A message from Derick McChesney a raccoon removal specialist at SWAT Wildlife in Toronto to active home buyers, (and readers of my blog) warns not to trust your home inspector to search out and report wildlife inside any house you hope to buy – it isn’t part of their mandate.
Derick McChesney has been working with Toronto homeowners for over fifteen years, and he’s has been on both sides of a real estate sale threatened by animals. He’s worked with buyers and sellers doing Wildlife Inspections to certify structures are free of critters. He’s worked with sellers to remove animals before showings, and been around buyers with deep remorse upon discovering wildlife dwelling in their holdings. “Don’t trust home inspectors to look for animals” Derick says, “It’s just not something they’re trained to do.’
Most home inspectors do not search for unwanted occupants in any building as part of their inspection. There’s no box to check for ‘wildlife infestation’ and most professionals won’t even think to look for animals unless they see holes in the exterior or interior walls of the house. They could also note an excess of feces, or stains on the interior walls and ceilings from urine, but even then they may not test specifically for animal occupants.
Consequently, many reputable home inspectors have given good recommendations for properties that were later discovered to be infested with mice, rats, squirrels and raccoons. These animals can do a lot of damage, but if their presence is disguised before a sale, or a problem too hastily remedied they can return to do a lot of damage.
Homeowners that do unwittingly buy animal infested properties are in for nightmare renovations that can include new carpets, drywall and insulation removal and replacement. A cautionary tale, CBC Manitoba ran a story in 2012 about a Winnipeg woman who purchased a luxury home only to discover it was inhabited by hundreds of mice living under the floors and in the walls. It cost over $10,000 in repairs and the case went to litigation.
Derick thinks all home buyers should go and look around for themselves and keep an eye out for some easy to spot signs of animal occupation. “The clues are always there if you know what to look for.”
Clues There May Be Animals Living on the Property Might Include,
- Animal spotting – Is there a fruit tree on the property? Is there a nut tree? Did you see animals on the property upon approach? Look in the windows from outside before opening the door, and look around the bottom of the exterior walls. Are the trees around the house full of squirrels? Birds? Are there raccoon eyes peering back at you in the backyard at night?
- Holes in the wall. The number one sign of animals in the house, mice and rats, that prospective buyers could spot is holes in the wall. Remember the buyer often sees only a very sanitized and artfully ‘staged’ version of the home; any active holes can be plugged and painted for a few days. Holes in the exterior of the house are harder to disguise. Squirrels can fit through a gap the size of a quarter, and field mice can slip through egress the size of a nickel. Holes in the soil under your porch might be groundhog or skunk.
- Feces – In most real estate across Canada mouse droppings are part of the terrain and minimal amounts in hard to access places is considered normal. A home inspector would probably not mention mouse droppings unless he or she has discovered large amounts. Thick mouse droppings in the attic and basement are signs of a big population. The organic matter should be handled with caution, even when dry, as mouse pooh can be quite toxic. It’s recommended homeowners wear masks and gloves when cleaning up after a mouse infestation as disturbing fecal particles may precipitate airborne contaminants. Affected areas should be sterilized after the droppings have been removed.
- Chewing – If the outdoor furniture cushions, the pool cover, the barbeque cover etc have been chewed it probably speaks to an active squirrel population. Look for discoloured eaves troughs and hydro meter pipes that may double as ladders for animals into compromised soffits and or loose facia boards above. Inside the house an attic tour should look at the condition of the electrical wiring and the integrity of the insulation on the wires. Squirrels will chew plastic insulation from house wiring with disastrous consequences.
- Bowed Soffits – buyers should look at the horizontal rigidity of the soffits under the roof hang as these often become unimpeded runways for animals loose in the house. The soffit boards are the favourite paths of animals that seek perimeters, raccoons and squirrels will use these paths to access all parts of the roof attic and other areas deeper inside the structure, depending on the layout of the home. As adult raccoons can weigh thirty or forty pounds their presence will frequently bow the soffits down and the effect can be noticed from the road, if you’re looking.
- Animal tracks – animal tracks outside are cute and speak to an active ecosystem, animal tracks inside can be a sign of current or impending infestation. Derick notes another trick is to leave a floor upswept to see if anything crosses in the night over the dusty plain. Fresh tracks in drywall dust have a beginning and lead to and – or outside in the snow.
- Smells – Animals small bad, and when touring the house you may stick your head in closets and crawl spaces and smell the air – or smell the wood in these places. Do you detect the faint smell of ammonia? That could be scent of animal droppings.
- Sounds – one tactic Derick uses is to make a loud sudden noise, and poking walls and then listening intently for anything, any sound could mean you’re not alone in the house.
The homeowner association recommends buyers and sellers inspect for animals, but quite often it’s something you have to do yourself .
Winnipeg woman’s mouse problem, for example. In 2012, CBC News reported that the million-dollar home she’d bought recently was also home to a massive colony of mice. Getting rid of the mice was costly—every drywall and all insulation in the house had to be taken apart for a major cleanup.
A colony of mice shows a clear picture of how much damage these pests can do to a home. Typical remedies to an infestation may cost more than $750 in professional fees, but it was reported that the woman would have to pay tens of thousands for a mass extermination procedure. As it turned out, the colony of mice didn’t swell in just a few days or weeks. The exterminator who dealt with the problem said it was “years in the making.”
The team found mouse feces and urine inside almost every drywall and insulation; such that the crew had to strip the interior walls bare to address the problem. It was estimated that the rodents had infested the house for at least five years, with the colony growing so large that it would have been difficult to miss. However, before the house was sold, initial inspections made by engineers and contractors did not find a single thing wrong with it. In fact, the previous owner and his family reportedly lived in peace without any hint of mouse problems.
The woman planned to sue the previous owner for selling her a mouse-infested home, but the owner claimed he was unaware of the problem. While the inspections failed to notice the festering problem, home inspectors continue to stress the importance of a proper home inspection before buying. Ari Marantz, a local home inspector, told CBC News that inspectors should have seen the red flags that signal something is amidst. However, the pest control team pointed out that it may have been difficult to spot the problem.
Mice droppings are dangerous, if not deadly. Remember that rodents were a deadly scourge in Europe during the Middle Ages, claiming the lives of millions by tainting towns’ water and sewage systems. Among the most common diseases related to rodent droppings are salmonellosis and leptospirosis. The animal’s’ fecal matter and urine can find their way to food and water supplies, transmitting the deadly bacteria with them.
This report highlights the importance of measures for mice removal from every home. When looking over a house prior to a sale, it’s important to include a pest control service such as Skedaddle in the inspection team for an in-depth look at every nook and cranny. You can be alerted to signs of problems with a thorough look at the place, and save yourself the misfortune of buying a problematic piece of property. You might root for the cartoon version, but in real life Jerry and his kin are bad for your home.