What If I Buy a House with a Mouse Problem?

published Jan 12, 2021
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Credit: Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

Welcome to Key Questions, a real estate advice column where we address your conundrums related to renting, moving, buying, selling, housing, and more. Ask us your weirdest and weightiest wonderings at advice@apartmenttherapy.com.

Dear Apartment Therapy,

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved looking at old houses. Maybe it was my New England upbringing, but there’s something about a 150-year-old Colonial that draws me in. Now that I’m in the market to buy a place, I’ve decided I want to buy an antique home. I know there’s a lot of work that comes with owning an older home, but here’s the thing: I’m terrified of rats and mice. I’ll combat termites, shag carpeting, and flooding basements any day, but would really love to steer clear of rodents. What should I do or look for when I’m touring homes for sale? And what preventative measures should I plan to take once I do buy a place?

Fraidy Rat

Dear Fraidy Rat,

I wish I wasn’t so familiar with your fears. Though I’m going on two years of living in New York, I still jump (and yelp) every time a rat scuttles across the sidewalk in front of me. One time a rat ran over my foot while I was walking up the subway station stairs. So, I get it. I would desperately not want rodents in my beautiful antique abode, either.

I have good news for you, Fraidy. There are a few easy things you can keep your eyes peeled for while looking at houses. Judy Black, the vice president of quality assurance and technical services for Rollins, Inc., the company that owns pest control service Orkin, listed out a few of the biggies with one caveat: “All homes, whether old or new, should be inspected for pest problems,” she says. Roger that!

Black says rodents like rats and mice are attracted to homes with three main things: food, shelter, and moisture. To get those things, they look for holes, cracks, or gaps that allow them into a house from the outside. Since you probably won’t be able to spot those gaps as you stroll up to an open house, there are some red flags to watch for, per Black:

  • The most obvious sign of an infestation is seeing a rodent in the open; both mice and rats like to hide, so if you see one in plain sight it is an indication of a much larger problem.
  • Droppings are an indicator that a property may have a healthy, feeding rodent population.
  • You may see mouse tracks left in dusty locations, and rats tend to leave dirt or grease marks along walls and floorboards.
  • Both mice and rats like to gnaw and chew on items in their habitat, such as paper, plastic or wood. The presence of damaged materials can indicate a rodent population. Rat teeth marks are large and rough in appearance.
  • Large holes in floorboards and walls are sure signs of a rat infestation.

Excuse me while I erase the visual of “rat teeth marks” from my mind. 

These bullet points are helpful, but what if you fail to notice these things until after you’ve purchased a house? Or maybe your fear of rats is making you want to be proactive about making sure they don’t find a way in? 

If you fall into the first camp, Black says you should call a pest management professional right away. There’s no time to mull over if you could take care of things yourself. “Rodent droppings must be removed in a specific way to minimize health hazards to humans and animals,” she says.

If you’re ready to defend house from the horrors of rodents, Black has a few more suggestions:

  • Seal holes, cracks and gaps larger than ¼ of an inch on the exterior and interior of buildings.
  • Install weather strips at the bottom of exterior doors.
  • Trim branches and overgrown plants and bushes.
  • Store all food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Properly dispose of trash and regularly empty garbage cans. Sanitation measures both inside and outside the home can go a long way in making your home less attractive to rodents.

There’s a long list of pros and cons for owning an older home. Thank goodness rodents don’t have to be one of the cons.