Termites: A Gnawing Problem

Termites -- or other so-called "wood boring insects" -- can wreck havoc to both your home and your pocketbook. Many parts of the country are affected by termites, and every homeowner -- or potential homeowner -- must be aware of the problems and the solutions.

Since the late 1980's, when environmental concerns stopped the use of such chemicals as chlordane and heptachlor (which had been proven effective to curtail termite activity), termite damage has been on the rise.

Accordingly, most mortgage lenders insist on receiving a letter -- a certificate -- from a licensed termite inspection company indicating that the house is free of active infestation. And even if your lender does not so insist, all potential homeowners must require their sellers to either furnish this certificate or allow the purchaser to obtain it -- before closing takes place on the house.

Most states -- and many real estate agents -- have form contracts for the purchase and sale of real estate. Here is suggested language which should be incorporated into any such sales contract:

Seller warrants at the time of settlement that all dwellings and/or garage(s) within the Property (excluding fences or shrubs not abutting garage(s) or dwelling(s)) are free of visible termites and other wood-destroying insects, and free from visible insect damage. The (Purchaser) (Seller) shall furnish a written report to this effect acceptable to the lender from a pest control firm. Required extermination and repairs shall be at the Seller's expense.

In some contracts, the purchaser is required to pay the cost of this inspection. But regardless of cost -- this is too important an issue to ignore.

Termites (also known as white ants) feed on the cellulose in wood. In some areas, property owners often find subterranean termites. These little devils hide below ground so as to obtain adequate moisture, but come to the surface to eat. The surface is the wood touching the damp ground. Termites create corridors in this wood, and then move freely through these passages happily eating their way, seeking additional food, moisture and shelter.

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, you must carefully review the sales contract clauses dealing with termites. Here are some suggestions to be considered:

  1. Some sales contracts only refer to an inspection of the house. If this is the case, make sure that you add "garage and accessory buildings" to the language. The house may be termite free, but the garage may be completely infested.
  2. Watch out for language which only requires the inspection of "accessible" or "visible" areas. This often will not include basement crawl spaces or other inaccessible areas, which unfortunately carry the greatest risk of infestation.
  3. Demand that the termite company making the inspection provide a one year warranty against termite infestation. Some companies will offer such a warranty; others will not. Additionally, it is strongly recommended that after the buyer goes to settlement, the warranty be continued on a year-to-year basis. The cost for this should be nominal. This will not only give the new owner continued peace of mind, but will probably save a lot of time and money if and when the property is again put on the market for sale.
  4. If the termite inspection company finds damage caused by termites, often that company will also want to make the necessary corrections. Insist on obtaining at least two or three bids for any such work before authorizing the termite company to proceed. I have seen too many sellers pay sizable termite repair bills at settlement without having any opportunity to obtain comparable estimates.

Finally, a note of caution. Many people buy firewood from strangers who drive around neighborhoods trying to make a sale. Beware and be cautious of this wood; it may contain termites. If you put the wood near your fireplace -- or rest it against the side of your property-- you may find those little creatures starting to eat into your most valuable investment: your house.

Bob Young

Bob Young

Real Estate for Sale in West Michigan
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