Everything may seem perfect for your showing: lights on, carpets clean, counters decluttered. But how would you respond if everything changed in an instant? Linda Brown, an agent with Century 21 Paramount in League City, Texas, outside Houston, was showing her buyers a 1940s house for sale when they heard a thundering noise come from the ceiling, followed by falling plaster, and the shocking sight of a family of six raccoons tumbling through the gaping hole. “My clients dashed out without so much as a good-bye. I wondered what I should do next as the animals ran around in circles,” Brown says.
Fortunately, Brown, who grew up on a farm, made a smart decision fast. “I remained calm so the animals would. I simply opened the back door and the raccoons scurried out,” she says. When Brown called the seller, she learned the house was certified through the Texas Backyard Wildlife Habitats program, which allows homeowners to plant edible greenery that provides a source of food for wildlife. In this case, the raccoons went the next step and took up residence for winter through a vent in the attic. The seller proceeded to seal the vent, but those buyers weren’t coming back.
Homeowners who live in rural locations are accustomed to sharing their land with wildlife and contending with such challenges. But as more residential and commercial development encroaches upon natural habitats and food sources, people are increasingly finding themselves sharing their neighborhood with all manner of species from bats to bears. “Wildlife animals were already living in areas before we turned them into communities and will continue to live there once the community is built,” says Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association.
The risks increase during colder weather when animals tend to seek indoor shelter, making residential walls, ceilings, basements, and attics especially appealing, when they can find an entry point or create one by chewing away. While there’s no single solution to keeping out all wildlife, which varies by climate, vegetation, and topography, Kimberly Cantine, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty in Woodstock, N.Y., has seen her fair share of animal intruders turning up at inconvenient moments. Once she and a buyer found a listing overrun with mice on a final walkthrough. “A tenant had lived there with a cat and all seemed fine until the tenant left,” she says. Cantine asked the sellers to have their pest company clean and remove all traces of the rodents. They did, and also agreed to pay for a year of regular pest-control maintenance. Thanks to Cantine’s quick action, the closing took place on time.
Often, the animals may just cause panic, but as with Brown, they can instantly derail a potential sale. Dislodging interlopers can also prove costly and time-consuming when homeowners have to hire professional wildlife removal experts to take charge. Also, remodeling costs to replace chewed electrical wires or holes in roofs, chimneys, and pipes can be substantial.
Many buyers and sellers look to real estate experts for help when uninvited animals show up, whether it’s deer nibbling their hostas to death, alligators slithering onto patios for a dip in a nearby swimming pool, or squirrels using trees as trampolines to catapult themselves through an opening into an attic. Well before you get a call from a panicked client, have contact information in hand for reputable pros with expertise in specific kinds of wildlife intruders. Experts who specialize in handling raccoons may not be the right people to call for help with bats, for example.
For insects, rodents, and other common pests, you can find licensed experts by zip code on the National Pest Management Association’s consumer site, PestWorld.org. A company’s website should indicate what kinds of pests as well as nuisance wildlife they are equipped to manage. For certain species, such as deer, bats, or bears, a county wildlife department may be a good place to start to find a specialist skilled in entrapment and release. Homeowners should check whether a company carries liability insurance, and ask about the length of a pest-free guarantee. Linda Brown says she prefers working with a humane society for animals like raccoons or squirrels, rather than many conventional pest services, to be sure animals are not harmed as they are caught and removed using a Havahart trap or similar device. You can also refer homeowners to their local health department, which can provide information about laws regarding proper animal removal and any health issues. For instance, there are nine species of bats in New York, and the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation requires that certain species be removed rather than exterminated.
It’s wise for real estate pros to take the time to learn about the most common nuisance wildlife and pest problems in their area and how to help prevent problems from developing in the first place. A pre-inspection can help alert sellers to problems before buyers step through their door. But in the event the unexpected happens, the most important caveat is sometimes the hardest to maintain: Remain calm. After all, nothing is scarier for the uninvited creatures than running into you and your client.