We all love to open up our home to guests. But if they have six legs, antennae and wings, or beady eyes and like to burrow into the walls, you need to give these visitors a swift kick in the tail (buh-bye now!) before your house can sell.
Problem is… signs of an infestation or conditions that make you vulnerable to pests, such as wood rot and moisture, aren’t identifiable with an untrained eye. That’s why buyers and lenders oftentimes request a pest inspection before closing—you’re not in the clear simply because you don’t see bugs or mice crawling around.
Take it straight from the real estate experts we spoke with who have seen it all (termites, scorpions, rattlesnakes, you name it): nip pest problems in the bud with a professional pest inspection that will identify any issues and their solutions, whether it be monthly treatments or a one-time spray, for peace of mind. Don’t fight buyers on who pays for what, just fix any problems so you can move on.
Otherwise, pesky pets (especially termites) can cause far more harm than scaring the living daylights out of you—they’ll wreak havoc on your home sale and force buyers to squash a contract like a spider under their shoe.
How does a pest inspection before closing differ from the home inspection?
Once your home goes under contract, the offer you signed will be (in all likelihood) contingent on the results of the home inspection.
Home inspectors will look for any hazards, safety threats, or major defects but are limited in what they put in their report about pests. They may raise red flags like wood rot or moisture, and then recommend a specialist take a closer look.
The pest inspection is a separate process performed by a licensed pest inspector who’s trained to look for signs of infestations and who does pest inspections specifically for real estate transactions.
Some home inspection companies will bundle pest inspection services with the home inspection for an additional $75-$125—but checking for pests and knowing how to get rid of them requires specific skills that a home inspector doesn’t have.
Do you absolutely need a pest inspection before closing?
A pest inspection is not a uniform requirement of a home sale, and the rules for pest inspections vary state by state. South Carolina requires a “Wood Infestation Report” (called a CL-100) with all real-estate transactions, but California does not, for instance.
However, many mortgage lenders do require a termite or pest inspection to make sure the house is clear before they put up the financing for it. In addition, borrowers financing their home with certain types of loans, such as VA and FHA loans, may need to provide a clearance letter to show the pest inspection took place and the seller treated any issues before the loan can go through.
“It depends on the state and the type of loan you’re getting,” said Michael Bentley, an entomologist and director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) in Fairfax, VA.
Buyers can also ask for a pest inspection simply to cover all their bases, or in the event that the home inspector or home appraiser identifies signs of trouble that warrant a closer look.
As the seller, you can opt to get a pest inspection before you’ve listed the property to save time later or for the peace of mind. If you do a pest inspection, you’ll have to disclose the results to buyers and fix any problems immediately. Then, you can place the inspection report showing you’re in the clear on the kitchen table at showings as a selling point.
Finally, even if your state doesn’t require a pest inspection, it’s possible that your individual county does. Your real estate agent, who knows the local regulations like the back of their hand, will be able offer insight on this.
How do you find a pest inspector?
A pest inspector or pest management company must be licensed by your city or state, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Reputable ones should be able to provide proof of liability insurance, customer referrals, and a treatment plan listing ingredients of any pesticides, as well as environmentally friendly alternatives. Likewise, they should not try to pressure you into signing a contract for treatment.
What to expect from the pest inspection before closing
The inspection itself can last as little as 30 minutes but takes longer depending on the size of your home and if you have any crawl spaces, a basement, or an attic. “Think of it like a physical in a doctor’s office: The more you have wrong with you, the more that physical is going to take,” Bentley said.
During a pest inspection, an inspector checks the exterior and interior of your property for any signs of infestation, damage, or areas that are attractive to pests. “They’re going to inspect every single point they can access,” Bentley said. “It’s not so much evidence of the insects themselves but the environment that those insects might want to be in.”
This can involve taking moisture readings with a meter and looking for other signs, such as:
- mud tubes (small tunnels that subterranean termites build to access food)
- piles of wings
- damaged wood (crushed joints; sounds hollow when tapped)
- moist wood (a moisture content above 28%, indicating wood-destroying fungi)
- bubbling and buckled paint
- gnawed wiring
- droppings, especially from mice
Termites and other wood-destroying insects, such as powder post beetles and carpenter ants, are the top concern in “wood destroying organism inspections,” which also look for signs of fungi, Bentley said. Dry-wood termites, sometimes called “furniture termites” or “doorframe termites,” can cause thousand of dollars in damage. Subterranean termites make larger colonies and can cause tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, he said.
