Updated for 2020

Purchasing a Home?
Don’t Overlook Pest Problems Beyond Termites

When you’re looking at purchasing a home, everything may appear fine during your first look through the property. However, it’s crucial that you look inside and out to make sure the home you’re buying doesn’t have any pests residing in it before you do. Also, realtors are responsible for looking for pest issues before the home is put on the market.

Termites are one of the more common pests you may think about when purchasing a home—largely due to the extreme structural issues they can cause—but there are dozens of other pests you can’t afford to overlook during this process.

A 2013 survey revealed that 84 percent of homeowners experienced a pest problem over the last 12 months. Many of these issues stemmed from pests other than termites, such as ants, mosquitoes, flies, rodents, and others. Let’s discuss which pests you should look out for when purchasing a new home, how to identify them, the problems they cause, and how you can perform a thorough search.

Top Pest Problems Beyond Termites and How To Identify Them

Aside from termites, there are many pests that you may find when purchasing a home. If left untreated, these pests can cause thousands of dollars of damage to the structure of your home and your belongings. They can also carry diseases that affect you, your children, and your pets. Let’s discuss what kind of pests you can find when looking for a new home:

Rodents

Rodents like rats and mice are some of the biggest pest problems in the United States, especially in large, populous areas like the metro areas of New York City, Houston, and Chicago. About 30 percent of U.S. homeowners have experienced a rodent problem, according to a 2012 survey.

Problems Caused by Rodents

The problems rodents cause is multifold. They will eat just about anything and will go through a lot of things to reach the food they want, too. This can lead to a lot of structural damage because they will eat through wires, walls, packages, and more.

If there is any silver lining about a rodent problem, it’s that they’re pretty easy to identify, both in their size and the hints they leave around.

Aside from birds, rodents are probably the largest type of pest that will infest a home. They are easy to see, and you may even hear them moving around or squeaking in and around the home.

Rodent Damage Signs

  • Exposed, gnawed-through cables and wires
  • Holes chewed through the wall
  • Droppings inside cabinets, pantries, and under the sink
  • Unopened food packages gnawed open (though you may not see this if the house is empty)

Rodent FAQs

What Diseases Do Rodents Carry?
Rodents can also carry dozens of diseases including but not limited to:

  • Tularemia
  • Hantavirus
  • The plague
  • Salmonellosis
How Much Damage Do Rodents Cause?
Rodents cause billions of dollars of damage through food waste and structural damage every year. The Indiana State Department of Health says that rodents contaminate (and lead to the waste of) up to 20 percent of all food every year. It’s hard to put an exact dollar amount on that. They can also lead you to need to replace electrical lines, walls, and more if they contaminate and chew through enough stuff.
How to Get Rid of Rats
If you’ve discovered signs of rats in your home, you should act quickly to mitigate the damage and prevent future infestations.

Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Rats to learn more.

How to Get Rid of Mice
Mice can bring a host of health hazards with them when they invade your home, not to mention the damage they leave behind. This is why it is imperative to deal with any ongoing mice infestations and to take the necessary steps for preventing their return.

Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Mice to learn more about getting rid of and preventing mice in your home.

Birds

Whether it’s a robin, blue jay, crow, or any other type of bird commonly found across the country, these animals can be found nearly everywhere. However, the one place they should not be is inside a home, where they can build a nest on the roof or within the walls.

Problems Caused by Birds

Primarily, birds can cause structural damage to your home. When they build nests on structures, they don’t often build them right at your doorstep, though you may occasionally find one there if you hang shrubbery or wreaths.

They will build nests in places like gutters, vents, ledges, and unused chimneys. They can also nest up inside the structure of a home if there are any significant cracks that allow smaller birds to sneak inside. When built in these spots, they can cause clogs, property damage, and contaminate the air and water system in the home.

Birds can also spread disease like encephalitis and Newcastle disease virus. Other pests, which we will discuss soon, can latch onto birds and make their way to a yard and home, too. Additionally, birds can cause aesthetic issues through their droppings. In addition to being unsightly, these droppings can also be contaminated with disease.

