1 Jul 2014

Pest inspection when buying a house

Buying a Home | Tips and Advice

Buying a home is a huge investment, and the decision to buy needs to be objective and unemotional. Of course, you will be drawn to a house that appeals to you and you fall in love with, but you will soon be heartbroken if you find that there are many underlying problems that are going to cost you a small fortune to rectify. That is why having a pest inspection when buying a house is so important.

When you sell a house, you should always make it look clean, tidy and pretty, and make sure it smells sweet. That’s easy to do, for example by removing animal bedding and displaying fresh sweet-smelling flowers or bowl of potpourri, and of course by a thorough cleaning. But often people selling homes do quick renovations that simply cover up the things they don’t want their buyers to spot, like rising damp or borer rot.

st lucia home renovation entry pest inspection when buying a houseWhile you will pick up some defects by visually inspecting a property, it’s the things that lurk under the floorboards, in the walls or in the roof-space that are the real danger. So before you make the decision to purchase, make sure you aren’t moving into a property that is infested with termites, borer and other pests. If you find that these creatures have already made your dream home their home, make absolutely certain that you will be able to eradicate them and repair any damage that has already been done.


There are hundreds of different termite species, some smaller than others, and about 30 species that cause real damage. The biggest termites in Australia are found in the north, and these creatures (Mastotermes darwiniensis) grow up to 15 mm long.

Termites like dark, moist environments, where humidity is high. This makes them extremely difficult to find. They dig underground galleries in search of food, and often travel hundreds of metres from their nests to find the next meal. Once they find a suitable location, they make shelter tubes into the house and then disappear into the timber they have chosen to attack.

So two things to look for are damp, poorly ventilated spaces that are likely to attract termites, and the tell-tale shelter tubes connecting their nests to the timber on which they are feeding. Inside the house, inspect all visible timber including skirting boards, architraves, floorboards and cupboards. If the house is timber frame, look out for sagging weatherboards. This could be a giveaway that timber stumps or internal framing timbers are rotten.

Another way to find termites is to have termite barriers installed. These include special ant caps and various mesh and stone products that force them into the open. There are also chemical products that create a kind of a barrier and several monitoring and baiting systems. The only problem is that some products have to be installed during construction, so the choice can be limited.

Steps the current owner of the property should have taken to avoid, or be able to spot termites include:

  • keeping all roof and under-floor spaces well-ventilated and dry,
  • making sure the earth alongside walls is below sub-floor ventilation grilles,
  • keeping weep-holes in walls open and clear,
  • ensuring that the edges of concrete slabs are permanently  exposed, and
  • removing any old or rotting timber from the vicinity of the house.

Remember that termites often build nests directly under concrete slabs, which makes them pretty well impossible to detect without specialised equipment. Before making any purchasing decision it’s important to call in a professional to do a complete pest inspection.

If termites are found, you will need a licensed expert to eradicate them. Thereafter, it is important to continue a termite management plan with regular inspections, to make sure that another colony of termites does not decide to move in with you.


Not all borers cause serious problems, although most leave flight holes that can be unsightly.

Anobium borer, commonly known as furniture beetle, is the one that does the most damage. They normally chew a channel through the grain of timber, leaving behind loose gritty dust and occasional pinholes about 2 mm in size. If a wooden floor feels spongy in places, chances are that this borer is in residence.

Like termites, borers love damp conditions, so the same precautions should be taken for both termites and borers.

If borer infested timber is structurally sound, a licensed expert may be called in to eradicate the borer with chemicals. But generally, it is recommended that affected timber be replaced. Thereafter, regular inspections are essential to make sure the problem doesn’t recur.

Remember that these unwelcome creatures commonly invade furniture timber. So before you buy second hand or antique items, check them thoroughly for infestation. Once they’ve chewed their way through the item of furniture, they will probably make themselves at home in other wood.

Other pests

Rats, possums and birds can sometimes get into roof-space and breed. If you can get into the roof-space to check it, do so. Pungent smells and droppings will be evidence of vermin and other pests. You might also pick up evidence of rotten timber that may be an indication of termites or borers.

Just be aware that if possums are the problem, they need to be removed and rehoused because it is illegal to poison them.

Of course, before purchasing any property you should get a full building and pest inspection done. If you’re planning on renovating the home after you purchase, then it also pays to have your architect look over the property to ensure that your desired renovation is viable. If you would like some assistance with your proposed property purchase, or any other topic relating to renovations please feel free to contact Dion Seminara at dion seminara architecture.

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