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Termites will wreak havoc on Tampa Bay homes this year, experts predict

Heart disease is the silent killer, but termites may be worthy of the title as well. You might not see any signs they're there, but slowly they're creeping in.

As University of Florida entomology professor Phil Taylor analogizes, an untreated termite infestation is letting the equivalent of a 75-pound animal that feeds on wood hack away at your house every single day of the year.

Now, as warm weather approaches, the drywood variety of the wood-eating species is swarming and preparing to invade even more homes. That's why the state is warning homeowners to keep up contracts with pest control companies instead of waiting until it's too late to seek treatment.

In these tough economic times, homeowners may be tempted to wait before shelling out a few hundred dollars for a treatment. The long-term effects, however, can cause much more financial peril.

All new homes in Florida are required to be treated for termites, according to Steven Dwinell, assistant director for the state Division of Agriculture and Environmental Services.

State law mandates that pest control companies offer the homeowner a contract for yearly inspections and treatment, as termite damage is not covered by homeowners insurance. "But nearly half the homes in Florida are currently not under contract," Dwinell said.

Taylor, the entomologist, said termite infestation is on the rise.

"We've had some drought conditions and other factors, but the evidence points that this is going to be a bad year." This is good in some ways, he said, because more homeowners often recognize an infestation without having an inspection done.

Gary Geiger's pest control business is thriving along with the bugs as termites wreak havoc on houses statewide. He has seen homes incur thousands of dollars of damage from the inside out.

"Termites do more than $5 billion worth of damage every year nationally," he said.

For companies like Geiger's, a treatment could cost the owner of a 2,000-square-foot home $650 to $1,000, depending on the vegetation around the house and the steepness of the roof, among other factors. The contracts work as a sort of insurance; usually a homeowner pays less depending on what was paid for the initial treatment and inspection.

Mark Dayton, a St. Petersburg Realtor with Lambrecht & Associates, said that during the peak of the housing market a few years ago, many buyers stopped having the termite inspection done because of the demand for property. He said people were signing housing contracts without contingencies because they wanted to be more competitive.

If Dayton's clients do not request a termite inspection, he makes them sign a form acknowledging that they were advised to have it done. "People need to know exactly what they're buying," he said.

Austin Bogues can be reached at abogues@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8872.

Termites will wreak havoc on Tampa Bay homes this year, experts predict 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 4:31am]
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