What You Need to Know
It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare: You get up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and something scatters in the kitchen. It’s small, fast, and has more legs than a city marathon.
Often, people buy a home that looks clean and bug-free only to discover unwanted guests living in cabinets, the ceiling, and the floor. This tends to happen when houses sit vacant for a while, providing ample time for critters to enter and multiply. It also happens in older, dilapidated houses that haven’t been sealed in some time.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to keep a home entirely pest-free. That said, there are active measures you can take to control vermin and maintain a sanitary and livable environment.
Keep reading to learn more about how infestations work, some common signs to look for, and tips for treating pest problems.
Termites and cockroaches and bed bugs, oh my
No matter where you live or what kind of house you buy, pest control is a top challenge for homeowners. In fact, 76% of homeowners report experiencing a recent pest issue — with 60% worrying significantly about the problem. Unsurprisingly, concern for infestation is higher among pet owners (65%) and parents (70%).
The pests you experience on your property can vary depending on your location. Some common household pests in the United States include:
- Carpenter ants
Depending on where you live, you may also experience larger critters like raccoons, iguanas, snakes, or even alligators.
Almost all homes have minor nuisances like ants or wasp nests. Some pests are seasonal while others can bother you year-round. Depending on how badly your property is affected, you may need to take action to enforce animal or mosquito control in your yard.
Infestations are much more than minor nuisances. Typically, they indicate a sustained and sizable presence of pests within a confined area. This goes beyond isolated incidents and suggests a breeding population within or around the house.
How infestations impact a house
Infestations may seem harmless at first. But left untreated, pests can quickly multiply and turn into a much larger issue. What starts as a minor inconvenience can become a significant financial and emotional burden. Over time, it can also lower your property value — or at least stick you with expensive repair bills. With that in mind, let’s examine some of the more common ways that infestations can impact a house.
Certain pests can target a home’s overall structure, including critical support beams. For example, wood-boring beetles, termites, carpenter ants, and carpenter bees all target wood and can weaken the integrity of buildings, decks, and other wooden structures.
Additionally, wood-decaying fungi and mold can also break down the cellulose in wood, making it weak and brittle. This type of growth tends to occur in damp, humid environments with relatively high moisture levels — like forests and wooded areas.
Pests can also cause cosmetic damage to property. For example, some pests may target furniture, walls, and floors and require costly repairs or replacements. They can also target belongings like books, upholstery, clothing, and food. Mitigating such damage can require time, effort, and resources.
Your health is your greatest asset. Unfortunately, pests can pose health risks as well. For example, cockroaches and rodents may transmit diseases or trigger allergies with their droppings. Some people are also sensitive to chemical treatments, making removal increasingly burdensome.
What’s more, pest issues may contribute to emotional distress and anxiety for homeowners and occupants. A massive wasp nest hanging above your front door won’t exactly make you feel calm when you’re coming and going. Such occurrences can adversely impact mental and physical well-being.
Certain types of pests may omit odors that can permeate a house, making it highly unwelcoming. Odors may arise from feces or pests dying in crevices or crawl spaces.
In some cases, pests can lead to legal issues when they infest areas with shared spaces — like condominiums and apartment complexes. Certain infestations can trigger mandatory reporting, potentially leading to regulatory actions like fines or even foreclosures.
Infestation signs to look for
When it comes to detecting pests, homebuyers are at a disadvantage. Most buyers only get a few chances to view a property and determine if they want to make an offer. Beyond that, you have to trust the inspector to determine whether there are any signs of an infestation.
As such, it’s critical to use your time wisely while you’re considering a property and be on the lookout for potential signs of pests. As you walk through a property, keep your eyes peeled for the following pest indicators.
Droppings or tracks
One of the best ways to detect pests is to look for droppings from insects, rodents, or other critters. You may see small, pellet-like droppings or trails of fecal matter in places like cabinets, windowsills, and baseboards.
Eggs or casings
As you inspect the property, keep your eyes peeled for small eggs or casings. This may indicate the presence of pests like cockroaches, spiders, or beetles. You will typically find these items in places that are damp or out of view — like on the top of cupboards, under furniture, or in the back of drawers.
Spend some time walking through the property, and listen for sounds like scratching, squeaking, and scurrying. This could indicate the presence of unwanted critters.
Keep in mind that these noises can be hard to detect. Some critters can also be more active at night or early in the morning. Consider pressing your ear to the floorboards to pick up the sound better or even using a wall microphone to detect faint noises.
Oftentimes, buyers are allowed to bring a dog for a home visit when buying a house. If you have a furry friend in your life, bring them along. Your dog may be able to pick up on scents, sounds, or visual clues that you won’t be able to detect. If your pet acts unusual in a new house by barking, sniffing excessively, or scratching, it could indicate that other creatures are present.
Homeowners and real estate agents typically sweep through a property and clean it up before showing it to buyers. While you want a clean house, this can make it challenging to spot cosmetic damage from pests. However, if a house has an infestation, it can be difficult or even impossible to hide it completely.
As you look around, watch out for things like gnawing or chewing marks on walls, furniture, wires, and walls. Other indicators can include holes or entry points in ceilings, floors, and panels.
How do you treat pest problems?