Where to Check for Bird Damage

  • The gutters around the house
  • Any ventilation on the roof, such as the chimney
  • In the vegetation extremely close to your home
  • In the garage
  • If any birds are flying to the top of the home or any other hard-to-see areas

Bird FAQs

How Much Damage Do Birds Cause?
While birds don’t often cause problems that lead to major monetary issues, if left unattended for long periods of time, birds can cause you to have to pay to have your gutters completely cleared out or replaced. You may also need to clean your roof or, far worse, replace it.
How to Get Rid of Birds
Before acting on a bird problem, it’s important to know that most birds in the U.S. are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty and Endangered Species Act. Only three types of birds qualify as “pest” birds: the pigeon, the house sparrow, and the European starling.

If you are dealing with a pest bird, read our guide on How To Get Rid of Birds to learn more about treatments and prevention.

Ants

signs of ant damage
In small numbers, ants can’t cause many extreme issues, However, if colonies of ants populate the inside and outside of your home, they can lead to issues to the structure and anyone inside it.

There are types of ants that chew through objects, including wires and wood, to get to their food, which cause cause structural and appearance issues to a home. You can also experience allergic reactions to ant bites if they occur, and they include headaches, extreme swelling, and cramps.

Problems Caused by Ants

In small numbers, ants can’t cause many extreme issues, However, if colonies of ants populate the inside and outside of your home, they can lead to issues to the structure and anyone inside it.

There are types of ants that chew through objects, including wires and wood, to get to their food, which cause cause structural and appearance issues to a home. You can also experience allergic reactions to ant bites if they occur, and they include headaches, extreme swelling, and cramps.

Ant Infestation Signs

  • Light rustling noise in the walls
  • Small holes found in silk or nylon
  • Damage to wood structures

Ant FAQs

How Much Damage Do Ants Cause?
In terms of structural damage, the ant you need to worry about most is the carpenter ant. They feed off dead and rotting wood, which means they can turn an already-bad issue into a worse one. Their damage looks similar to that of termites. Overall, ants cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage every year based on how they impact structures and food.
How To Identify Ant Damage
The primary way to identify an ant issue is catching them in the act. Ants work together in an extremely organized fashion. They take turns bringing food back to the colony, so you may find them in a trail—almost like a single-file line—at work.

That trail will also lead to a food source and the colony, where you can find which type of ant you’re dealing with and, eventually, how to solve the issue. Ants will make their home in trees, soil, the inside of your home, the cracks of pavement, and just about anywhere they can fit a colony.

How to Get Rid of Ants
Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Ants to learn more about ant treatments and prevention.

Moths

moth damage
Moths are an insect sometimes mistaken for butterflies, which makes sense because they are related to the beautiful winged creatures. Despite their assumed innocence based on their inability to bite—adult moths don’t have mouths—moths can cause problems when they reside in a home.

Problems Caused by Moths

While moths aren’t known as significant spreaders of disease, they can still create issues in a home by damaging your clothing and other items. When moths are in the larvae stage, they feed on animal fibers.

Once they’re adults, moths move onto plants and begin to eat those.

Moths lay about 50 eggs per day for a period of two-to-three weeks if left unattended. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed for about 10 days. That means there could be thousands of larvae feeding on your clothing or a patch of carpet if they aren’t taken care of.

Moth Damage Signs

  • Holes in clothing and/or upholstery containing animal fibers such as Leather, Wool, Silk, Felt and Fur

Moth FAQs

How to Identify Moths
Adult versions of moths that can fly aren’t the ones doing the damage; it’s the younger version without the wings. Like butterflies, moths start in a caterpillar-like larval state before becoming a winged insect. When in this larvae stage, some of their characteristics include:

  • About a half-inch long
  • White or slightly translucent
  • A brown end (that’s the head)
  • A small black vein down the middle, which is their digestive tract
  • Look like they’re wrapped in the fabric they’re feeding on

Moth larvae leave waste, too, which look like small, greyish pellets. They won’t eat through an entire shirt or sweater, but the damage will show face in small holes throughout the article of clothing. The holes could be as small as centimeters wide or as big as a couple inches.

If there are adult moths flying around inside a home, that’s a hint there are larvae—or at least eggs—around, too. And while there may not be any clothes present in a new house to reveal a moth problem, inspect any carpeting for them.

