The majority of first-time home buyers take their time to carefully inspect the physical condition of the property they’re planning to acquire. They look for defects or malfunctions in the building’s foundation, roof, plumbing, electrical and heating/cooling systems while making sure of the sound state of walls, floors, windows, and doors. But before they go ahead and seal the deal, a question inevitably pops into their head: Is there something lurking below the surface that they might have missed?
Unfortunately, the answer is often: Yes. Particularly when the home is up for sale by owner, the goal is to accentuate the property’s best features and minimize its potential flaws. And while some sellers are trustworthy and willing to disclose the information about past and present pest infestations, others are either unaware of pests’ presence in the house or are doing everything they can to hide
the damage. By spotting the signs of the following common household pests before you close the deal, you can make sure the seller covers the cost and treatment of the existing infestation before handing you the keys.
Recognizing the Signs of Infestation in Your Future Home
The word “termite” makes a lot of home buyers shudder, and for good reason. They are almost impossible to spot, make almost no noise
, and have the potential to cause extensive damage even before the homeowner realizes the presence or extent of the invasion. To spot their presence in your future home, examine:
- The floor: Termites can damage the underlying flooring of laminate and skirting boards. Affected areas may blister and sag in certain spots, and the damage can appear similar to typical water damage.
- The walls: Unexpected cracks, blistering paintwork, and the notorious mud trails on internal and external walls can be a sign of termite activity.
- The ceiling: Roof rafters, beams, eaves, and other wooden structures are just as unprotected from termites’ voracious appetite as are walls and floors. Check for bubbling and discoloration (similar to water damage) and areas of buckling or sagging in your ceiling.
- Weakened wood structures: Termites feed on wood underneath its surface, creating hollow galleries inside as they eat through it. Doors, windows, furniture, and wooden supports that sound hollow when tapped or knocked are probably housing a colony of termites.
Aside from being universally hated and difficult to deal with, rodents inside the house can cause lasting damage to the property and significant expenses. They chew holes to gain access into the eaves and soffit, gnaw on electrical wires and cables, causing power outages and short circuits, and contaminate everything in their way with their bacteria-laden urine and feces
. Telltale signs of infestation include:
- Seeing live insects: Rodents, as most household pests, prefer to hide out of plain sight during daytime. It is, however, possible to see a mouse or rat scurrying on the floor in broad daylight, which is likely a sign that they have been forced out of their hiding place by an overcrowded population on the other side of the wall.
- Tracks: Search for footprints in dusty spots. If the feet tracks are smaller (about 3/8 inch or less), you should suspect a mice infestation. If the footprints are bigger (3/4 to 1 inch) and accompanied by a tail mark between the feet tracks, you are most likely looking at a rat infestation.
- Grease marks: As mice make their way through openings as small as a quarter, they often leave greasy smears on walls from the oil and dirt in their fur. Mice leave fainter grease marks compared to rats, whose smears are larger and more visible.
- Droppings and urine pools: Rodents are prolific poopers, and they are also notorious for their weak bladder, so they'll dribble and poop all over the place, but especially in kitchen cabinets, drawers, pantries, cupboards, and anywhere else where they seek food or refuge from predators. It's also common to find droppings along walls and inside furniture.
Cockroaches are among the most hated and undesirable intruders in a household. A cockroach infestation is no laughing matter, and neither is the cost and difficulty of controlling them effectively. While they may not cause relevant damage to the house and yard, they do compensate by appalling and sickening
its inhabitants. Having a cockroach fall from the ceiling and landing on your bed while sleeping can cause significant psychological and emotional stress in most people. Not to mention the many health disorders and allergies they expose humans and pets to. You can identify a cockroach infestation in your future home by looking for:
- Seeing live insects: Cockroaches are nocturnal and seek shelter during the day, but it is sometimes possible to spot them in daytime – living or dead.
- Droppings: Cockroaches’ feces and droppings are easily identifiable. The smaller ones produce feces that are black in color and resemble coffee grounds or black pepper, while the larger ones expel cylindrical brown or black droppings. The amount of droppings is usually a good indicator of the level of infestation.
- Egg cases and skins: After depositing the eggs they keep into small protective cases (called oothecae), the female cockroach leaves the empty case behind in the areas it frequents the most. Cockroaches also shed their skin several times as they develop their mature form.
- Characteristic odor: German cockroaches produce an odorous secretion that can result (if population numbers are high) in a characteristic odor in the affected area.
If the home you're interested in shows any of these signs of infestation, this shouldn't stop you from making an offer. Most insect and rodent infestations can be treated effectively with the help of an experienced pest control professional
, who can determine the exact extent of the damage. Even more importantly, hiring a specialist to perform the pest inspection before you close the deal will save you the hassle and cost of treatment that would otherwise be supported by you and your family.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid garden