Rats, mice, moths, beetles, woodworm… they all mean big bills or more expensive insurance
Have you experienced strange rustlings in the night? An increasing number of people are waking to the unnerving sound of rats and mice scratching around their homes, according to pest control firm Rentokil. It says it experienced a 31% rise in call-outs for rodent infestations in October compared with September, and a 25% increase on October 2011, as the four-legged menaces rushed indoors to shelter from the wintery cold snap.
While such statistics are generated from the huge machine marked PR, pest infestations by rodents, moths and woodworm – the larvae of several different sorts of beetle, but most frequently the common furniture beetle – can blight the lives of families, prove costly to homeowners, and even render homes unsellable. Local authority pest controllers carried out 715,297 treatments for various infestations in 2010-2011.
At this time of year, when cold weather forces rats and mice indoors to nest and forage for food, infestations can rocket, with rodents spreading disease as well as causing damage by chewing through wiring, timber, pipes and brickwork. Colm Moore, technical manager at Rentokil Pest Control, says: “As temperatures dropped during October, we saw a significant increase in the number of homes with rodent infestations. Rodents are not only unhygienic, but also dangerous, in some cases starting residential fires by chewing through wires.”
The bad news is that most insurers will not cover homeowners for damage caused by pests, though they will consider paying out on that caused by other wild animals. Quotemehappy.com, for example, insures for loss or damage caused by wild animals providing they are not classed as moth, vermin or insects. So if a stag headbutts your window and smashes it to pieces, you’d be covered; if a rat nibbles your expensive Persian rug you’re on your own.
Some firms will insure your home if you take out a more expensive policy. For example, esure offers a pest cover add-on that covers a wasp or hornet nest or an infestation of rats, mice, grey squirrels or bed bugs. Similarly, Aviva does not offer pest cover as standard but its high net worth policy “Distinct” (which covers contents worth from £75,000) will cover people for the removal of pests and vermin from their property. “If you have a problem with rats, black or brown, or house mice, field mice, wasps or hornets we have a specialist company who will come in and remove the pests for you,” an Aviva spokesman said.
While most insurers will not cover vermin damage, consequent damage, such as a fire or flood caused by vermin chewing through a pipe or wire, can be protected. But you’ll still have to pay for a pest control firm and they aren’t cheap. While you can buy your own traps and devices to deal with certain pests on the cheap, professional fees for dealing with infestations can cost as much as £500 or more if repeat visits are required. Then there’s the cost of repairing structural damage or replacing damaged furniture, clothes and textiles.
Although many pests can be active all year round, there are certain times when they can be more problematic than others. April is ant month, while moths can cause grief in May, and woodworm in June. Flying ant day is most likely to fall in July, while wasps buzz particularly loudly in August. For rodents, October/November is their time to invade.
Rodents may be dealt with using traps or poison, but woodworm is another matter. People usually only know how bad it is once a specialist has drawn up a report. In most cases it can be dealt with by spray treatment and the subsequent 20- to 30-year guarantee means the value of their home is not affected. But in severe cases it can have a huge effect on the saleability of a property.
Sheila Brough lives in a 200-year-old historic house in Ravenstone, near Coalville, Leicestershire. When she decided to sell in early-2012, the property survey carried out by the buyer found that two major structural support beams were riddled with woodworm.
“I was very surprised to find out that I’d been living with this woodworm problem since I moved into the house over a year ago,” Brough said. “The structural damage and the ongoing woodworm activity meant that I couldn’t sell the house until the problem was fixed.”
Brough had to have the damaged timber replaced and the rest treated with an insecticide which penetrates the wood and kills the larvae, providing long-term protection against future insect attack. Brough said: “I’ve now received an offer on the house from a potential buyer, and I’m pleased that I don’t have to worry about the sale falling through due to problems with the property.”
Rentokil says a typical treatment such as that at Brough’s home starts at £400, although the damage to the timber in her home cost considerably more.
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The flipside is that those considering a property purchase with evidence of rat or mice infestation can demand, on average, a 9% reduction in asking price – equivalent to almost £22,000 off the average asking price for a UK property.
But negotiating a discount on the price might not be a buyer’s only problem. Charles Lewis, chartered surveyor at Fredericks Hearl and Gray, says: “If such issues are picked up by the valuer, they would advise the lender to insist on a specialist report as a condition of the mortgage. Depending on the result, a retention might be put on the loan until any eradication work is carried out and verified.”
Buying agent Gabby Adler adds: “In a recent search for a client, evidence of woodworm throughout the house came up on the survey. The seller was not aware of this problem when they put the house on the market but did agree to cover the cost of fumigation. Had the seller not been so accommodating, the purchase is unlikely to have gone through as the cost of repair was quite extensive.
“Evidence of rodents and woodworm is extremely common in period properties and can usually be dealt with quite easily, but because of the nature of the problem it does put a lot of buyers off. As with any other property defect, when it comes to selling your home the more open and accommodating the seller can be, the higher the chance they will not put buyers off.”
So next time you see holes in your timber, brush a tiny moth from your jumper or see a mouse scamper along the skirting board – think about your wallet.
By Mark King, The Guardian