What does a pest inspector protect against?
Selling a home seems to involve one chore and expense on top of another, from tiny repairs to staging your property to look its best. A pest inspection might not be at the top of your list, especially if you live in a state that doesn’t require one with a house sale (such as California).
But if you live in an older home or are aware of the, ah, unwanted guests particular to your area, it’s a wise investment.
Guarding your home against termites, rodents, carpenter ants, cockroaches, and other vermin can help solidify your sale. Working with a professional pest inspector provides you with reassurance for your buyers (as well as a warranty, in the case of termite treatment), especially if the buyer’s lender demands a pest report in light of the appraisal.
A pest inspection also can protect you against possible legal trouble if the buyer later accuses you of patching over or hiding a problem, such as dry rot.
“I would say probably 50% of the homes I have inspected have termites,” Girard said, noting that the Southwest’s desert climate also brings out rattlesnakes, spiders, palmetto bugs (large roaches), scorpions, and pack rats.
“I think the age of a house has a lot to do with it. A lot of the new homes are built so tight [because of] energy efficiency, but the older homes, there’s lots of gaps and openings that need to be sealed.”
Ehrlich Pest Control, which has more than 100 offices serving the eastern United States, says on its website that the most common household pets it treats are termites, mice, cockroaches, wasps, mosquitoes, rats, flies, bed bugs, and ants.
In addition to carrying diseases, these creatures also can cause structural damage and safety hazards. Depending on the type of termite, termites can cause an average of $7,000 to $8,000 in damage, the company’s website says. Rats and mice can cause electrical problems by gnawing on electrical cables. A large wasp nest can contain more than 25,000 wasps.
Different types of pest inspections: Termites vs. other critters
Some inspections for real estate transactions focus solely on evidence of existing or past wood-destroying insects or organisms (such as fungi), as well as ideal conditions for such problems: certain moisture levels, for instance. A homeowner who wants to make sure his or her home is in order before listing the property might request that an inspector look for signs of any other pest trouble as well as termites and wood-destroying organisms.
“They’re really looking for anything with more than two legs that doesn’t belong in a home,” said Chad Gore, entomologist and market technical director at Rentokil Steritech, of which Erhlich is a regional brand.
That means checking the pantry for general pests (ants, cockroaches) that may infest food items such as crackers, pasta, and nut foods, as well as droppings from rodents. They’ll also check closets for moths.
Attics can have signs of stinging insects and invaders such as bats. Basements, especially unfinished basements, can provide shelter for rodents, spiders, and centipedes, Gore said.
With an inspection for termites or wood-destroying organisms, an inspector looks mostly at exposed wood and probes to see if it’s still solid, he said. Other signs include mud tubes, wings on or around windows or caught in spider webs, bubbling paint (a sign of moisture), holes in unfinished wood and sawdust beneath those holes.
Plus, a pest inspector can advise you on how best to evict such vermin and take preventive measures.
How to find a best-in-class pest inspector
Check licensing and references
Whether they work as independent contractors or with a company, pest control professionals and pest inspectors must be licensed by your city or state, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Real estate agents often have a close working relationship with a pest management company. Girard uses the same company for her business as for her own home, so she recommends it freely.
She likes its pricing: $68 for an inspection, and from $400 to $500 to treat termites, which includes a two-year warranty. She also likes its no-pressure attitude.
“They give my buyer time,” she said. “They do the inspection, and then they say, ‘Here’s what we offer. Here’s what we can do. Do you have any questions?’”
The inspection or treatment often can be billed through escrow, Girard added.
The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) also recommends asking friends and neighbors about any pest control companies they’ve used. The association also provides its own online database to search for a pest inspector in your area by ZIP code.
Angie’s List also provides a searchable database to locate pest control professionals in your area.
Once you’ve narrowed your search, the EPA recommends checking out a potential pest inspector or pest company online through the Better Business Bureau, your state’s department of agriculture, or your state attorney general’s office. Check whether the licensing is valid, as well as if there are any complaints filed against the inspector or company.
