I’m not a marketing expert and unless you appreciate technical truth, I’m not a very good salesman either. Heck, I don’t even “clean up” that well. There is always the telltale sign of a guy who “works for a living,” no matter how fresh the clothes are.
While the intent of this blog is to alert you to the fear tactics used by “termite salesmen”, it begins with my complete bewilderment regarding the effect “fear” has on people. It works and it works very well. It is depressing and fascinating at the same time.
Termite salesmen are trained by slick, smart, marketing people to prey on your insecurities to sell you something that 1). you probably don’t need; 2). doesn’t really solve an existing problem; but, 3). solves your inner fear. One advertiser wrote, “sex gets your attention but fear drives sales.”
Think about the products/services/illnesses based on fear…
In the 1920’s, Listerine turned a marginal, mouthwash with $115,000 in annual sales into a billion dollar product by inventing “halitosis”; a condition that made you a social pariah with no possibility of companionship or marriage. Hummer sales soared following the Twin Towers attack because if we are going to defend ourselves against giant airliners crashing into buildings, we better have a vehicle that gets 8 mpg, is subject to rollovers and takes a football field to stop. Hand sanitizer sales soared in the 1990’s over fear of SARS, anthrax and deadly pet slobber. Lysol sales soared (it was originally promoted as a feminine hygiene product – really) over fear of indoor mold and Legionnaires Disease. None of these products “cure or resolve” any of these conditions but they resolved our “fear” of these conditions.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt
If you research most any “concern” on the internet, you will immediately be schooled by a number of companies who can solve your worry, for a fee. Each will tell you that 1). you are absolutely correct to be worried, 2). your health, your home, your finances, your children and your social status are all in jeopardy, and, 3). they can solve your problem.
FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) is perpetuated in advertising and sales by termite companies; especially, those who sell fumigation. Yes, fumigation is sometimes necessary to treat drywood termites. The activity may be located in areas which are inaccessible for treatment or the activity may be so widespread, it is simply the most economical treatment. But, having evidence of prior activity, with no evidence of current/live activity, does not necessitate the need to fumigate nor does fumigation provide you with any more “guarantee” than other, more conventional and less costly, treatment options.
Many salesmen of fumigation services do not actually perform the fumigation – they subcontract the work to a company who does. In return for selling the service to you, the salesman takes a mark-up (generally 20-30% or more) and sells you a “bond” which is free money to him because he gets a “guarantee” from the fumigator to offset his potential for liability. Read the fine print…(fumigation performed by a Third Party…we do not accept any liability for the performance of third party vendors…). The “salesman” is not really selling termite treatment – he is selling a cure for FUD.
When the termite salesman quotes his service package, think about those TV commercials for drugs…
“some users of xxxxxx may experience internal bleeding, cardiac arrest, and even death but if you are not one of them, this drug will make you feel better because you have a $3000/month co-pay
Let’s talk termites
The Termite Infestation Probability Map shows Florida is one of the highest ranked states for termites. While there are no reliable statistics on termite infestation, the industry hints at a 1:9 probability your home will receive some level of termite activity (11%) but 70% of homeowners have a fear of termite destruction. That relates to an 11% chance your home will be attacked by termites against a 70% chance you will at least consider having your home treated. It is further estimated that about 40% of Florida homeowners order termite protection services. Further, industry statistics show that about 3% of homes which have some form of termite protection experience infestation or damage (that is based on a claims percentage). To recap:
Based on probability, 11% of Florida homes will suffer some level of termite damage Based on marketing, 70% of Florida homeowners believe they need termite protection. Of the 40% who do order termite protection, 3% will still suffer damage
Florida is most concerned with subterranean and drywood termites although we also have dampwood, wood boring beetles and wood destroying organisms such as brown or white fungi. A newer subterranean is also of concern – the Formosan termite which is a voracious eater.
Most conventional treatment/protection measures are provided as protection against subterranean termites. Very few homes are pre-treated against drywood termites even though they should be, in my opinion. Many homes are “protected” by use of in-ground, monitoring stations which mostly provides a means to “monitor” for termites. When termites are detected on the “annual” inspection, a bait is then placed in the station to kill the termites. At this point, there is probably some level of damage to framing but it would not generally be considered a structural threat or compensable to the homeowner. Monitoring stations are the least costly “treatment” method and therefore it is popular with homeowners who are really paying to treat FUD rather than termites.
So, what should you do?
First, relax a bit. Now, take a good look at your home.
- Do you have overgrown landscaping? Your landscape bushes should have at least an 18″ clearance between them and the foundation.
- Are your sprinklers in good condition? Do you have overspray on the home? You should try to keep sprinklers from hitting the foundation/walls.
- Is your home tight? Do you have rotted wood on the soffits/fascia? How is the caulking on the windows?
- When or was the home ever treated for termite prevention? Look for any stickers/labels on the electrical panel or in the attic. How long ago was it treated? Most professionals recommend a termite booster every five years.
- Do you have a current termite guarantee? If so, what type do you have – retreatment only or repair and retreatment? What is the aggregate limit of the policy?
- When was the last time the home was really inspected for termites? Don’t rely upon the casual, annual, “bond” renewal inspection – they are often sorely lacking in detail. Further, if your “bond” only covers subterranean termites, they are probably not looking in the attic for drywood termites!
Your best protection against termites is a thorough annual inspection.
That inspection should include the FDACS 13645 report. That report is really your only defense against a shoddy inspection. It is the only report which the inspector can be held legally liable to defend. The state form requires the inspector to check for ALL wood destroying organisms to include subterranean and drywood termites, beetles and wood destroying fungi.
Don’t be fooled by sales tactics. Insist on receiving the WDO report (Form FDACS-13645). If the salesman/inspector says, “we don’t issue those”, close the door and call someone who will.
A thorough inspection will take between 45 minutes to 3 hours depending upon the age/size/type of construction. You should expect to pay for the inspection if you truly want an independent assessment of your home. You can take the “free” inspection if you want but rest assured, they are trying to sell you a service. Do you really think anything is “free”?
If your home is clear of termites or conducive conditions, you should expect to receive a lower price on termite protection. If you are a responsible homeowner who maintains your home, you should be rewarded but, you should know, most companies do not. In fact, they rely upon you to cover their losses on the homes where their incompetence or greed resulted in claims. You are the “young and healthy” who we rely upon to cover the medical costs for the “aged and impacted”. To me, it just should not work that way for termite protection.
Do not let FUD dominate your decision process. Yes, termites can do considerable damage to your home, and yes, they can reduce the value of your home in a resale. But, you should make an informed decision on the type/level of treatment or protection you need. You will rarely get that from the pest control salesman – they work on commission and often, they have a limited education or credentials in entomology. They are taught to sell rather than inspect.