“It’s not just that they eat through the wood,” Bentley said. “They affect the structural intensity of the wood.”
A Termite Infestation Map, originally developed by the U.S. Forest Service and a reference for companies such as Orkin, shows that subterranean termites are a problem practically nationwide.
Some purchase contracts include a “termite contingency,” which allows a buyer to withdraw from the transaction in the event of extreme damage, notes California’s Structural Pest Control Board.
Some pests wreak more havoc than others
An inspector also might look for evidence of pests particular to your region.
Fire ants can access homes through heating and air conditioning systems, for instance, especially during high heat and rains. Rattlesnakes love to wriggle into yards through wrought-iron fencing that displays Southwestern desert views.
Some creatures go beyond just an ick factor. Pack rats, or white-throated woodrats (Neotoma albigula), have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to vehicles alone in the Southwest. They build nests from whatever they can grab: sticks, rocks, cacti, insulation, even tiny plastic toys.
Alicia Girard, a top real estate agent in Tucson, Arizona, said these critters are among the harder ones to handle. The pest company she uses has “to close off all the entries [where] they could be getting in, and then move all the debris from the pack rats being in the attic. That’s one of the most complicated of the fixes that I have seen.”
During a pest inspection, an inspector can advise you on whether you (or the buyer of your home) will need regular pest control. With termite treatment, a warranty is common and can include a renewal fee, which usually involves a subsequent inspection to extend the warranty, Bentley said.
Plus, a pest inspection can educate you on preventive measures, such as caulking cracks and crevices to control moisture, cockroaches, and silverfish; blocking any exterior openings with sheet metal or grills to keep out mice and rats; and vacuuming regularly to prevent fleas and ticks. Yard fixes such draining standing water, storing garbage in containers with tight lids, and raking and removing all plant debris also cuts down on pests.
A homeowner can feel overwhelmed imagining all the different ways a pest can enter, Bentley added. A pest control company has the training and expertise to not only identify the problems but advise on the best solutions. “A rat can fit through a hole the size of its head. For mice, it’s about the size of a dime,” he said. “Believe it or not, there’s a right away and a wrong way to seal a hole.”
Lastly, a pest inspection can reduce your unease about certain “guests” who are native to your region.
Girard dials the pest company whenever a rattlesnake drops by.
“One was living under my front door the other day,” she said. “They came and captured it and removed it back into the wild.”
Curious which pests reside in your neck of the woods? Check out this guide to pests in your region from AMDRO, a 40-year established pest control company.
What does a pest inspection cost, and who pays for it?
On average, a pest inspection costs about $100, although it can range from $30 to more than $200, depending on the company you use.
Who foots that bill? It depends. Although it’s customary for buyers to arrange for and cover the costs of the home inspection, that’s not always the case for pest inspections.
A homeowner who preemptively gets a pest inspection before listing will pay for it. If a buyer requests a pest inspection between contract and close, the payment may fall either way.
If an inspector discovers pests before the close of the deal, the seller is usually responsible for treating the problem. The pest company that Girard uses charges sellers between $400 and $500 to treat for termites; this includes a two-year warranty for the buyer.
A pest inspection also can protect you as a seller against possible legal trouble—for instance, if a buyer later says you hid a problem of which you should have been aware, such as excessive moisture damage that would make it easier for termites to set up shop and stay awhile.
A pest inspection before closing doesn’t mean you’re ‘dirty’
At her daughter’s condo one day, Girard reached into the garbage disposal and a couple of palmetto bugs (cockroaches the size of your index finger) crawled up her hand. “It was disgusting!” she recalled.
“My daughter for a minute … was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t want people to think I’m a dirty person,’” Girard said.
She told her daughter the same thing she tells clients: “This is not because you’re dirty. This is not because you’re doing anything wrong. We are sharing an environment with these bugs and with these lizards and with these birds … and we just have to figure out how to share the environment in a good way.”
In Arizona, a pest inspection—at least for termites—is a must for both buyers and sellers, says Girard. “It’s not, ‘Do you want to do a termite inspection?’ Do a termite inspection,” she said. “The home inspection, the roof inspection, and the termite inspection—those are the three that are absolutes.”
Girard has her trusted pest company on speed dial in Tucson, where instead of deer and antelope, it’s the tarantulas, rattlesnakes and scorpions that roam.
Discussing pests is admittedly a skin-crawling topic, but that’s why you have a top real estate agent to consult with, who can bring in a pest control company that treats clients with compassion.