The Pitfalls of Termite Inspections
by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator
According to Realtorï¿½s Association of Lincoln, 2,674 existing homes were sold in 2005. Most of these homes had termite inspections before the sale was closed. In a typical transaction, the buyer pays for the termite inspection and if termites are found, the seller pays for treatment.
Many people believe termite inspections are required by law, but this is not true. Houses are inspected because mortgage companies require the property to be free and clear of termites and other wood-destroying insects before they will lend money to the buyer. Lending institutions require an inspection by a qualified pest controller.
Unlike many other states, there are NO training, certification or licensing requirements for termite inspectors in Nebraska. The state requires termite control applicators to be licensed by passing examinations, to demonstrate their competency to apply termiticides correctly. However, this licensing requirement does not extend to inspections. Some termite control professionals have had many years experience doing treatments and are extremely well qualified to do inspections. But, because there is no termite inspection certification process, potential buyers have no assurance the inspector they hire is competent.
The second problem with real estate inspections is occupied houses are very difficult to inspect thoroughly. The termite inspection report documents visible evidence of wood destroying insects or damage on the date of inspection. This inspection is based on a ï¿½careful visual inspection of the readily accessible areas of the structureï¿½. When a home is occupied, inspectors may miss signs of termites because furnishings conceal locations where termite evidence may be found. This situation actually occurred when my husband and I bought our house. Sheets of plywood were propped against an exterior wall in the garage and concealed termite mud tubes. We found the mud tubes when we took possession of the home.
Third, 80 percent of the wood in the house is not visible and termites like to stay hidden. Most termite infestations are inside wall voids and are difficult to detect. Even the best termite inspector does not have x-ray vision and cannot see into walls. Some companies use a moisture meter to detect elevated moisture inside the wall, a sign of termites. However, the real estate inspection does not require inspectors to use this device. Remember, the inspection will be based on a careful visible inspection of accessible areas.
And, finally, if termites or termite damage is found and a treatment is needed, typically the seller pays for the treatment. Often, the company with the lowest bid will get the job, which may result in a substandard treatment for the buyer. Because treatments must be done quickly to close a sale, treatments may be done at inappropriate times of the year. Termiticides applied to frozen or saturated soil are shoddy and illegal. In fact, termiticide labels prohibit applications when these conditions are present.
Given these problems with termite inspections, what can homeowners do to protect their investment? Homeowners need to know signs of termites and termite damage, locations most likely to be infested and how to make decisions about treatments, if they should find termites in their home. For the last 12 years, UNL Extension has provided this type of training for homeowners about termites. The 2006 workshop, Everything Homeowners Need to Know About Termites and Termite Control will be held on Thursday, May 18, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Lancaster Extension Education Center, 444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln. This workshop will also provide three CEUï¿½s for real estate brokers and salespersons. Cost is $25 for homeowners and $30 for real estate professionals. You can pay at the door, but please call 441-7180 to pre-register by May 17.