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Buying a Home With Termite Damage

Make sure any paperwork you sign specifies termite treatment is the seller's concern.
Make sure any paperwork you sign specifies termite treatment is the seller's concern.

You might call it a natural disaster, the level of fear it strikes in homeowners. In the most severe cases, termite infestation can mean the complete destruction of a house, and even a relatively minor attack of the wood-eating bugs can mean huge inconveniences and expensive treatments and restorative work. People pay well into the thousands of dollars to fix a termite problem. And still, they might come back.

Why even consider buying a house with termite damage, then? Well, some people won't. Others, though, stick around to consider the options -- and possibly negotiate a big discount on the house.

And it's not a terrible idea. Most cases of termites are very treatable, and it's the sellers who pay for eradication and repair if the bugs and their damage turn up on inspection. Plus, preventive measures can reduce the chances of relapse.

This is definitely a buyer-beware situation, though, regardless of repairs and prevention. Termites can cause structural damage, some of which may not be apparent until long after the sale is complete. And they do tend to resurface, so it's a problem you might be dealing with forever. Or at least as long as you own the house.

When considering the purchase of a home with a termite issue, past or present, the smart approach is to go beyond the usual due diligence. When it's time for the inspection, choose an inspector with termite expertise, because your typical home inspector is more likely to miss the less obvious signs of termites and their damage. Make sure the contract specifies that treatment and repairs are the sellers' responsibility, and check that the people they choose to do the work are reputable. Then, if possible, bring the termite expert back in for a post-repair look to make sure the job was done right.

That's all before you close the deal. Later, once everything is signed, proceed to do everything you can to prevent a re-infestation, including fixing any instances of unwanted moisture in the house (repairing leaks, fixing parts of the roof that collect water, correcting improper drainage) and having regular termite inspections so if a problem does arise, you can catch it early.

Buying this house will mean extra work in terms of maintenance, but keeping on top of the issue can save you a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run. It will also help protect your investment: There's no way you're going to sell that house if the roof collapses.

For more information on termites, home damage, real estate and related topics, check out the links on the next page.