termitesOops there goes another investment property

Causing more damage to Australian homes than fires, floods, storms and tempest combined, termites are property enemy number one. And the damage they cause is not covered by property insurance.

They may only be the size of half a match head but they have a voracious appetite that would put a Masterchef judge to shame and can devour a home in just three months…

Termites…White Ants…

Whatever you choose to call them – and regardless of which species are prevalent in your state/region – if they take up residence in an investment property you have a big problem.

According to the CSIRO, there are over 350 species of termites in Australia, of which 20 can damage timber in houses. Damp-wood, dry-wood or subterranean – Aussie termites are highly destructive to both homes and bank accounts.

The Australian Institute of Architects estimates that each year more than 130,000 Australian homes are damaged by termites, with an average repair bill topping $10,000 – that equates to almost $1.5 billion annually. The losses reported from termite damage are five times more than the losses seen from fire, flood and storms combined.

Termites never sleep and will chomp away at any cellulose (wood), including wall and roofing timbers, in a home 24/7. They eat through the centre of susceptible timbers, leaving nothing but a thin veneer of timber and/or paint behind – which also means that they often live in stealth and it isn’t until a thorough inspection is carried out that their presence is uncovered.

Another way an owner tends to find out they have a termite problem, is when the damage becomes obvious and for landlords it is sometimes when the resultant damage has led to a tenant injury.

It is important for both landlords and agents to be aware that property damage caused by termites is not covered in building policies. It is an across-the-board exclusion and means that an owner will be left footing repair costs.

With this in mind, being alert to the damage that can be caused by termites is wise. And as they say, an ounce of prevention…

  • Organise a thorough pest inspection prior to purchasing the investment property
  • Check what anti-termite protections are in place at the property and how frequently they must be renewed
  • Ensure annual pest inspections are carried out by qualified and licensed contractors
  • Look for tell-tale signs of termites during rent inspections:
    • trails of what looks like sawdust down walls or on floors (it may be termite droppings)
    • presence of flying termites (swarmers or alates) around light fittings, windows and doors, or finding broken wings
    • a clicking sound coming from inside the walls (it’s the solider termites banging their heads to alert the colony of danger) or a faint tapping or chewing noise behind plaster walls (that’s the worker termites munching away)
    • mud shelter tubes (or galleries) in brick foundations, door joins or in architraves, or mud trails leading up the sides of the buildings
    • hollow-sounding or papery timber, or cracks and fissures on the wood
    • damp areas or moisture stains on walls
    • sagging floors or doors, or soft floorboards
    • easily damaged skirting boards, door jams or architraves – blistering may be present
    • tight fitting doors or hard-to-open windows
    • cracks in cornices or door jams
    • cracked paint or plaster
  • If tenants raise concerns that there might be termite damage, act immediately to investigate, treat infestations and repair damage
  • Make the property less attractive to termites:
    • fix moisture problems like poor drainage, leaking pipes or inadequate ventilation (termites need moisture)
    • remove any wood that is in contact with the ground and close to the house
    • remove any wood, tiles, bricks etc. stacked up against the external walls of the house that may allow concealed entry
    • keep areas under the house clear
    • check the surrounds to ensure shrubs and garden beds are well clear of the building edge and not covering weep holes (the small gaps between bricks that let water drain out)

The fact is, termites have been around for more than 250 million years and for every human on earth there is estimated to be 1,000 pounds of termites – and each colony of termites can eat 1,000 pounds of wood a year – which means they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So be alert when it comes to termites – they can decimate an investment property before you know it.