“They should do their homework, read reviews, ask friends and neighbors about their experiences, and look for a company that has a good reputation within their community,” Gore said.
Ask your pest inspector the right questions
After you’ve done your research, you’ll still want to talk to a pest inspector or pest control company before hiring. Ask to see the company’s license from your city or state, which should be current, the EPA says.
The EPA and NPMA also recommend asking these questions:
- Do you have liability insurance? Ask for proof.
- Are you or your employees bonded? This means the company will reimburse you for any loss or damage caused.
- How long have you been in business at your current address?
- Are you affiliated with any professional pest control association? Which?
- Do you have referrals from other customers?
- Do you guarantee your work? How long does the guarantee last, and what does it cover? What can I do to keep it in force?
- What types of continuing control, prevention, and management are necessary in this situation?
Beware of any pest inspector who doesn’t have a listed or working telephone number. The EPA also warns against using any pest company that goes door-to-door or claims to have found pests at your neighbor’s place and offers to check if you have them as well.
A reputable pest inspector will not try to pressure you immediately into signing a contract for treatment or suggest your home is structurally unsound if you don’t act quickly.
What’s more, even though a pest inspector must be licensed, be wary of any pest inspector or pest control company that claims to be “endorsed” by the EPA or your state’s agriculture agency. These entities do not endorse any particular companies or products.
If the pest inspector you’ve chosen finds a problem, be sure to ask:
- the extent of the problem
- the active ingredients of the pesticide or pesticides recommended
- the form of the pesticide and type of application (gel, liquid, etc.)
- any potential adverse health effects
- any nonchemical alternatives for treatment
- special instructions to prepare your home for treatment (removing pets, emptying cabinets, etc.) steps to prevent or minimize future pest problems
Don’t focus on the cost of the treatment as much as what it involves. For termites, Gore suggests getting a quote for a conventional liquid treatment as well as baiting.
A conventional liquid treatment essentially places a barrier around the outside and sometimes the inside of the home in the ground where colonies originate. “That process is very labor intensive and will be the more costly approach,” he said.
A good and environmentally sound treatment option is using a termite bait system: placing bait stations around the home. Termites feed upon these and take the contents back to the colony to their nest mates. These baits are an excellent option for most common subterranean termites, Gore said, but because different species of termites exist throughout the country, treatment approaches may differ.
Even so, you’ll generally want to avoid a partial termite treatment, meaning one that treats just a particular area, he added. “You want to protect your entire home, not just one part of it.”
Listen to your pest inspector’s recommendations
Lastly, any pest inspection includes recommendations for how the homeowner can help prevent pest problems. Gore said some frequent suggestions include:
- Emptying standing water (guards against mosquitoes)
- Raking and removing plant debris and wood piles from next to a home (termites, carpenter ants, rodents)
- Cleaning gutters of debris (mosquitoes, springtails, psocids)
- Trimming trees and shrubs so they don’t touch outside walls (climbing insects and rodents)
- Cleaning up spilled food (pantry pests, ants, rodents)
- Fixing yard drainage issues (millipedes, springtails, occasional invaders)
- Keeping grass mowed (ticks)
- Turning off outside lights or using less-attractive bulb types (midges, mosquitoes, moths)
- Sealing around windows, the entrances of utility lines, and plumbing penetrations (where the pipes enter under the sink and through the wall).
Getting a pest inspector on board also helps you control and manage any pest issue before it becomes embarrassing—or damages your house to the point that you’re losing value. Even with the mud tubes, which are fairly common in the Southwest, “I’ve never seen anything so complicated that it’s ruined a deal when it comes to pest control,” Girard said.
Enlisting a professional pest inspector when needed helps keep you from feeling overrun, she added. “Just stay on top of it,” Girard said. “Have it treated. … Just don’t ignore the obvious.”
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