How Much Damage Do Moths Cause?
Thankfully, moths will not cause any real bodily harm. However, the clothes and carpet they damage can fall on the more expensive range of the spectrum and cost you thousands of dollars. Clothes that are in storage, such as in an attic or the back of the closet, are the most at-risk and could have significant damage if left unattended.

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are often thought of as problems you may face when traveling. However, you may be just as likely to encounter bed bugs in a home than in a hotel or motel room, and they’re a disgusting and potentially dangerous problem to have if you do find them in a home.

Problems Caused by Bed Bugs

Bed bugs feed on human blood to survive and reproduce. Despite often being in contact with humans, they aren’t known to spread disease.

At their worst, bed bugs cause a severe allergic reaction that results in itching, scratching, and pain near the bite mark. Treatment typically includes anti-itch lotions and creams, or you can take a pain reliever to reduce swelling if necessary.

Bed Bug Infestation Signs

  • Small red or brown spots on bedding and / or mattresses
  • A row or zig-zag of itchy bites near the neck, back, arms, and legs
  • A musty odor in the home

Bed Bug FAQs

How to Identify Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are incredibly difficult to see individually. In large bunches, however, they become easier to spot and will resemble a larger black mass. Because they’re so small (around 3-4 millimeters each), you’ll need to inspect the following areas to find them:

  • Within and on the surface of mattresses, box springs, headboards, and other parts of the bed
  • Near outlets and air conditioning vents
  • On and below couches
  • In the crevices of drawers
  • Inside closet and storage areas
Identifying Bed Bug Bites
If you have been bit by a bed bug, look out for the following signs:

  • Pain near the bite area
  • A row or zig-zag of bites near the neck, back, arms, and legs
  • A burning sensation near the bite area
How Much Damage Do Bed Bugs Cause?
Bed bugs won’t cause any damage to the structure of your home, but an infestation can lead to some serious monetary issues. To eradicate these pests, you’ll need to either perform a very deep clean of the area or potentially replace anything they have touched. This could result in thousands of dollars spent on professional treatment in addition to new furniture and carpets.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
A bed bug infestation is notoriously difficult to eradicate, even if you’ve followed all of the prescribed prevention methods.

Adept at hiding in beds, furniture, and the various cracks and crevices that appear in any home, these pests reproduce at lightning speed and lay eggs that resist most types of treatment. This usually means several rounds of treatment to get rid of the current population as well as concerted efforts to update your environment and make it far less bed bug-friendly.

Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs for step-by-step bed bug treatment and prevention methods.

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Fleas

get rid of fleas
You may not know there’s a flea infestation until it is too late because of how small they are. This is why you need to make sure there are no fleas inside a vacant home before you move in.

Problems Caused by Bed Fleas

Fleas just don’t affect you; they affect your pets, too. Fleas feed off blood, which means they can transmit diseases. Also, they can cause less severe symptoms such as itchy and flaky skin, hot and burning red spots on the skin, and anemia. These symptoms and diseases can appear in both humans and pets.

Flea Infestation Signs

  • Excessive scratching in pets
  • Presence of flea “dirt” or feces
  • Red, irritated skin

Flea FAQs

What Diseases do Fleas Transmit?
  • Lyme disease
  • The plague
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia
Identifying Flea Damage in the Home
Fleas reproduce very quickly and live for a short period of time. They are also extremely small and difficult to identify in small numbers with the naked eye. One flea is no bigger than the tip of the pen. You’ll need to do some real digging if you want to identify fleas, and here’s how you can do it around the home:

  • Check under rugs and carpet
  • Check under cushions and sofas (if there’s furniture in the home)
  • Look around the patio and front porch
  • Check the bases of trees and any cluttered areas
Identifying Fleas on Humans and Pets
To identify fleas on pets and yourself, do the following:

  • Use a fine-tooth comb and sift through the fur or hair and check the comb for any presence of fleas
  • When cleaning the comb off with soapy water, the water will turn red if there is evidence of flea droppings
  • Use tweezers and a comb to lift up the hair to search individual areas that you or your dog may have been scratching at incessantly
How to Get Rid of Fleas
Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Fleas for step-by-step bed bug treatment and prevention methods.

