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‘I’m so freaked out’: I’m buying a house, but the home inspector found dead cockroaches and rat droppings. Should I bail? 

I’m in escrow on a house I am buying, but I just had inspections done, and they found a dead German cockroach, as well as droppings and egg casings. 

The pest-control inspector seems to think it’s not an issue and says there is no obvious evidence of active infestation. But he did not check everywhere, and he was there primarily for termites. He also said that we will be fine after tenting the house and doing a quarterly spray. 

The owner moved out in October and the house has been empty since then, but there were some food scraps left behind the fridge. 

The pest guy also found one rat dropping in a closet, but he says it likely came from the attic, where other inspectors were checking the day before.

I’m so freaked out and I’m about to cancel this deal. This feels like I’m signing myself up for a horrific situation, but maybe I’m wrong and he’s right to say it’s no big deal. What do you think? I have no idea how common this is.

Grossed Out

The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Do you have a question about buying or selling a home? Do you want to know where your next move should be? Email Aarthi Swaminathan at TheBigMove@marketwatch.com.

Dear Grossed Out,

I share your sentiments — cockroaches are gross, and it surely must feel like a bad omen when you are this close to buying your home.

Roaches are not only icky, they’re dangerous. Because they can carry bacteria, they can spread diseases such as E. coli and salmonella, according to Pestworld.org. If you have kids, they’re also at greater risk of asthmatic illnesses from a cockroach allergy.

Depending on the severity of the infestation, the bugs and rats could be a solvable problem — or not. It’s not unusual to see pests in a home now and then, but it could definitely be a bigger issue if they multiplied during the time the home was sitting empty.

Raising the bug issue with the home seller

Before you bail on the house, inform the seller’s attorney of the problem, and seek help from a pest-control service to identify the source and the scale of the infestation.

The seller may also be able to provide important information. Does the house have a history of pests? How did the previous owner address the problem? 

Consider hiring a second pest inspector and go through every nook and cranny of the house with them, this time with a notebook and pen, and write down every location where you think these rodents and roaches can enter. Make sure the inspector does a thorough job, and keep a log of any evidence of pests you see. 

If the expert says that the problem is widespread, or you see evidence of a severe infestation, raise the issue with the seller and your agent, and negotiate to see if anything can be done in terms of compensation. Could the seller lower the asking price to reflect how much it would cost you to fix the bug issue? Or could they fix the problem before you move ahead with the purchase? 

Now for some bad news. Thai Hung Nguyen, a real-estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Premier, told MarketWatch that based on what he’s seen with home inspectors and pest exterminators, rodent infestation can sometimes be untreatable. 

“They are animals that live outside of your home and get attracted to your home by two main elements: source of food and source of heat,” Thai said. “In the spring and the fall, this is when they are very active, looking for food and heat. Make sure to eliminate these two sources that attract them and exterminate those that already got inside your home.”

Getting your money back if you back out

If you decide to back out of the deal, whether or not you get your escrow money back will depend on whether you waived your inspection contingency. If the home has significant problems and you did not waive the contingency, you can back out of the deal without penalty within a certain period of time.

If you did not waive the home-inspection contingency, find out whether the deadline for your inspection to be complete has passed. If it has not yet passed, you can talk to the seller about backing out. 

But if you opted to waive the inspection contingency, you likely won’t be able to back out of the purchase contract and get your earnest money back, according to legal-information publisher Nolo

Weighing your options in a competitive market

At the same time, backing out of the deal and going through the entire house-hunting process again in order to find a bug-free or a rodent-free home could be time-consuming and expensive.

With mortgage rates falling, you’re likely to face more competition on the market for homes. Remember the pandemic buying frenzy, when people were waiving home inspections to win offers? You might be facing similar competition if you go back to the drawing board.

Ultimately, Thai said, if it’s a good deal, don’t let it go. “I would spend some time, effort and money to treat this issue prior to moving in,” he said. “Remember to take care of this issue prior to moving in so you will enjoy [the home]. The longer you delay the treatment, the worse it will get.”

And “for those who haven’t had this issue yet,” he said, “when you move into a house, newly built or not, make sure you check around your house to ensure your house is well sealed and blocked off so you won’t have any issues in the future.”

If you want to do it yourself, find the best chemical that will get rid of the infestation. Some experts recommend sprinkling boric acid in corners and floors, but this may not be an option if you have kids or pets who could accidentally come into contact with the chemical. Seal any cracks and crevices that the pests may be getting into the house through, and fix any leaks. And set traps and bait to catch any rodents or roaches that are already inside.

But the wisest course of action is probably to hire a pest-control expert, and take your cue from them.

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