You're about to spend a few hundred dollars on a home inspection, and now you have to decide: do I pay a little more to have my inspector check for termites? When you are buying a home, it can feel difficult to shell out more money for another service. So, what to do?
First, let's talk about what a termite inspection actually is. Most people, including real estate agents and loan officers, refer to it as a 'termite inspection,' but it is more properly referred to as a Wood Destroying Insect (WDI) inspection. When you ask your inspector to do a WDI inspection, they are going to look for termites, of course, but also for carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and powder post beetles. Each of these insects does a different type of damage to your home, and the evidence of their presence is often very difficult for untrained persons to identify. These inspections must also be performed in compliance with state codes, and (at least in Ohio) need to be recorded on a special, separate form that is approved by the state. Only someone who is licensed to perform the WDI inspection AND is specifically hired to do so is qualified to assess the presence of these insects.
With that in mind, let's turn to the answer.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to have your inspector perform a WDI inspection. There are very few circumstances where it might be a good idea to skip it. For example, if you are having an inspection performed on a new build, you probably do not need to spend the money on a WDI inspection, since it is unlikely that any of these pests will be present in the home after such a short time period. If the home you are purchasing has no wood trim on the exterior, no basement or crawlspace, and is made of brick, there is a good chance that you can get away with skipping the WDI inspection, although there is still a chance that they could be somewhere on the property where your inspector might find them.
Otherwise, you should probably go ahead and get the extra service. Here are a few reasons why:
Your loan may require it If you are getting a government subsidized loan, such as a VA loan, you may not have a choice. Under certain circumstances, your loan provider may demand that you get the inspection. Check with your loan officer if you are considering skipping the service.
Your inspector may not be allowed to comment on the presence of insects if you don't This one might sound strange, but "them's the rules," as they say. You may have heard that the government likes to get their share of a business' income, and one way Uncle Sam manages that is by regulations. Some inspectors may not comment on even obvious WDI damage or presence if they aren't filling out the NPMA-33 form that the state requires. I have heard buyers' friends, family, or even real estate agents tell them that they don't have to pay for the WDI inspection because the inspector will report any obvious termite or carpenter ant evidence anyway. This may not be the case, and it may not be the inspector's choice.
Your Inspector might find more issues with the home than they otherwise would have This extends beyond just the obvious WDI problems. If your inspector is specifically looking for insects, they may also find things that they weren't looking for. Everyone makes mistakes or passes over issues at times, so the more variety of things your inspector has to look at, the greater the odds that they will spot some small issue that might otherwise have been missed. For many inspectors, they will check for damage first, then go back over to check for insects. Occasionally, this will mean that your inspector will find something they might not have otherwise seen.
You might be protected by a warranty if your inspector performs a WDI inspection If you get the service and your inspector doesn't find any of these bugs, you may be covered by a warranty. In the state of Ohio, we have a lot of carpenter ants. In fact, when I perform a "termite inspection," the majority of the bugs I report are actually carpenter ants or carpenter bees. And the problem with these ants is that they are much more mobile than termites. If your inspector checks for bugs in February and does not find any, but you find carpenter ants in May, it probably is NOT the case that your inspector missed them. Rather, they may have moved in shortly after you did. Since they aren't paying rent, your warranty may cover their eviction.
There are a lot more WDIs than most people realize You probably guessed this one already, but it needs to be said. I have heard many people say that their house isn't that old, so they don't think they need a WDI inspection. As mentioned above, however, carpenter ants and carpenter bees in particular, are very mobile creatures. Even a home that is only a few years old may have one or more WDIs, and it is not often termites (at least in Central Ohio where I work). These carpenters, too, are harder to identify than termites. Most people can identify termite tubes with relative ease (although I often hear people misidentify mud dobber tubes as termite tubes), but carpenter ants leave a different sign altogether, and carpenter bees can sometimes only be found by looking for particular faint stains.
It is a paid service your inspector offers This one is just good practice. If your inspector offers WDI inspections, that means that they pay for regular training, they pay for their licensing, they pay for their forms, and they have invested time and effort learning to be good at what they do. If you want them to identify WDIs, it is only fair that you pay them for their expertise. You would not expect a real estate agent to list your house for free, or a lawyer to draft a document without compensation, and so on. Your inspector may very well identify WDIs without payment for that service, but you want to make sure they are being compensated fairly for the level of knowledge and detail they bring to your deal.
As you can see, there are many good reasons to get a WDI inspection. It is rare to have a good reason to skip one. If it is something your inspector offers, it is probably a good idea to avail yourself of that information. In the big picture of purchasing a home, that small extra fee is worth it.