Ticks

identifying ticks
Ticks are similar to fleas in that they suck blood of a host to survive, but remnants of tick bites hurt much more and the diseases they transfer can develop much more severely.

How Much Damage Do Ticks Cause?

Ticks (and the diseases they carry) send thousands of humans and pets to the hospital every year, resulting in millions of dollars of medical bills. Ticks rarely result in the death of a human or animals, if treated in a timely manner. Millions more are spent on tick prevention. Thankfully, ticks don’t cause any damage to the structure of a home, however if an infestation get severe enough, it may result in needing to replace certain areas.

Identifying Ticks

  • Ticks grow to no larger than a few millimeters long
  • Grow larger the longer they live and consume blood
  • Tick bites leave red marks which can become irritated

Tick FAQs

Problems Caused by Ticks
Ticks are a large transmitter of diseases such as:

  • Lyme disease
  • Tularemia
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Anaplasmosis
How to Remove a Tick
When discovered on humans or pets, ticks should be removed as soon as possible. To remove a tick, follow these steps:

  1. Using a pair of tweezers, gently grab the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible. Be sure not to squeeze the tick.
  2. Gently pull the tick up and away from the skin. Move slowly and do not twist while pulling.
  3. Once the tick is removed, check the bite area to make sure nothing has been left in the skin.
  4. Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water.
How to Get Rid of Ticks
Ticks are unpleasant pests that can be dangerous to both humans and animals. If you’ve discovered ticks around your home, you should take quick action to remove them before they end up feasting on you or your pets.

To learn more about treating and preventing ticks around your home, read our guide on How To Get Rid of Ticks.

Mosquitoes & Flies

Mosquitoes and flies can be found all around the home, both outside and inside, especially during the warm and humid months. Of all pests, these affect humans the most on a global scale and can result in severe illness or death.

Problems Caused by Mosquitoes & Flies

Mosquitoes kill more people every year than any other animal combined and infect millions of people every year on top of that. On the other hand, flies also spread illnesses like dysentery and food poisoning. The size of these pests and their mobility allow them to spread illnesses with ease through biting and also simply coming in contact with you.

Flies vs. Mosquitoes

  • Flies and mosquitoes come from the same order of insect, but they are different species
  • Flies & mosquitoes both have 6 legs, but mosquito legs are longer
  • Mosquitoes like to hover and breed near bodies of water, while flies are attracted to rotting vegetation and plant sugars
  • Mosquitoes bite and flies don’t. Mosquitoes need blood to survive, so if you see them latched onto skin, it’s a mosquito

Mosquito & Fly FAQs

What Diseases Do Flies & Mosquitoes Spread?
Flies spread the following diseases and illnesses:

  • Dysentery
  • Tularemia
  • Cholera
  • Leprosy
  • Tuberculosis

As for mosquitoes, they spread the following:

  • West Nile virus
  • Encephalitis
  • Malaria
  • Dengue fever
  • Chikungunya
How Much Damage Do Flies & Mosquitoes Cause?
Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to control mosquitoes and flies. Millions more are spent treating the illnesses and diseases they spread.
How to Get Rid of Flies
There many treatment methods available for dealing with a fly infestation. To learn more about treating and preventing flies in your home, read our guide on How To Get Rid of Flies.
How to Get Rid of Mosquitoes
There are many methods for repelling mosquitoes and reducing mosquito populations near your home, but some are more effective than others. Read our guide on How To Get Rid of Mosquitoes to learn more.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and they will be living on Earth as long as humans are inhabiting it (and probably longer). Nevertheless, they shouldn’t be inhabiting your home.

How To Identify Cockroaches

Unfortunately, the primary way of identifying cockroaches is by seeing their bodies crawling across the floor, walls, countertops, in cabinets, and just about anywhere they want. They’re typically seen at night, so you may find them when entering rooms and turning the lights on before they scurry away. Cockroaches will climb anywhere and on anything, whether a human is present or not. They’re pretty identifiable to the naked eye when they are hatched, too, and actually resemble small ticks.

