- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

When a home buyer signs up for a mortgage, it means a termite inspection will soon occur on the property.

In most contracts, you’ll find an order for a termite inspection. It’s negotiable who will order and pay for the inspection, but you’ll have one nonetheless, especially if you have a mortgage.

The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites cause nearly $5 billion in damage per year in the United States. Many times, homeowners don’t find out about this damage until they receive a contract on the house and have to order the inspection. By then, the damage is already done, and it’s often expensive.

There are some telltale signs of termite invasion, according to the NPMA Web site (www.pestworld.org):

• Swarming. Spring swarms already have occurred in most areas. Swarms also occur in the fall. A swarm is a cloud of insects, much like a group of gnats in the summer, but these are much larger.

• Mud tunneling. Look around, over and under wood structures.

m Darkening or blistering of wooden structures. Damaged wood becomes extremely thin and can be easily punctured by a knife or a screwdriver.

EPestSupply.com is a provider of products for the industry and has some very descriptive photographs and charts about how to identify termites and other subterranean creatures that might be attacking your house. Click on Pest Control Library.

If you see some varmints around your house, don’t panic. They might not be termites. Closer inspection can help determine what you’re really looking at. Look at them under a magnifying glass.

If they are red and black or dark brown, you may have carpenter ants, but if they have solid black bodies, you may have subterranean termite swarmers that feed on wood that has come in contact with water. If the creature has a solid red body, it’s more than likely a drywood swarmer, which is a termite that feeds on — no fooling — dry wood.

You may ask, “Why all the concern about termites when selling a house?” The primary reason is hidden damage.

Termites eat from within, and although you can find signs of damage, such as the blistering and darkening listed above, by the time you discover it, it may be too late. Just killing the critters may not be enough to satisfy the contract. Repair could include major structural renovation, meaning ripping out walls, replacing studs and joists, resealing the wall, spackling and painting.

Termites strike primarily in the foundation area, so this is where pest inspectors will look first.

The University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lincoln says: “Places to inspect for termite activity are wooden constructions in basement and crawl space, wood sills, joists, support posts, basement window frames and wood underporches. Scrap wood on the ground or a woodpile next to the house should be removed as these potential feeding areas may allow termites easier access to your house. Termites may also be found in dead trees or wood stumps after a dead tree has been removed.”

Caught early, damage can be minor and cost just a few hundred dollars to repair. However, because the damage is usually unseen until it is extensive, repairs could run up to tens of thousands of dollars once a full-scale inspection is completed.

A home purchaser in 1998 found out the hard way in New Orleans. She had purchased her “dream home” using a large amount of cash she had been saving for years. A week before she was to move in, she found out how badly the house was infested. The story was covered by the Times-Picayune and published on the newspaper’s New Orleans Net (www.nola.com), documenting the horrifying truth:

“Work crews opened every wall and ceiling, exposing beams, rafters and studs so badly eaten that they crumbled at a touch. The bottom 12 inches of the wooden chimney supports had been eaten away from the foundation. The termites had eaten through all but two of the house’s bedrooms.”

The house that looked perfect on the outside ate through not only the buyer’s house, but also her bank account.

Don’t put off what is going to be an inevitable test on your house. Order pest inspections early and often. Watch for the local pest-control service appearing at your neighbors’ houses. Termites know no boundaries and can wind up at your doorstep — or in it — just as easily as at your neighbors’.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions or comments at his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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