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Costly 'mistake' leaves new homeowners $100k out of pocket

Parts of the property were 'at risk of collapsing' thanks to termite damage the couple claim pest inspectors missed.

An Aussie couple buying their dream home say they got "taken advantage of by experts we trusted" who they say signed off on a pre-purchase building pest report, only for extensive termite damage to be discovered by the new homeowners days after moving in.

Ben and his wife purchased the multi-million dollar property on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland in June last year. However, shortly after moving in the couple discovered part of it "was at risk of collapsing" — an expensive mistake that has so far cost almost $100,000 to fix.

The homeowner, who asked not to disclose his surname, said there were "no obvious signs of termite damage" but they "did the right thing" by enlisting a trusted, well-known company, to do the pest inspection.

"We took time off work to attend the inspection with them. We walked around and they raised no issues at all around termites," Ben told Yahoo News Australia. "They sent us the report afterwards which said nothing about termites, that everything was ok. We relied on that to go and finish the purchase of the house."

Termite damage at Queensland property.
The couple discover the termite damage days after moving into their 'dream home'. Source: Supplied.

Termite damage 'was everywhere', couple say

The couple made the heartbreaking discovery within days of moving in when builders began work on the garage. Panic set in when a worker found "serious" damage behind one of the walls.

"We went through every panel in the garage and found that it was so extensive that it was in every single panel," Ben explained. "They had to stop working and leave the site as a safety precaution. That's how serious it was. It was everywhere."

Couple demolish garage after finding termite damage

Termites can be harmful if found inside the home causing more than $1.5 billion in damage to homes every year, a study by the University of Technology Sydney previously showed.

Thankfully, the Queensland couple concluded the damage was isolated in the garage which is detached from the rest of the house. So far, the couple have spent "tens of thousands" trying to repair the unexpected damage.

"Most of that cost was in demolishing and rebuilding parts of the garage. We had to replace everything except the roof and some of the roof truss," the homeowner said. "We had to replace the walls, the plaster, all the framing, everything had to be replaced and we even had to drill into the garage floor to put beams up to stop the roof falling down."

Termite damage behind walls with rotten timber in the Queensland property.
The termite damage was evident throughout the entire garage despite the company allegedly claiming there was none. Source: Supplied

Company 'refuses' to admit fault

At first, the company came back to reinspect the property after being made aware of termite damage. They said they'd "put it through as an insurance claim," Ben claims. However, the pest company told Yahoo they "have never admitted liability".

Since then, Ben claims "they've pretty much refused to talk with us and left us in the hands of their insurers, who have done everything they can to avoid the claim". "We're now having to go to court to recover our cost, which is obviously super stressful for the family," he said.

Pest company denies claims

In a statement to Yahoo, the company said a "large amount of stored goods in the garage" created "limitations" during the inspection meaning they could not do an "internal cavity inspection". They claim this was expressed to the couple on the day, however, Ben claims this was not the case.

"No termite activity was detected in the areas we were able to inspect," the company said. "However, we noted to [Ben] the risk of termite activity was high and made several recommendations in person on the day of inspection" — which the homeowner also says was not true.

"Our inspectors undertake their work with great consideration and skill, and while it’s unfortunate that termite activity has occurred on the property, we are confident we have acted in line with our contractual obligations and limitations," the company added.

The new three-door garage on the Queensland property.
The couple have spent almost $100,000 repairing the garage which had been destroyed by termites. Source: Supplied.

Mistake causes stress on family

Ben said the situation has caused his family a lot of stress, and hopes no other family has to experience it.

"I think the hardest part for us is that we trusted the pest inspection company to warn us if there was going to be anything seriously wrong, and they missed something that was so serious," he said.

"The stress it's caused us to get it corrected and the worry that we've then had about it extending to the rest of the house has been really significant. But I think above that is that once we realised that they'd missed something, we expected that they'd do the right thing and fix the damage."

Having already coughed up almost $100,000, the couple said it was a "hard decision" to pursue legal action against the company given the associated costs, but they say "in the end, I think we decided on it based on doing what we think is fair, and we just think it's fundamentally unfair that you can make a mistake and not fix it."

"We so genuinely feel that we've done nothing wrong and have been taken advantage of," Ben said. "The main thing is that just be so careful with who you engage to do these reports. It can be so expensive if you get it wrong".

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