Most homebuyers have a laundry list of “must-have” items before signing on the dotted line, ranging from hardwood floors to stainless steel appliances to open floorplans. But there’s one thing they don’t want in a new house: pests.

And for good reason. According to Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “Termites cause more than $5 billion in property damage each year – a cost that is typically not covered by homeowners’ insurance.”

Pests aren’t just unsightly; they also cause costly property damage. Image: DeForest Architects

These particular insects are insidious – Mannes tells Freshome that termites chew through wood, flooring and wallpaper without being detected by the human eye. “Termites are known as ‘silent destroyers’ because they can compromise the structural stability of a home without anyone even knowing until the damage is severe,” she explains.

However, termites aren’t the only pests that potential buyers should be concerned about. We’ve got some tips on which insects and critters to look for, where to find them and how you should proceed upon discovering that your dream home has unwanted occupants.

Warning signs inside the home

Check near doors and windowsills for evidence of termites. Image: Liz Schupanitz Designs

Termite wings and droppings

According to Mannes, homebuyers should keep an eye out for typical warning signs of a termite infestation when house-hunting. “These including the presence of swarmers, or young, female and winged termites.” Swarmers tend to invade houses in the spring, and they are drawn to light.

Mannes says that often the first visible sign of termites is the presence of these swarmers’ wings. Swarmers typically discard wings close to doors and windowsills. “Damaged wood that sounds hollow when tapped is a third sign, since termites like to get inside wood and eat it.” Frass and droppings are also evidence of termites; Mannes explains that drywood termites leave droppings that look like pellets. (Note: You might also find frass and wood damage outside of the house.)

Carpenter ants create internal damage in wood. Image: Leslie Goodwin Photography

Wood fragments from carpenter ants

“In addition to termites, carpenter ants are another pest that can quickly tunnel through wood without any external signs of damage,” Mannes warns. So, how can you distinguish between carpenter ants and other ant species? “Carpenter ants are larger than most ant species, ranging in size from one-quarter inch up to three-quarters of an inch,” she says. “They are black or red in color.”

Even if you don’t see the ants, Mannes says you might notice sawdust and wood fragments around the home. “Severely damaged wood will have small openings like little windows,” she explains. “Carpenter ants will cause round, smooth holes in wood.”

Dripping pipes in kitchens and bathrooms attract roaches. Image: TRG Architects

Roach-friendly leaking pipes

While damage by termites and carpenter ants is your primary concern, you should also be on the lookout for other types of pests. According to Orkin entomologist Glen Ramsey, it’s important to look under the sink and around the pipes in the kitchen and bathrooms to ensure that everything is sealed tightly. He tells Freshome that dripping pipes are a water source for roaches. And when you’re inspecting the kitchen, look for small black spots, which might be cockroach droppings.

Inspect baseboards and sockets for signs of bed bugs. Image: Beth Dotolo

Bed bug stains

No one wants bed bugs. Ramsey warns that tiny brown stains on the wall directly under or around sockets and baseboards could be a sign that bed bugs have taken up residence. In addition, mold, fungus or wood decay may indicate moisture in the walls; this could be a sign that there are several pest problems in the home.

Warning signs outside of the home

painted exterior

Windowsills and exterior paint are places to look for termites or beetles. Image: Patrick Square LLC

Bubbling paint from termites

Now that we’ve covered interior warning signs, what are the exterior red flags? Ramsey says that bubbling or cracked paint, along with mud tubes, are clues that termites or wood-boring beetles are present. What’s a mud tube, exactly? Mannes explains that it’s exactly what it sounds like: a tube or tunnel made of mud. She says that subterranean termites use mud tubes to travel from underground to above-ground areas.

Sunken or soft windowsills are other indications of water damage or termites. “Also, if wood decks or railings have holes in them, this could indicate that carpenter bees have been drilling,” Ramsey adds.

exterior pests

Inspect trees on your property to make sure branches aren’t touching your house. Image: Locati Architects

Nests in chimneys or trees

Don’t forget to inspect the chimney, since the presence of a nest might mean that birds or wasps have made themselves at home. Ramsey adds that an assortment of pests and critters, from ants and smoky-brown cockroaches to rats and squirrels, tend to nest in trees. Depending on the location of the trees and branches, you might want to cut back some of the branches so they’re not a bridge to the attic.

In addition, Ramsey recommends inspecting the home lawn drainage to make sure that water slopes away from, instead of toward, the home. Termites and mosquitoes gravitate toward the latter.

Newer homes need inspection just as much as older homes. Image: JB Architecture Group

Newer vs. older homes

Don’t assume that pests are only a problem in older homes. Ramsey says that new homes should be pre-treated. That said, if the house was constructed during a rainy season, it’s possible that moisture is trapped inside. With an older home, he recommends replacing the weather stripping throughout.

If the house has been vacant for a while – whether it’s old or new – Ramsey advises homebuyers to check basements, attics, garages and sheds for pests.

diy projects

Call a professional for a thorough inspection of a home you’re seriously considering. Image: Kolbe Gallery

DIY inspection for pests?

Homebuyers can perform an initial inspection when viewing the property. However, both Mannes and Ramsey recommend using professionals if it’s a home you’re seriously considering. “A wood-destroying insect inspection is conducted by a licensed pest control professional,” Mannes explains. “They will probe the home from the attic or crawlspace to the basement for telltale signs of wood-destroying insects and conditions conducive to an infestation – and then issue a report and estimate if any problems are found.”

Do you have any tips for finding and eliminating pests in the home? We’d love to hear them in the comments.

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