All the experts say the key to getting control of termites is hiring a pest control company that you can trust and that stands by its contract.
Proper treatment depends on the person doing the treating, said Brian Forschler, a University of Georgia entomologist. "It's more of an art form than a science," he added.
Here are some tips:
* Make sure the company is licensed.
* Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, and check with the Better Business Bureau and local consumer affairs offices. Washington Consumers' Checkbook magazine also did a rating of area firms in 1997.
* Ask for documentation of the company's liability insurance.
* Look for the contractor to be a member of industry groups such as the National Pest Control Association.
* Ask for a written guarantee on the work. Ask whether continued coverage is offered that includes treatment for reinfestation and repairs for future damage. Make sure the contract spells out whether the agreement is renewable each year, and be certain that the cost of renewal is listed for a specific time period.
* Start with a very thorough inspection. Experts say it should take at least an hour.
* Ask to see where the damage is.
* Get three estimates.
* If you buy a bait system such as Sentricon, said Jay Nixon of American Pest Control Management in Takoma Park, "make sure the company sends someone every month to check the monitor stations and that he does change the sticks" inside the stations--"and make sure that the one thing he has in his hand is a bar code scanner" to read the baiting traps.
Nixon, whose company installed the Sentricon system around the White House, encourages homeowners to use companies whose inspectors have a degree in entomology. "It makes a big difference if you have an entomologist looking at your house or a college kid who's never been trained and is just saying what he thinks he ought to say about the kind of treatment you should get."