Signs of Cockroaches

  • Dead cockroach carcasses
  • Loose parts of their bodies, like legs, antlers, and wings
  • Droppings left in a trail
  • A slimy substance left in a trail

Cockroach FAQs

What Problems Do Cockroaches Cause?
Cockroaches can cause a slew of health issues. You may not even know cockroaches are present before they start affecting your health. The ways cockroaches can affect your health include:

  • Allergic reactions: Dust from cockroaches, like their droppings and loose body parts, can enter the air and cause bouts of sneezing, coughing, and wheezing.
  • Asthma: If the dust is present for long enough, it can adversely affect people with asthma and result in extreme bouts of bronchitis, breathing issues, and inflamed airways.
  • Diseases: Cockroaches are a transmitter of diseases and bacteria like salmonella, E. coli,. Listeriosis, the plague, and many others. Whereas the other health issues can be contracted through the air, cockroaches transmit disease by coming in contact with food directly or surfaces that haven’t been cleaned before food comes in contact with them.
What Attracts Cockroaches?
Cockroaches feed off dirt, leftover food, and standing water. Make sure countertops, the sink, floors, drains, and the trash are scrubbed clean before going to bed, especially after preparing food.
How Much Damage Do Cockroaches Cause?
While cockroaches don’t cause any physical damage to your home, they can cause damage by infecting food and sending you to the hospital. It’s not exactly convenient to try to get rid of cockroaches, either, so it’s important to make sure a home isn’t infested with cockroaches before purchasing one.
How to Get Rid of Cockroaches?
The two most common methods for getting rid of cockroaches include baiting and the use of chemicals.

While both can be effective, you should choose the one that is best for your home environment and the most useful against the specific cockroach species invading it. Read How To Get Rid of Roaches to learn more.

Tips For Inspecting a Home for Pests

When it comes to buying a home, you need to know how to inspect the house and property to make sure pests aren’t roaming around. Sure, the realtor and previous owner may have done their own sweep or promised that there aren’t any pest issues, but it’s best to see for yourself.

Tips for inspecting your home for pets include:

  1. Check for any dead pests indoors: Carcasses/bodies of dead pests are one of the clearest indications that there is or was some sort of pest infestation in the home. Make sure to find out if some kind of treatment occurred and if the infestation is indeed remedied.
  2. Keep the tell-tale signs of pests in mind: Pest remnants like poop, carcasses, webs, and nests are important to keep in mind when looking in each room of a potential home. Also remember what types of remnants are attributed to what pest, because it may lead you to check out other areas.
  3. Use your nose: Smell around the home for any foul or unfamiliar smells. Pests and their slime and excrement have a distinct, foul odor that can easily give away an infestation.
  4. Browse near cracks in walls, baseboards, and windows: Beyond being a stylistic issue, cracks around various parts of the home provide an easy entryway for pests in and out of your home. While pests may live in your yard during the summer, they will want to make their way inside somehow when the weather gets warm. These cracks—even the smallest ones—allow them to do that.
  5. Use a flashlight: When looking inside the attic or a darker room with no windows, use a flashlight to check for aforementioned issues like cracks, dead and live pests, and excrement.
  6. Check outside for clutter: Clutter around the home like dead or uncut shrubbery, piles of leaves, and a generally untidy yard can offer pests a perfect breeding ground. Many pests like ticks, fleas, roaches, and ants love these dark, cool areas to lay their eggs. The more clutter there is around the home, the more space there is for them to reproduce.
  7. Browse the outer layer of the home: While you may find small cracks inside of the home, you should also inspect the outer layer of the home for any possible entryways, which may be larger than a simple crack. Large openings allow bigger pests like birds and rodents to enter the structure of your home.
You may also want to consider asking a pest professional to perform an inspection of the house and property to make sure there aren’t any lingering issues. They can inform you about how the yard, structure, and climate may play a role in future pest problems, too.

The Bottom Line

If you have any other questions regarding pest problems when buying a home, contact a local pest professional, especially if you are new to the area. Also, be transparent with your realtor and let them know you are interested in scouting the house for pests. They should allow you to perform your own search or hire someone to help you identify any problem areas that need to be fixed before you buy the home.

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