A home may appear structurally sound and still be falling apart. That’s because termites – wood-boring insects of just one-quarter inch length – attack wood from the inside out, causing serious damage that can go undetected for years.

Homeowners in every state except Alaska are at risk of termite infestation. Each year homeowners pay in excess of $2.5 billion to repair termite damage and control the insects – costs that are generally not covered by homeowners’ insurance. Termites are so damaging because they attack the wood closest to the soil where the home’s load-bearing components are located. If a termite infestation goes on for too long, the loss of structural support can lead to additional deterioration including sagging walls and door frames.

In some cases, there are visible indications of termite infestation that can serve as warning signs when you are looking at a prospective home to buy. They include the following:

  • Swarms of winged insects inside or around the home.
  • Live termites located in the wood elements.
  • Dead termites or their wings around windows, doors, heating vents, bathtubs and sinks.
  • Hollow sounding wood in the home’s walls.
  • Bulging walls caused by aboveground nests of certain termites.
  • Sawdust-like powder near the doors, windows, garage.
  • Very small holes in the wood inside or outside the house.
  • Paint that appears to be buckling on wood surfaces.
  • Small mud tubes on the inside or outside walls.

However, despite these signs and because of the stealth nature of termites, having a professional inspection by a licensed structural pest control inspector is the only way to know for certain if a termite problem exists. In fact, many lenders require a termite inspection before a home sale is finalized.

Inspectors will likely test for termites, as well as other wood-destroying organisms including carpenter ants, carpenter bees and powder post beetles.

Purchasing a home is a large financial investment, so don’t take a chance on an inspector who may not be thorough. Ask friends or real estate professionals not connected to the sale for a referral. You can also contact the American Society of Home Inspectors (http://www.ashi.com/) for a local referral.

Make sure that the inspector has current Liability Insurance Coverage, including Errors and Omissions or Malpractice Insurance Coverage to cover any negligence. Check the inspector’s license and any outstanding complaints through your state licensing agencies or state consumer protection agency. Get a written copy of the finished report.

The standard real estate a contract is contingent upon inspections, so if a termite issue is uncovered, you can generally be released from the contract or negotiation with the seller for repairs or a lower sale price.