If you buy a house with a pest problem, the best thing you can do is take action — and quickly. If you allow pests to persist for long periods, they can become unmanageable and potentially attract other critters, too. However, most pest problems are treatable if you catch them early and follow through with an effective eradication method.
With that in mind, here’s a quick overview of how to approach pest management.
1. Consult with a professional
If you suspect that your house or one you’re considering buying has an infestation, you may want to consult with a professional pest removal service. Aside from being a major hassle, attempting DIY pest removal or insect control can potentially make the problem worse. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could damage your property or create additional health hazards for family members or pets.
Working with a professional service can also help avoid local environmental violations. For example, there are certain types of pests that you cannot legally remove due to conservation laws and regulations — like endangered species, certain birds or nesting sites, or nuisance wildlife. Some invasive species may also have rules governing their removal to prevent further spread.
2. Identify the pests you are dealing with
A professional pest removal specialist can tell you what you are dealing with and the severity of the situation. During a routine inspection, specialists may uncover additional critters you aren’t aware of.
After the initial inspection is complete, ask the inspectors for an official report for your records. Depending on how you’re feeling, you may choose to follow up with another service and collect additional feedback. Whatever you decide, don’t be afraid to shop around before agreeing to a treatment plan.
3. Set a course of action
After an initial inspection, a pest removal company will likely issue a remediation plan. At this point, you’ll need to determine whether you want to proceed. The best pest control products and services tend to be very pricey. But depending on how severe the infestation is, it could be the best money you’ve ever spent.
Home pest control solutions and costs can vary depending on the scope of the infestation, the home’s size, the location, and the type of service. An initial pest control visit can cost anywhere from $150 to $350 or even more, while monthly or annual visits can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Depending on the type of infestation, a company may recommend the following pest control treatments:
- Traps and baits for capturing and eliminating pests like insects or rodents.
- Natural remedies like diatomaceous earth, beneficial insects, or essential oils to deter or control pests.
- Regular cleaning and sanitation to remove potential sources of water, food, or shelter that attract pests.
- Sealing or refurbishing siding to close gaps and entry points for pests.
- Chemical treatments — like pesticides, insecticides, and repellents — that eliminate pest populations.
The pros and cons of pesticides
Pesticides are chemical substances that can help you eliminate common household pests like small rodents, insects, fungi, and weeds. This approach is prevalent among homeowners, with 75% of U.S. households using at least one pesticide product indoors. Pesticides are common for landscaping, gardening, and indoor pest removal.
While pesticides can be very effective in eliminating populations of pests, they also come with some drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of using pesticides on your property.
- Pesticides can quickly reduce or eliminate pest populations. It’s one of the fastest and most effective ways to remove undesirable vermin and prevent property damage.
- Chemical treatments can prevent some types of health hazards. For example, they can help avoid disease transmission, control allergies, and prevent contamination on surfaces and food.
- Using pesticides as part of an ongoing preventative maintenance plan is common. Regular pesticide use can help avoid infestations and keep pests manageable.
- Pesticides come in a variety of forms like sprayers, pellets, powders, and foggers.
- Pesticides can expose your family to other health risks — especially if you don’t apply them properly or come in contact with residues. Pregnant women, children, elderly individuals, and people with sensitivities may be at a greater risk.
- When you use pesticides frequently, pests can become pesticide-resistant. This can make it harder to control and remove them from your property.
- Overusing or misusing pesticides can create pollution and impact soil or water. This could create conflicts with neighbors, local environmental groups, and even government agencies.
What to look for in a professional pest control company
If you have a severe infestation, you will likely be best off hiring an experienced pest control company to mitigate the problem for you. After all, the pest control company you partner with will impact your property, quality of life, and wallet.
Because of this, it pays to research thoroughly and pick a reputable and effective pest control company like Orkin or Terminix. This holds true whether you have a small ant or spider problem or require industrial-level termite control.
As you begin your search for a pest control vendor, keep these tips in mind.
Licensing and certification
Ensure the pest control company you work with has proper licensing and certification and meets the local standards and regulations for your specific area.
Before working with any exterminators, check online reviews and testimonials from other customers. Look for a company with positive feedback and a strong reputation.
Request detailed pricing information before a pest control service begins work on your property. Watch out for hidden fees like extra treatment charges, preparation fees, after-hours fees, and material or chemical charges.
A commitment to sustainability
Consider asking the vendor about their use of environmentally friendly methods or products. You can avoid using harmful chemicals in favor of eco-friendly alternatives.
Should you buy a home with pest problems?
At the end of the day, there isn’t a such thing as a perfect house. Your decision to buy a house with pest problems will ultimately depend on a variety of factors, including the severity of the problem, the cost of remediation, and your willingness to address the issue.
Depending on your perspective and the scope of the infestation, having pests can either be a small nuisance or a major issue. Some homeowners can manage small infestations, while others need a pest-free environment for peace of mind. In either case, it’s important to be honest with yourself before agreeing to buy a house.
If you suspect that a house has a pest problem during your home search, don’t hesitate to ask your real estate agent for guidance. And keep in mind that you can still back out of a deal after you submit an offer on a property if an inspection reveals a need for something like large-scale termite treatment, rodent removal, or cockroach elimination — particularly if the homeowner refuses to remedy the situation.
Curious to learn more about home inspections, how they work, and what you need to know? Check out Home Approach’s beginner’s guide to home inspections.