Successful House Hunting: How to Detect Mice or Rats in a for Sale Home

All U.S. states, including California, have mandated home seller disclosure requirements, information that must be made available to a prospective buyer by operation of law. Indeed, the California real estate disclosure requirements are more comprehensive than what exists in nearly all other states in the country. With that noted, California arguably has not been as aggressive when it comes to one aspect of disclosure. The area of lag involves disclosure of pests on the premises of a home for sale. Indeed, only in 2019 did California create a specific disclosure requirement for bedbugs.

Disclosure limitations underscore the need for you to undertake true due diligence when in the market for a home. This includes being on the lookout for signs of existing or prior rodent infestation in a house you are contemplating purchasing.

General Catchall Disclosure

Having noted limitations on specific homeowner disclosures that lawfully must be made, there is a general catchall provision in the law that arguably does mandate disclosure of a prior or existing issue with mice or rats in a residence. The law mandates disclosure of anything that reasonably would have a material impact on a prospective buyer’s decision to purchase a residence. The presence of an existing rodent issue may give you pause. Moreover, if you have a basic understanding of the hazards associated with a rodent issue – a mouse or rat infestation – a prior rodent situation should also raise red flags. In other words, even in the absence of a specific disclosure directive, a rodent issue is something that would have a material impact on a purchasing decision.

Nonetheless, it’s worth emphasizing that you must undertake solid, comprehensive, due diligence in regard to the potential for a rodent issue when considering the purchase of a home.

Specific Signs of Residential Rodent Infestation

At the heart of the due diligence process when house hunting is understanding the primary warning signs that rodents are or have been within a residence.  These fundamental signs are:

  • Droppings. Rodent dropping certainly are not apt to be visible in main areas of a residence. If you actually spot droppings along walls or in carpeting in a house, that is a red flag of more than just a rodent issue. It arguably is a sign of a homeowner who doesn’t care about maintaining a property in a proper way. When looking through a residence, check storage closets (not only for space and amenities but for any indication of rodent droppings. You will also want to check in utility rooms, cellars, basements, crawl spaces, and attics. The garage is yet another location in which you will want to keep your eyes peeled for rodent droppings.
  • Gnaw marks. Rodents are defined in part by the fact that they have incisors that never stop growing. Thus, they gnaw on items of all types to file their teeth. In addition, they chew on things to gain passage from one location to another and to create nesting material. Thus, be on the lookout for gnaw marks in areas like baseboards. You will also want to check closely for gnaw marks along the base of exterior walls to a residence you are considering buying.
  • Urine smell. If you experience an odor in a residence that vaguely smells like urine, this is also a sign of a potential rodent issue – or of a dire sewage issue.

Rodents primarily are nocturnal animals. Thus, you are not likely to see a mouse or rat in an infested house. Nor are you likely to hear them during a showing. With that said, the three common sounds associated with a rodent issue in a house are:

  • Squealing
  • Scratching
  • Scurrying

Ask Pointed Questions

When house hunting, you need to be fearless in asking pointed questions about a property. Being bold and direct isn’t rude, it is necessary. On your list of direct queries needs to be those associated with potential rodent issues at the residence. These include questions about the existence of rodents in the property at the current time. Moreover, these questions need to include those about whether there have been issues with rodents in the house or on the property in the past, what type of rodent was involved, and when this issue arose or occurred.

Obtain a Thorough Home Inspection

Before signing a contract, you need to make certain to obtain a thorough home inspection. You need to include a close examination for evidence of existing or previous rodent infestation in the premises as part of that process. A skilled inspector will be able to ascertain if and when rodents have occupied the premises.

Why It Matters – Understanding the Importance of Knowing a House’s “Rodent History”

There are four major reasons why you must know the “rodent history” of a property you consider purchasing. First, the presence of rodents in a property can impact the value of the home itself. In other words, if you discover after a sale that there were rodent issues at a property in the past, this reality can negatively impact the value of the property itself. If you are like most people, your home is your most significant financial investment and the last thing you need is for its value to be decreased by a rodent problem that existed or started before you took over ownership of the property.

Second, admittedly this phrase may sound juvenile, but it’s accurate. You need to know whether there has been a rodent issue in a home you intend to buy because mice and rats scurrying about the premises “are gross.” Knowing that rodents have been or are in the property can reduce your enjoyment of the residence by their very existence.

Third, a rodent infestation can result in serious physical damage to a residence. As mentioned earlier, rodents gnaw. Over time – and not a considerable amount of time – rodents can damage walls and other structural elements of a home. They can damage other items as well with their incessant gnawing.

Their chewing endeavors are likely to include wires and other items related to a residential electrical system. A shocking fact is that about 25 percent of all residential fires are the result of damage caused by rodents to a home’s residential system. For example, rodents chew through wire covering, leaving these electrical conduits exposed. As a result, they can spark and cause a fire.

Fourth, a rodent infestation can result in the creation of what can be serious health hazards. Rodents – and their droppings – can harbor viruses and bacteria that can infect humans and result in serious illness. Salmonella is one example. Hantavirus is another.

The fact that droppings can carry pathogens that cause illness, even fatal disease, in humans underscores the need to know whether a rodent problem exists not only at this time but the importance of knowing whether an infestation was fairly recently eradicated before a house went on the market for sale.

Rodent Dropping and Other Waste Cleanup

If rodent droppings and other waste associated with mice or rats (old nests, dried urine) are discovered on the premises, you need to seriously consider hiring a skilled, experienced, rodent droppings cleanup company. As noted, this waste can harbor dangerous pathogens that have the potential for causing serious illness in the residents of or guests in your home. A seasoned biohazard remediation service can ensure that your home is restored to a fully safe and habitable condition.