What You Need to Know About Pest Inspections

pest inspector at work while a woman homeowner looks on
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A pest inspection is a crucial step when buying or selling a home, and also in maintaining the home you may already own. Pest inspectors typically search for insects that cause wood damage, but they might also look for pests that can be a threat or nuisance in general. Many people never give a second thought to pest inspections until a problem arises, or until they are buying or selling a home.

Common concerns that can plague homeowners and homebuyers alike include determining who pays for an inspection, who to hire, and how to exterminate any pests that are discovered. The cost and labor of having your home inspected is well worth the peace of mind you'll have in knowing you've prevented structural damage down the road or a disruption in the home-buying process.

Key Takeaways

  • In general, buyers will pay for pest inspections if the seller hasn't already had one, but the rules may differ depending on where the home is and the parties involved in the transaction.
  • If any issues were identified in a pest report, hiring a separate pest control company for the extermination process offers a second opinion and deters inspectors from exaggerating issues.
  • Tenting entire houses may or may not be a part of the extermination process, depending on how serious the infestation is.
  • Pest inspectors should have some idea of how much wood has been damaged, and this can help you plan for restoration projects after the extermination.

Why You Should Hire a Professional

Many pests, including termites, are practically invisible. The damage they do to a home often remains unseen until it's severe, potentially causing structural damage. Professional licensed pest inspectors are trained to distinguish between mounds of dirt generated by earthworms in the soil and scraps from chewing wood that swarms of termites leave behind. The piles look alike to untrained eyes and serve as an example of the kind of expertise needed when assessing whether or not a home has an infestation.

Pest inspectors commonly target wood-boring invaders such as termites, powder post beetles, and carpenter ants, all of which can cause damage to a building, but they also look for pests that trouble the inhabitants, such as cockroaches, wasps, bees, fleas, or any regional creature that may be unwanted in a home.

What to Expect During an Inspection

Professional inspectors are thorough in searching for signs of infestation. They will examine both the interior and exterior of a house, including foundations, rafters, and areas around windows and rooflines. If they find a soft spot or other signs of infestation, they use a specialized probing device to poke a hole in the wood. This is a normal part of an inspection and should not upset homeowners. If an inspector can easily poke a hole in the wood, that simply serves as evidence of a far greater problem.

Pest Reports

Pest reports identify areas of concern and list a pest company's recommendations to cure any problems, including repairing decaying wood.

Some reports identify areas for further investigation, such as inaccessible spots that might require, for example, ripping tile from a shower wall or digging a trench to wiggle further under a house in a tight crawl space.

Ask neighbors for referrals and do thorough background checks on any inspectors or exterminators you hire. If an inspector identifies damage from an infestation, it may be a good idea to hire a separate company to handle the extermination. This deters inspectors from overstating a problem in order to secure extermination work.

Inspectors will photograph any problems they identify to help illustrate the issue and the evidence leading to their conclusions.

Paying for Pest Inspections

Whether or not a pest inspection is required depends on state and local requirements, so be sure to verify what is necessary where you live. Home lenders may also require an inspection as part of their loan application and approval process, so you should also check with all parties involved. Even if an inspection is not required, pest infestation is a better-safe-than-sorry situation, and there are good reasons to pay for one whether you are the buyer or the seller.

Sellers may want to pay for an inspection to assure potential buyers that the home is free from infestation. It's also a good idea to pay for an inspection if it is an older home otherwise in need of repairs or upgrades.

In general, buyers should pay for an inspection any time sellers have not already done so. This is especially true if a home is older or looks like decaying wood may be an issue. It's simply best to have a professional check for pests and make the results a contingency of any offer.

Most standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover termite damage. If it's not listed outright on your policy, it may be considered long-term damage from pests, which often falls into the "neglect" category—another way of saying the owner is at fault.

How Companies Exterminate Pests

Many of the products used by pest companies today are effective without a tenting process as long as the infested areas are adequately discovered and identified. These chemicals are touted as environmentally safe and less harmful than pesticides of the past, but you are still advised to take precautions until a recommended period of time has passed. Your exterminator will have all the details.

Though tenting a home is no longer the sole option for eliminating pests, it is still commonly used. It involves just what you would expect—a huge, circus-type tent placed over the entire house and then filled with chemicals that kill pests. These chemicals are toxic, so owners have to move out when the tenting process is being performed.

Decaying parts of the wood will be removed to remediate dry rot. This involves tearing out overhangs, parts of roof extensions, window sills, support beams for patios, joists under a house, or wood siding. Sometimes a company will only remove any portions of the wood that have suffered the most damage, so be sure to ask how much they are removing and replacing so you can prepare for any restoration work.

As a resident, you may need to make arrangements to stay elsewhere while the work is being done. You may also need to participate in the process by sealing food items, bagging linens, or even arranging with your utilities company to shut off the gas for a period of time. It all depends on the type of pest and treatment process, and your inspector will provide all the essential details.