Should I pull out of the sale of a French house if it has termites?

Should I pull out of the sale of a French house if it has termites?

Don’t panic if termites are found in a French property you are buying as there are solutions, says Julie Savill

You’ve found the house, had your offer accepted and the mandatory reports are being done. You get a call from your estate agent to say that the electrics are fine, no lead has been found but there are traces of termites. What now? How much of a cause for concern is it?

Jacqui Reddin, a senior sales consultant with Beaux Villages, believes it’s no reason to change tack. “Added termites… at no extra cost!’ she jokes.

“Honestly though, it can be a plus to discover termites as once you treat them and/or trap them, you have a guarantee from the treatment company that the termites will not be back for as long as the company carry out their regular checks,” adds Jacqui. “Most French buyers think nothing of them. Like woodworm… you just do the treatment, place the traps and get the reassurance. So if you fall in love with a property and discover it has termites, it shouldn’t change your feelings about it. Knowledge is everything. France has different issues with properties which seem alien to British buyers, but they have also developed excellent solutions.”

Spot the species

So, what exactly are termites? Some people think they are a type of ant but in fact they are related to cockroaches. There are seven species of termite known in France; five living underground (they’ll be found in the garden) and two preferring to live in dry wood (more likely to be found in the house or outbuildings).

They live in organised colonies, like ants and bees, where different social levels have different tasks. Their main task is to eat wood… Inside a house the activity can go undetected for months or even years as the termites work from the inside of the wood out.

Signs to look out for include:

?A ‘web’ of mud on a wall, which is actually the shelter tunnels they build to move around a building.

?A pile of ‘frass’ (their droppings which look a bit like coarse sawdust).

?A hollow sound if you knock on beams or floorboards or the sound of termite activity within the wood.

None of these signs should be ignored. At the buying stage, a termite report is mandatory but as a homeowner in France there is always the option to have a diagnostics expert come in to do a check from time to time as a reassurance.


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Kill the colony

Treatment of termites within a property consists of injecting chemicals into all timbers to kill the colony. Depending on the size of the property, professional treatment could cost around €3,000-€5,000.

DIY spray products are available but as the termites work from inside the wood, spraying the surface isn’t the most effective way to eradicate them. If the infestation has been extensive, weakened timbers may need to be replaced.

For termites found in the garden, in a pile of old wood, for instance, the first piece of advice is don’t move the wood, and certainly don’t set fire to it. You risk making the colony swarm to a new location.

Judith Whitlow is a French-accredited estate agent trainer for Formation Plus in south-west France who also has personal experience of dealing with termites. “I am a fan of the trap system rather than the chemical spray in dealing with them,” she says. “The trap system works like a barrier around your house, protecting it from any infestation – it works best when the little buggers are found around the property and not in it. The traps work like ant traps – the termites eat the poisoned bait and then go back to the nest and die there. The others eat them and so eventually you kill the nest. Once the traps are installed, the company comes back every month and checks them for signs of new activity and replaces the bait. They continue to do this until there is no further activity.

“At this point, you have the choice of continuing with an annual contract for the company to keep an eye on things. For us, the cost of this is approx €300 a year, worth it for the peace of mind! Our current property had termites when we bought it – we didn’t hesitate, but went straight ahead and had the traps installed. We haven’t worried about it at all since then.”

Calculate the costs

It’s worth mentioning that termites will be a shock to the vendor as well. Absolutely no one would live with an untreated infestation. It is also important to accept that few older French properties will be entirely free of other less serious wood-boring insects. Not the same thing, and not to be confused. While minor electrical anomalies or suchlike might be something you accept in the interests of maintaining goodwill in a negotiation, in the case of termites you are entitled to ask your agent to investigate who will pay for treatment, bearing in mind both the ongoing cost but also the likely peace of mind.

Julie Savill is market director at Beaux Villages estate agency in France

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