CommunityTermite Damage Discovered in Newly Purchased House

Termite Damage Discovered in Newly Purchased House

Purchased an old Victorian in New Jersey. Got it inspected before we bought it. Now that we are moved in we have discovered significant damage due to termite damage. Estimates on damage that has been found so far is upwards of $20k. We have also discovered that the seller didn't disclose the termite activity and damage that had been repaired. I am not a litigious person, but what are my options. I feel that the seller and the inspector are in the wrong here. Thanks

The Money Pit Answer

Wow, that is incredibly bad news.  So sorry that you were not made aware of this before you purchased. 

While it certainly seems that both the home inspector and the home seller could have some responsibility here, let's review their individual responsibilities.

First, as for the home inspector, the standards of practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors identify what should and should not be covered as a part of a professional home inspection.  Structure is certainly part of those components, however, identifying structural defects is limited to what is "visible and accessible" at the time of inspection.  So, if the termite damage was in an area that was accessible and it was visible and not identified by the inspection, then the inspector might have some responsibility for missing it.  I would certainly reach out to the inspector immediately.  Let him know your concerns and ask for a meeting at your house so he can see it and respond to the issues.

Now as for the seller, if it can be proven that the seller knew the home had serious termite damage, and did not disclose it, then again, seller may have responsibility.  Any research you can do to determine the history of the infestation and any treatments that were done might be helpful in allowing you to assess this.  If there's a treatment history on paper, you may be able to show what the seller did or did not know.

In both cases, however, your best next step is to contact a lawyer to discuss how to proceed. 

2 Answers
bjloden answered 7 years ago

There are risks associated with any purchase but the risks of purchasing an older home will be much higher than a newer home and the risk of hidden termite damage in an old home is great. As a rule, anyone purchasing and older home in an area that is known to have termites, should accept that termites have been in the home at some time in the past and that there will in all likelihood be some degree of damage.

The amount damage may range from insignificant to major. Judging the amount of damage that may be present in any home is a difficult task because termites by their nature are secretive and can’t survive long periods exposed to an open environment.
As a result they do their best (or worst depending on your point of view) work hidden inside dark wall cavities. They are so difficult to detect it is not uncommon for termites to go undetected for months or even years before the homeowner discovers them.

In considering the responsibility of the home inspector, objectively consider whether the damage was visible at the time of the inspection without removing finishes such as paneling or wall board or removing insuluation from floors or ceilings. If the damage was not visible the inspector shouldn’t be held accountable for finding it.

Prior to consulting an attorney, I strongly recommend that you obtain an objective assessment of the damage to the home. It is unfortunate that there are contractors desperate for work who will recommend extensive repairs for insignificant problems.

I recommend you have a structural engineer who has no stake in making repairs, examine the damaged structural elements to see if the damage is indeed compromising the structure. The engineer can also determine the scope of the repairs.

Mamesman answered 7 years ago

I agree with bjloden’s comments, do your homework first! I am in Alaska and the state laws strictly prohibit a home inspector from “moving” anything, it is considered and invasive inspection method. Well, I move a lot of things, including insulation and personal belongings because I feel the home inspection is a service to the client that deserves a great degree of investigation! On the other hand, can’t see into the walls or any other closed cavities and that is where the Carpenter Ants (no termites here!) do their work mostly! Read the home inspectors contract closely, he may have a clause where he is only liable for the amount of the inspection fee, I don’t do that but a lot of them do. If not, he should man up and help with the solution. Maybe as simple as free inspections to make sure a contractor does not rip you off further.

Remember your minimum of 3 estimates for repairs, look at the differences and pick the best one. This may not be the lowest amount, rather the one with the best reputation. If there is a huge difference in prices to any of them, look harder at the closest range of prices and again, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!