A recent column on structural and pest inspections brought these no-holds-barred comments from a reader in the Sacramento, Calif., suburb of Carmichael:

"Having bought and sold several homes, I have found that termite companies get you coming and going.

"Once they have written up a problem, they will tell you that they — and only they — must issue the clearance. If you opt to have someone else do the work, you will still need the termite company to reinspect and clear the work. Another fee is billed for that.

"If you get a second termite company to do an inspection, you are now responsible for clearing what they find, and what the other company found, even if bogus. Then, if you use the termite company to do the repairs, they come out, tear out the old stuff and disappear for weeks, fouling up your closing.

"I am sure there are strictly ethical termite companies out there, but I haven’t found one yet."

While we understand her frustration, we don’t agree with many of her comments. Lke all businesses, some termite companies are better than others.

Most real estate purchase contracts require a clearance. A second termite inspection, if you choose to get one, is simply a check on the first inspection. The second inspector is being asked to verify the findings of the first. Repair of bogus findings is not required.

Selling a home is a stressful experience that can bring huge surprises costing thousands of dollars. That does not mean termite companies are unethical or scam artists, but it does mean they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to required repairs.

A little knowledge about the process goes a long way. Here are our "pearls of wisdom" on dealing with termite inspections:

There are two parts to a structural and pest control inspection called Section I and Section II.

To quote from a recent inspection report on a home in Hayward, Calif., "Section I contains items where there is evidence of active infestation, infection or conditions that have resulted in or from active infestation or infection." These must be corrected in order for the company to provide a clearance.

In this case, the inspector found evidence of dry-wood termite infestation and fungus/dry rot in rafter tails. He recommended fumigation and replacement/repair of the rafter tails.

The report said, "Section II items are conditions deemed likely to lead to infestation or infection but where no visible evidence of such was found."

The inspector found that there was some damage to the kitchen floor vinyl and the siding needed painting. These items do not require repair for a clearance.

Be there when the inspection takes place, and walk and crawl with the inspector. Ask questions and have him or her show you the evidence of damage or the conditions that are likely to lead to damage. Do this and you will understand the items called out in the report.

The inspector will do a lot of poking at the wood members. It should be evident where problems are because the probe (screwdriver or ice pick) easily sinks into punky wood. Beetle-infested wood leaves holes. Subterranean termites leave mud tunnels from the ground to the wood members. Dry-wood termites leave pellets (excrement) where they’ve been.

Curled bathroom vinyl or loose shower tiles can mean water damage to framing members.

An experienced inspector develops a sixth sense for problem areas. Kevin once represented the seller of a house in San Leandro, Calif. It was immaculate. The seller was proud of repairing the cripple walls and mudsills visible in the basement.

The work was new and well done. But the house had a flat roof with parapet walls. The inspector knew from experience these homes had problems in the walls because the roof was prone to leak. Sure enough, two of the four parapet walls were riddled with dry rot.

The homeowner often can do some of the work but should talk to the inspector first to verify what he or she will clear.

For example, to repair the rafter tails mentioned above the bid was to chisel away the damaged wood, fill with plastic wood filler (Bondo works great), then prime and paint. Anyone reasonably handy can do this.

Some of the work can be hired out, but don’t use a handyman — too much liability. While it’s true that normally any work valued at less than $500 does not require a contractor license, California’s Business and Professional Code prohibits unlicensed people from working on a house to be sold.

Use a licensed, bonded and insured contractor, and ask him or her to coordinate with the termite inspector to make sure the scope of the work is understood.

There will be a reinspection fee by the termite company if others do the work. In the case of the Hayward report discussed above, the reinspection fee is $150.

It’s reasonable in this instance for the company to waive the reinspection fee if the homeowner does part of the work under the inspector’s guidance and the termite company does the rest.

The bottom line: Be an informed consumer. Ask questions and press to understand the process.

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