Don’t Let Termites Eat Up Your Investment


For thousands of years, the natural beauty and strength of wood has made it a versatile component of home building and design. Unfortunately, wood is also a favorite target of several pests that feed on its cellulose fibers. That’s why homebuyers and home sellers should enter a real estate transaction with full knowledge of a home’s wood infestation history.

A “Wood Infestation Report,” commonly known as a “termite letter” or “clearance letter,” is a document verifying that a home is free of the presence of five types of organisms that eat wood:
• Subterranean Termites
• Dry Wood Termites
• Powder Post Beetles
• Wood Boring Beetles
• Wood Decaying Fungus

In the wild, wood boring insects and fungi speed up the decay of dead trees by feeding on the cellulose fibers of the plant. However, wood boring insects and fungi can’t tell the difference between helping and hurting.

If one of these species gets access to your house, they will damage the wood and cause structural issues that can be costly to repair. A licensed pest control specialist can provide four important services to homebuyers and home sellers:

1. An inspection of your home from ground to roof
2. Identification of any past, current, or potential concerns
3. If needed, a treatment plan for active infestations or prevention
4. Verification of the home’s current wood infestation status on an official state form (the termite letter).

What to Do if You are Buying a Home

From a buyer’s standpoint, a clearance letter is very important because it lets you know if there are any red flags in the home you want to purchase. If you are borrowing money to purchase the home, your lender may require the termite letter, especially if you are obtaining an FHA or VA loan.

The first step in obtaining the clearance letter is an inspection, said Casey Garmon, an Inspection Specialist with Northwest Exterminating in Carrollton.

“We inspect for all of the five wood destroying organisms and look for conditions conducive to infestation, such as lack of ventilation, adequate air flow, code violations, cellulose debris, and wood to ground contact,” Garmon said.

If the property is clear of activity from these organisms, a professional like Garmon will issue the Official Georgia Wood Infestation Inspection Report, a form used by all pest control specialists in the state. (Alabama has a similar form.)

In Georgia, the Wood Infestation Inspection Report provides the buyer with a guarantee that if any infestation issues are found within 90 days, the inspection company is responsible to come back to the site and correct the issues to the minimum state standards at no charge to the homeowner. (Note: State laws vary on the limitations of such guarantees, so be sure to verify the rules and regulations in your state. Repairs for damage are not mandatory in all 50 states in the U.S.)

Typically, the seller is responsible for the termite clearance letter IF the buyer requests one. A buyer also can request an inspection from a pest control specialist they trust, Garmon said. Northwest will do an initial inspection free, though there is a $45 charge to issue a wood infestation report. (Prices vary widely for clearance letters, so check with your inspection professional before they come out.)

A second opinion can be valuable during real estate negotiations when problems found, Garmon said.

“If there is a problem, identifying it early can give you as the buyer some bargaining power to request that the seller treat and remediate the problem,” Garmon said.

What to Do if You are Selling a Home

As already stated, the clearance letter is typically the responsibility of the home seller. But consider this: Do you really want to find out about a potential wood infestation problem AFTER you list your house?

Probably not, says Dale Johnson, Managing Broker at Duffey Realty. That’s why Dale recommends a pre-listing inspection to all new clients.

A pre-listing inspection is just what it sounds like—a thorough inspection completed in the early stages of discussion with a home seller and agent. A pre-listing inspection identifies any potential problems and allows the seller to choose how to handle any problems that may be present.

Having a clearance letter already in hand can prevent delays in closing, Dale says. Even if there have been problems in the past, the clearance letter will identify the problem, the treatment, and the current status of the home. It’s one way both the buyer and seller can feel more confident about their real estate transaction.

Ultimately, the clearance letter is about peace of mind, Garmon says.
“No structure is impervious to infestation,” Garmon said. “It’s a good idea as a seller to know what you’ve got going on and as a buyer to know what you’re getting into.”

Tips for Preventing Wood Damage

Termites cause property damage to the tune of $5 billion a year, according to Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Typically, the damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, she said, which is why prevention is important.

The NPMA encourages consumers to obtain termite inspections or a wood destroying organism (WDO) inspection during the home buying process, and every one to three years as homeowners. Termite inspectors are trained to recognize signs of current or past infestations. They will also look for any conditions in the home that may attract termites in the future.

Whether you’ve owned your home for 20 years or are new to homeownership, the NPMA offers the following termite-prevention tips:

• Keep basements, attics, and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry
• Repair leaking faucets and water pipes in the home, as well as AC units located outside
• Repair fascia, soffits and rotted roof shingles
• Replace weather stripping and repair loose mortar around basement foundations and windows
• Direct water away from structures through properly functioning downspouts, gutters, and splash blocks
• Store firewood at least 20 feet away from homes and 5 inches off the ground
• Avoid using wood timbers in landscaping and keep wood mulch at least 15 inches from the foundation

For more information about home pest inspection, you can reach Casey Garmon with Northwest Exterminating at 770-832-3129. To discuss your real estate needs, including what you should do before listing your home on the real estate market, contact Dale Johnson or any of our Duffey Realty REALTORs today.