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Termites may be small, but they can cause a lot of damage to your house — expensive damage. A home with a minor termite presence and little damage may not be a deal breaker for you, but a house with major structural damage caused by termites can be a very expensive problem to have on your hands once you move into your new home.

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to buying a home with termites. The main ones to consider are the extent of the damage, the costs of repairs, and how major those repairs need to be. Even if the seller agrees to pay to get rid of the termites and fix up any the house, it may not be worth the effort as you may have to push back your closing date timeline significantly.

Signs of termites in the house 

Termites feed on wood and wood products, including furniture, paper, and books. Most houses are built with wood, so you’ll want to know that termites haven’t been feasting on its frame. There are three main types of termite damage — subterranean, drywood, and dampwood. Here are the signs to look out for to catch each one:

  • Subterranean termite damage: When looking for signs of damage caused by subterranean termites, search for what appears to be water damage. It can be hard to catch interior damage before the infestation drastically develops, but outward signs of this type of termite damage can look very similar to the damage that occurs after a leak or flood. For example, look for buckling wood and swollen floors and ceilings. There may even be a scent similar to mildew or a mold problem. Subterranean termites can create tunnels that they use to access above-ground food sources and these tunnels are usually found at the foundation of an infested home. 
  • Drywood termite damage: Drywood termites are often found inside of furniture or walls as they like to build their colonies within wooden structures that they feed on. Because they remain hidden, these termites in the house are invisible to the naked eye. Look for veneer cracks in the furniture (this is more common in antique furniture) or floors of a home that can occur once they infest and create maze-like tunnels. 
  • Dampwood termite damage: Signs of dampwood termite damage aren't very pleasant. Keep an eye out for fecal pellets, dead swarmers, and soft spots in wood. This type of infestation is most common in arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern states of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and in southern California.

Where termite damage is most common

There are 50 species of termites found throughout the U.S. and 20 of those species can cause structural issues by invading and eating wooden structures such as homes. Depending on where you buy your home, you may want to pay particular attention to potential termite damage. 

Termites can make their way into almost any home, but they are more prevalent in certain geographic areas. Alaska is the only state in the U.S. where there are no termites. You may encounter termites in the house in all other states, but termites tend to inhabit places with warmer climates, thriving in states in the South, Southeast, West, and Southwest. 

Do I need a termite inspection for my home?

A standard home inspection can reveal structural issues, which may have been caused by termites, but it’s always best to hire a pest inspector to find out whether the house actually has termites and how great a threat they pose.

The average cost of a termite inspection is only about $100, and it’s well worth paying to discover if you have much more expensive problems on your hands. Oftentimes a home inspector will even recommend you get a termite inspection if they see any telltale signs of damage or an infestation when they look at the property.

Certain lenders in warm weather states may require a termite inspection when you take out a mortgage to buy a house. FHA and VA lenders in certain states will also require an inspection for pests, which includes termites, before you purchase a home. 

A mild termite infestation is easy enough to overcome, which is why it’s important to get a professional opinion to better understand the extent of the damage and what it will take to repair it. 

How much termite damage is too much?

Buyers will want to pause for a moment after discovering termite damage in the home they intend to purchase. It is possible to send termites packing, but once termite damage does occur in a home, how much damage is too much damage to deal with? Buying a home with minor termite damage may not cause too much of a headache, but it’s understandable if you didn’t want to deal with repairs or wanted to walk away from the sale altogether. 

A key element to keep in mind when determining if you want to deal with termite damage is where the damage is in the home. Damage to the surface of wood structures is fairly mild and easy enough to deal with, but when the termites have found their way into the floor joists or main supports of the home, that’s where you’ll run into big trouble and expensive repairs. 

After a pest inspector finds substantial damage to the home, it’s worth hiring a licensed contractor to evaluate if the damage is cosmetic or structural. Structural damage is much more expensive to repair than cosmetic damage, such as sheetrock scarring, pinholes in walls, and slight baseboard damage. If you’ve found your dream home at a great price, getting rid of termites may be worth the hassle and money. 

How much does it cost to get rid of termites? 

If you find a home you love and it happens to have termites, that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to walk away from the sale. The size of the home can impact how much it costs to treat a termite infestation. While a termite infestation treatment is a large expense — usually $1,200 to $2,500 — it may not be a make or break cost when it comes to your dream home. 

However, when it comes to repairing damage caused by termites in the house, the costs can vary greatly depending on how bad the damage is, the location of the home, and the contractor you choose to work with. You could pay thousands of dollars for repairs, and costs will rise greatly if the damage is structural and not just cosmetic. 

Who pays for termite treatment and damage?

This is the big question any buyer will have on their mind once they discover the presence of termites in the home they plan to buy. Do they need to pay to eradicate termites in the house and make repairs or does the seller need to cover these costs? This depends on each home sale. 

It’s possible to request that the seller pay for repairs and remediation related to termites, and even make the repairs before the closing date, but they can refuse to do so. As the buyer, you can also request that the seller subtract the cost of treatment and repairs from the home’s final sale price as a seller credit. 

When the seller refuses to pay or help with the repairs, the buyer can choose to either front the costs themselves or walk away from the sale (unless they agreed to buy the home “as is”). Your real estate agent can help you navigate these negotiations and can walk you through what your options are for moving forward.

This is why it can be helpful to include a home inspection contingency in your initial contract. If you discover issues with the home such as termite damage after inspections, you can back out of the sale. 

Looking to buy a house? Orchard can help. We can even turn you into a cash-buyer so you can land your dream home.

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