Wood-Destroyers and Real Estate

This is the ISS annual real estate issue, which presents an opportunity to discuss wood-destroying insects and organisms. When we discuss insects in this context, the culprit is almost always termites and, less frequently, Carpenter Ants. (In the interests of brevity and a show of good faith that Im not trying to pad my word count, wood destroying insects and organisms will hereafter be referred to as WDI/O.)

Noreal estate transaction should ever be undertaken without a comprehensive WDI/O inspection. It is unlikely any reputable lender or broker would allow a real estate transfer to close without certification that the structure is free of WDI/O.

A reader recently wrote and asked how much faith he should have in the WDI/O inspection report he was given on a property he was considering for purchase. My answer was, not much. The issue wasnt the contents of the report, the company performing it, or even the results. The concern is the prospective buyer was not the final arbiter in the hiring of the company performing the inspection.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of unqualified businesses and individuals in the building-inspection industry. No doubt the majority of people in this business are competent, ethical professionals. The problem is, in most states and provinces, the industry is grossly under regulated. The individual who comes to inspect your structure could have gotten the job simply by watching a one-hour video on WDI/O and taking a self evaluated exam.

You, as the buyer, should take steps to ensure you are getting a quality report on the condition of your potential investment. This is normally the part where I give you a bulleted list of information related to the topic. Unfortunately, laws and regulations vary so greatly from one place to another, this column would need to be several hundred pages long. In researching this article, I tried to gather info by checking Internet resources on a state-by-state basis. Working in alphabetical order, I finally threw in the towel at California. However, there are a few bits of advice I can give that will cover a lot of ground:

  • First, seek qualified legal advice from a lawyer with no connection to any of the parties involved in the real estate transaction. Given the size of your investment, and the ramifications of a bad WDI/O report, hiring a lawyer who specializes in real estate is money well spent.
  • Second, if you are comfortable with your knowledge of the rules of the game, hire an inspector who has no financial interest in the outcome of the examination except if he screws it up!
  • There is actually a third piece of advice that can guarantee you will not have a termite problem in your building: Buy it in Alaska. It is the only state where termites have not been detected.
  • Finally, just because you are dealing with buildings made of steel and concrete, doesnt mean WDI/O is not an issue. While your structure may be impervious to such things, the contents arent. A termite doesnt care if its eating a 2-by-4, a cardboard box full of financial documents or an antique dresser. Your liability for the condition of the contents introduced to and stored in your facility is likely quite limited, but your reputation is at risk.

Ant Control

I hadnt anticipated writing a regular monthly section answering readers questions; however, if I get the same question from a number of different sources, Ill include it as a public service, as well as a mechanism saving me from having to think of things to write about!

This past month, I received a number of inquiries about a specific problem regarding ant control. The common theme of the questions was ants invading a structure and not going away, even though the outside source was located and thoroughly treated. This is a dilemma for amateurs and professionals alike. Even if you managed to kill all the ants outside, you have to deal with the ones inside.

Most pesticides in use to control ants are classified as Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids. Pyrethrins are a naturally occurring chemical derived from the Chrysanthemum plant. Pyrethroids are man-made versions of the same. While they are an effective pesticide, they also act as a repellent. Since ants live outdoors, what youve done when you use the repellent outside is block their exit. When you spray the ants inside, all you are doing is killing the ones you can see. You end up chasing ants around your building for days on end, killing a few at a time, and contaminating your environment.

Baits are the preferred method of treatment when dealing with ants close to a structure. Baiting gives the ants no reason to go inside in the first place, and while a little slower acting than pesticides, it is more efficient. If you decide to have a pest-control professional handle the situationwhich I recommend choose one that uses bait as his main weapon of choice against insects.

Ken Berquist is a field representative for R&D Pest Services in San Diego. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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