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Using impressive gymnastics to slip through holes and cracks as small as a dime, trouble-making mice invade 21 million U.S. homes every winter. Year after year, these disease-carrying creatures ignore human pleads to keep their distance and strike fear in the hearts of Americans, a third of whom are “very afraid” or “a little afraid” of mice.
Suffice to say, selling a house with mice is like trying to get an 18-year old to buy life insurance or a white-gloved lady to purchase a ketchup popsicle: Tough as hell.
“Buyers are very wary of mice,” says Janet Anderson, a top real estate agent in Tracy, California who has dealt with a fair share of mouse-related surprises in her 14 years of selling homes. “I actually had a property fall out of escrow because the buyers were scared of them.”
You need to act fast to deal with the problem, before homebuyers ever step foot through the door and see your home as nothing but a mice playground. Start with this guide featuring the expertise of leading pest inspection companies and real estate experts who’ve navigated selling a house with mice firsthand.
Don’t ignore signs of a rodent infestation
If possible, you want to get rid of any mouse problem well ahead of listing. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, homeowners should keep a lookout for these clear indicators of an infestation:
- Noises such as scurrying, clawing, or chewing. These sounds can come from inside or outside the home, or from the roof if the mice are coming into your home from the trees.
- Rotten or stale smells from the outskirts of the home, such as crawl spaces, attics, or walls.
- Possible entry points from the outdoors, such as small holes or cracks where rodents squeeze through. Keep in mind: Younger mice can squeeze through pen-sized holes to get into your home. Cracks in the foundation, between pipes, or where your laundry vents exit from the basement are prime access spots.
- Tampering with packaged foods. If your cereal boxes or snack bags have small gnawing marks in them, you’re sharing meals with a mouse.
- Small “nests” made of shredded paper or other soft materials.
- Mouse or rodent droppings, which can look like small dark brown grains of rice. You’ll find droppings anywhere, but check near food sources, crawl spaces, and kitchen cabinets.
Stop the bleeding: Close up any obvious entry points
Depending on your home’s age and your foundation’s condition, it might be apparent to the naked eye where mice are getting into your house.
“In order to prevent mice from entering your home, all cracks, openings, and holes should be sealed with metal or cement,” advises Dr. Benjamin Hottel, who holds a PhD in entomology and works with Orkin to help best eliminate pests. “All doors and windows must close properly.”
It’s worth a quick check around for gaps. However, if you can’t find the source of entry (or you suspect there could be more than one), it’s worth contacting a pest expert who can find and seal each entry point.
Alert your real estate agent
Whether you discover evidence of a mouse before listing your home or after you’ve gone under contract with a buyer, your real estate agent will be your no. 1 advocate and resource. An agent can refer you to local pest control companies they’ve worked with in the past, arrange for exterminations and inspections, inform you of any necessary disclosures, and handle any challenging communications with the buyer and their agent on your behalf.
An agent can also be your sounding board and craft a game plan when a mouse in the house surprises everyone, buyer and seller included, well into the transaction. “A lot of times the issue only comes up during the inspection,” she explains, when unfrequented areas like attics and crawl spaces are thoroughly explored.
Let an exterminator do their job
The trouble is, even if you catch a single mouse, there could be more scurrying around. Mice breed quickly at a rate of up to 10 litters a year and capturing them one by one will prove inefficient and laborious.
Larger infestations will require multiple visits from an exterminator, which will mean a longer timeline to get the home on the market. “Some homes could take months to clear of mice, others just a month,” Anderson says.
Professional mouse and rat removal can cost anywhere between $200-$1,200, depending on the size of the infestation and how many home visits are required. The process typically goes as follows, according to Brixius:
The process starts with an inspection by the exterminator, where they’ll assess the severity of the infestation and determine the plan of action. They’ll search your home from top to bottom, inside and out, looking for potential access points, nests, and damage.
After a cursory review of the home, the inspector will zoom in on problem areas — often the property’s exterior — where they believe mice and other rodents may be getting in. In addition to sealing entry points, they might also suggest “habitat manipulation” outside the home. That could mean cutting down brush and ivy around the foundation (where mice tend to collect) or other landscaping efforts.
Next, a professional pest control company will exterminate the mice who’ve decided to join you like an uninvited houseguest. After expertly placing an assortment of traps, your exterminator will schedule future visits and follow-ups to collect the traps and set up more, if necessary.
