Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Agent Withheld Disclosure of Damage

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am a Realtor and recently closed escrow on a bank-owned property. The bank insisted on an “as is” sale, which is customary with foreclosed homes. My buyers hired a home inspector but decided to forego a termite inspection. After moving in, they found termite damage in the kitchen and dining room. We’ve also learned that the listing agent knew about this damage but withheld disclosure because it was an “as-is” deal and because the seller (the bank) was not required to disclose defects. Do you think my buyers have recourse?  Karen

Dear Karen: People often misconstrue the term “as is” to mean a release from the requirements of real estate disclosure laws. In the case of lenders who foreclose on delinquent mortgages, there is, in fact, an exclusion from the requirement to disclose. But this exclusion does not excuse Realtors who withhold disclosure of known defects. The requirement to disclose all known defects is an ethical and legal imperative for all real estate agents. Withholding knowledge of a defect, such as termite damage, is not acceptable for an agent, even when the seller of the property is a bank.

In the situation at hand, the listing agent should pay to repair the undisclosed damages. If the agent does not accept that responsibility, the matter should be reported to the state agency that licenses real estate professionals. The complaint, however, should be filed by the buyers, not by another agent.

The Seven Basics About Termites

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry:We have lived in our home for 27 years, and for much of that time have found termite frass on various windowsills and at some of the doors.  My husband thinks that fumigation is a waste of money. He says termites can return as soon as the tent is removed from the house. He prefers to use insect spray whenever he sees the frass. I’m concerned that we might be neglecting a serious problem. Could you please explain how termites can affect the condition of a home and the best way to get rid of them?  Nina

Dear Nina: Here are the seven basics about termites:

1)  Termites continually reproduce. This means that old colonies have larger populations — with more mouths to feed — than young colonies. A colony that is 5 years old may contain several thousand termites. A colony that is 27 years old could number in the millions. Consider how much wood that many termites could eat in a day.

2)  Termites live within the recesses of the wood members that they consume. The damage that they do is not visible on the surface. They eat tunnels in the wood members that they inhabit until the outer veneer of the stud, joist, or rafter is all that is left.

3)  When termite tunnels become cluttered with frass (droppings), termites make small holes in the surface of the wood so that the frass particles can drop out. The frass that you see on your windowsills is a small sample, compared with the piles that might be found in the attic or behind the drywall.

4)  Insect sprays cannot penetrate into the wall cavities, framing members, or the attic spaces where termites live, eat, and multiply. The best way to eliminate termites is to have your home thoroughly fumigated. Postponing this process ensures continued consumption of the wood members of your home.

5)  A new crop of termites can invade your home soon after the fumigation is completed. But for several years, fledgling colonies remain small, and the amount of wood those termites can eat on a daily basis is trivial.

6)  Small, start-up colonies can be managed by having termite inspections every few years. If new colonies are discovered, localized treatment by a professional termite company may be an effective approach.

7) Most homes are sold every 5-10 years. Upon sale, a termite inspection is usually a standard part of the transaction. Therefore, most termite colonies have little chance to become highly populated. Significant termite damage usually occurs in homes that remain under the same ownership for decades because most homeowners seldom give termites a thought until they sell the property. Meanwhile, the termite colonies in these homes silently reproduce.

Your husband needs to rethink his approach to the termites in your home. What matters now is to eliminate the large, old colonies that are eating the structure of your home today and each day that you postpone treatment. The longer you wait, the more damage will be done by those hungry tunnel makers.

Domestic Dispute Over Termites

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: My husband and I disagree over how to treat the termites in our home. For the past 27 years, he has sprayed poison wherever we’ve seen frass particles. I’ve heard that termites must be professionally exterminated, but he says that termites are a permanent problem in our area and that they will always return after extermination. What is your advice?  Ninel

Dear Ninel: Here are some vital termite facts to help settle your domestic debate:

1)  Termite colonies continually increase in population. The older a termite colony is, the more mouths it has to feed. A five-year-old colony may contain a few thousand termites. A colony that is 27 years old could have a census of millions. Consider how much wood that many termites could eat on a daily basis.

2)  Termites live deep within the recesses of the wood members of a structure. They eat tunnels in the wood framing until all that is left of a stud, joist, or rafter is the outer veneer.

3)  When termite tunnels become clogged with frass (termite poop), the little “wood-munchers” make small holes to expel these particles from their domain. The frass that you see in your home is a small sample, compared with what could be found in the attic or inside the walls.

4)  Insect sprays cannot penetrate into the structural framing members where termites live, eat, and multiply. The only way to eliminate them it to have your home professionally exterminated. Postponing this process ensures the continued consumption of the wood components of your home.