You've found a home you love -- but when you venture into the basement, you see the characteristic gnaw marks from termite damage to the wooden beams. What should you do? Should you trust the owner that the termites have been eradicated and buy the home, or should you walk away? Start by doing these three things, which will help you learn more about the nature of the infestation so you can make a wise decision.

Ask to see reports from the exterminator.

If the termites have indeed been eradicated, then what's left is likely no more than cosmetic damage. Ask the homeowner to see copies of any reports made by exterminators who treated the termite infestation. If they cannot produce reports, or if the reports indicate that the fight against the termites is ongoing, walk away from the home. On the other hand, if there are reports from follow-up appointments indicating that the termites seem to have left the property, you can be more assured that this is the case.

Look for signs of an active termite infestation.

Even if the termites were properly eradicated by an exterminator, there is still a chance they've come back. So, it's important to know the signs of termite presence for yourself. Venture into the area where you saw the chew marks, and look for:

  • Little lines of mud running across wood beams. (These are left behind by termites.)
  • Sawdust or wood particles on the ground.
  • Little black pebbles on the ground near the chewed wood. (These are frass, or termite feces).

If you don't see any of these signs, then chances are, the infestation is not ongoing and it should be safe to buy the home. If you do notice these signs, then you should either walk away or make the owner a low offer, leaving yourself plenty of money to spend on extermination services.

Have an exterminator look over the home.

If you do suspect the home still has an active termite infestation, it's a good idea to have an exterminator come assess the problem before you make an offer. If they tell you the damage is extensive and that the repairs will cost thousands, then you probably want to walk away. On the other hand, they might assure you that with some patience and the right pesticides, you can eradicate the termites. In that case, you may want to make an offer contingent on the current owner having the home exterminated. For instance, you could offer to pay $130,000 for the home if they first have the termite problem treated. Talk to your real estate professional on whether this is a good idea.