Clean and disinfect problem areas
According to the CDC, mice and other rodents can directly spread many diseases just by sharing a space with humans. When a person comes into contact with droppings or urine from a mouse or breathes in contaminated dust, they’re risking disease — most commonly, Hantavirus.
For that reason, you should hire a pest management professional or biohazard cleanup professional if your home has a large infestation. “Disinfection of areas with Hantavirus contamination requires personal protective equipment most homeowners don’t own and specific procedures to reduce the risk infecting those doing the cleaning work,” says Hottel of Orkin.
If you choose to go the DIY route, proceed with caution and follow these recommendations:
Wear an OSHA-approved respirator.
Hottel recommends using a respirator with functioning cartridges to keep from inhaling harmful diseases. Use a half-mask air-purifying respirator with a HEPA filter or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), both recommended by the CDC.
Clean up droppings and urine first.
Do not start the process by vacuuming or sweeping, recommends the CDC, as this can stir up dangerous particles into the air. Wear latex gloves and spray the droppings or urine with disinfectant, allowing enough time for the spray to work before wiping everything up with a paper towel and disposing of it. Make sure to disinfect surfaces and objects that may have come in contact with the rodents as well.
Disinfect and clean every area possible.
Steam clean upholstery, carpets, and furniture. Wash bedding and clothing in hot water to disinfect. Vacuum and mop floors where applicable, using bleach or disinfectant solutions. Visit the CDC’s comprehensive cleanup guide for cleaning specifics when it comes to ducts and crawl spaces.
Dispose of your cleaning materials properly.
Take every precaution when disposing of cleaning materials, advises Hottel. If possible, throw away the clothes you wore while cleaning, along with every towel, cloth, or paper towels you used in the process. Wash your hands thoroughly and throw away the gloves. Place all contaminated supplies in a tightly sealed garbage bag, and then seal it in an additional bag. Remove these bags in front of your home immediately, and allow all cleaned areas to air out for a few hours.
Cleaning your home after a mouse infestation will take patience and fortitude. You have to be sure you’ve eliminated any signs of infestation. If a home inspector finds old or new droppings in the attic or crawl space, your report will still come back to show an ongoing infestation.
Err on the side of disclosure
If you have an active mouse infestation or recently cleared the home of mice, you may be obligated to disclose the issue and detail how you addressed it, depending on your local real estate disclosure laws. According to Anderson, disclosure rules around mice specifically are somewhat of a gray area. Some disclosures ask specifically about mice on the property, while many use the blanket term of “pests.”
As a start, find the rules that apply to you by consulting our list of real estate disclosure forms for all 50 states. Then, consult a real estate agent for their expert opinion on how to proceed. It’s usually better to get in front of the problem, providing as much information as possible in the seller’s disclosure. “You can really create distrust with the buyer if you don’t mention it,” Anderson says.
Obtain a professional guarantee
The plus side of disclosure is you can also give buyers peace of mind that you’ve handled it. Receipts of professional pest control efforts will show buyers the work you’ve done to address this issue and demonstrate that you’ve cared for the home. A couple of receipts from the hardware store for classic mouse traps might not convey the same level of trust.
Also, a pest inspection report showing a clean bill of health for your home will go a long way. You can opt to have a pest inspection performed before listing the property so that buyers can have proof that you’ve completely cleared the home of these little pests.
Market the home to non-traditional buyers
Even the most lovely, well-maintained homes are not 100% mouse-proof. And many sellers only need to nip the mouse problem in the bud to carry on with what will otherwise be a regular sale.
But if a mouse infestation is just one problem in a long line of issues with the property, you might not have the time or money to address it all.
It’s helpful to know: “people won’t have a problem with mice if the price is right,” says Anderson. But that would mean selling the house “as is” and taking a discount on the property. Your offer would likely come from a house flipper or real estate investor of some kind.
If you want to widen your non-traditional buyer pool to sell your house with mice as is, going through Simple Sale could be a good option. On this platform, you can request a cash offer from our network of nationwide buyers. From there, we’ll match you with a buyer who has historically purchased homes in your condition, location, and price range.
Your typical buyer won’t voluntarily move in and live among mice. You can count on that. But you’d be surprised which investors will look beyond a temporary mouse problem and see your home’s potential.
Header Image Source: (Glen Hooper / Unsplash)