In more than a decade of covering consumer issues here, I've discovered that in the Mid-South, termite contracts are arguably more important than home warranties.
Lanier James, owner of James Pest Management (http://www.jamespestcontrol.com/) and a licensed pest control professional for 46 years, says subterranean termites are the most prevalent wood-destroying insect in our area, and they LOVE the wood-based mulch we all like to fill in our flower beds.
They eat in it, breed in it, then head straight for our homes.
I've seen the damage.
So dropping $200 or more a year on a termite contract is a good idea in the Mid-South. James says if you decide to shop termite contracts, ask these questions:
* IS THE CONTRACT RENEWABLE ANNUALLY AT THE SAME RATE? Rates on termite contracts can jump just like an adjustable rate on a mortgage, so ask the termite company if you can lock in at the same rate over a longer period of time.
* DOES IT CLEARLY DEFINE ALL STRUCTURES COVERED? What about the guest house in the backyard? Storage shed? Pool cabana?
* HOW MANY INSPECTIONS ARE YOU CHARGED FOR ANNUALLY? James says the industry standard -- is one. One a year is plenty. If the company calls for multiple inspections each year, they better explain why.
* DOES THE AGREEMENT SPECIFY THE "TARGET PEST?" The agreement should spell out if the target is "subterranean termites" or "carpenter ants" or whatever. James says although a target pest should be listed, it does not limit the treatment to just that type of pest.
* DOES THE RENEWAL NOTICE ASK TO ALLOW INTERIOR INSPECTIONS? James says it should.
* IS THE CONTRACT TRANSFERABLE TO A NEW HOME-BUYER WITHOUT HIDDEN COSTS? Termite contracts stay with the structure, so you can't transfer your contract to another house if you move. But James says you should be able to transfer it to someone who buys your home. That way, you can use it as a selling incentive.
Two points I want to make clear about termite contracts:
* ONCE YOU'VE SIGNED ONE, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A COPY OF THE ENTIRE AGREEMENT. That would include any addendums, riders, etc.
* ONE TYPE OF TREATMENT DOES NOT FIT ALL. Some companies insist on baiting systems. Some insist on direct chemical treatment. James says termite treatment varies depending on several variables around your home -- the soil, the type of house, the landscaping, the location. A good termite company will customize the treatment to fit your home's circumstances and not force one method down your throat.