Are Strangers Living In Your House?

Raccoon on the roof by Carsten Volkwein
Raccoon on the roof by Carsten Volkwein

If you are a homeowner in Toronto, the odds are that you or your neighbour have had some sort of wildlife issue on your property. We live in one of the greenest cities in North America with an extensive ravine network. Raccoons and squirrels have become fearless, entering through cat doors, helping themselves to your organic waste and rummaging through garbage bins. Mice are extremely common in homes, yet most of the time, you don’t even know they are there. What can a homeowner do to prevent this problem and what can a buyer do to ensure you are not buying a house that has strangers living in it?

Derick McChesney, a raccoon removal expert at SWAT Wildlife in Toronto has plenty of experience finding animals in GTA homes for sale. He states, “roughly 15-20% of homes probably have a mice issue or have once had a wildlife issue. Most of the time the seller will only do the minimum amount of work to get rid of the problem and decline the necessary prevention so they can sell the house and then leave the problem with someone else." Buyers that do unwittingly purchase animal infested properties are in for nightmare renovations that can include new carpets, drywall and total home insulation removal and replacement.

McChesney shares with us his helpful clues to spotting wildlife on residential properties. Active home buyers can incorporate these into their inspection lists when poking around a prospective new home.

Eight Signs There May Be Animals in the House

  1. Animal Spotting: Is there a fruit tree on the property? Is there a nut tree? Did you see animals on the property upon approach? Look in the windows from outside before opening the door, and look around the bottom of the exterior walls. Are the trees around the house full of squirrels? Are there raccoon eyes peering back at you in the backyard at night?
  2. Holes in the wall: The number one sign of mice and rats, that prospective buyers could spot are holes in the wall. Remember the buyer usually sees only a very sanitized and artfully ‘staged’ version of the home; any active holes can be plugged and could stay closed for a few days. Holes in the exterior of the house are harder to disguise. Squirrels can fit through a gap the size of a quarter, and field mice can slip through egress the size of a nickel. Holes in the soil under your porch might be evidence of a groundhog or skunk.
Mouse in the kitchen
  1. A Quantity of Feces: In most real estate across Canada mouse droppings are part of the terrain and finding minimal amounts in hard to access places is considered normal. A home inspector would probably not mention mouse droppings unless they have discovered large amounts. Thick mouse droppings in the attic and basement are signs of a big population and very dangerous to humans. The organic matter should be handled with caution, even when dry, as mouse excrement can be quite toxic. It's recommended homeowners wear masks and gloves when cleaning up after a mouse infestation as disturbing fecal particles may precipitate airborne contaminants. Affected areas should be sterilized after the droppings have been removed.
Squirrel on deck
  1. Signs of Chewing: If the outdoor furniture cushions, the pool cover, the barbeque cover etc have been chewed it probably speaks to an active squirrel population. Look for discoloured downspouts and hydro meter pipes that may double as ladders for animals into compromised soffits and or loose facscia boards above. Inside the house an attic tour should examine the condition of the electrical wiring and the integrity of the insulation on the wires. Squirrels have been known to chew plastic insulation from house wiring with disastrous consequences.
  2. Bowed Soffits: Buyers should look at the horizontal rigidity of the soffits under the roof-hang as these often become unimpeded runways for animals loose in the house. The soffit boards are the favourite paths of animals that seek natural perimeters, raccoons and squirrels will use these paths to access all parts of the roof attic and other areas deeper inside the structure depending on the layout of the home. Adult raccoons can weigh thirty or forty pounds and their continued presence will frequently bow the soffits down and the effect can be noticed from the road, if you’re looking.
Paw prints
  1. Animal tracks: Animal tracks outside in the snow are cute and speak to an active ecosystem, animal tracks inside the house can be a sign of current or impending infestation. One trick is to leave a floor unswept, or a counter unwiped to see if anything crosses in the night over the dusty plain. Fresh tracks in the dust have a beginning and end which will lead to more clues.
  2. Some Distinctive Smells: Animals smell terrible, and when touring an older home, you may stick your head in closets and crawl spaces and smell the air or smell the wood in these places, and detect the presence of animals. Can you smell a sweet musty ammonia? That could be scent of animal droppings in a distant corner of the domicile.
  3. Sudden Sounds: one tactic wildlife removal technicians employ is to make a loud sudden noise, poking walls, or stomping on the floor and then listening intently for anything, any sound in the wall or ceiling could mean you’re not alone in the house.

Derick McChesney has been working with Toronto homeowners for over fifteen years and he’s has been on both sides of a real estate deal threatened by animals. He’s worked with buyers and sellers doing Wildlife Inspections to certify structures are free of critters. He’s helped agents remove animals before showings, and he’s been called up by new homeowners in horror after discovering wildlife in their holdings. This is something that happens all the time,” Derek writes, “and its easy to prevent if you have any detective skills.”

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