Pets Can Take a Big Bite Out of Your Home’s Resale Value

Blake Gordon for The Wall Street Journal

In case you’re wondering, tomato juice won’t stop the stink from three skunked dogs.

Just ask Lexi Methvin, whose pups—Samson, Wesley and Suki—pounced on a skunk’s den near her home on 3 acres outside Carbondale, Colo. Giving them a long shower in a mixture of Dawn, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda solved her problem—one of many stirred up by these rambunctious pets.

After some doors had been scratched and chewed to pieces, Ms. Methvin, the chief executive of a family office in Basalt, Colo., spent $1,000 to replace the damaged wood with powder-coated metal. Another $1,000 was spent to replace door levers with doorknobs because the pups were sneaking into guest rooms and gobbling up things like vitamins and dirty baby diapers. Built-in baby gates avert further mischief, such as jumping up on kitchen counters to eat bananas, grapes and avocados—which leads to tummy troubles and diarrhea. During a recent dinner party, Suki, who hunts mice and voles, traipsed into the house covered in animal blood, says Ms. Methvin.

Since purchasing her 4,000-square-foot mountain home for $1.25 million three years ago, Ms. Methvin, 50, estimates she has spent between $25,000 and $30,000 on dog-related home repairs, carpet cleaning and preventive measures.

“They’re expensive,” she says. “Seriously, I have taken these dogs to the animal ER three times in the past 12 months.”

Anyone who has seen a puppy suffer separation anxiety knows that dogs can take a costly toll on real estate. These expenses typically far exceed the cost of owning the dog itself, estimated by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at between $737 and $1,040 a year for the basics.

And standard homeowners-insurance policies won’t cover damage to your house or personal property caused by your pet, says Scott Holeman, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based trade group. So when Hercules breaks a window or tears up the carpet, the money for repairs comes out of the homeowner’s pocket.

Despite the damage to her home, Lori Methvin adores her canine companions. ‘I feel like my fur children have kept my hands full,’ she says.Blake Gordon for The Wall Street Journal

Furniture seems to be a magnet for muddy paws and serious slobbering. And while this type of damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, protection plans, a type of insurance acquired when buying furniture, can cover some losses. The price of a protection plan is usually a small percentage of the cost of the item itself and may not be worth the extra money in some households. But people with messy or mischievous pets might want coverage for stains, chips, rips, scratches, water marks and other accidental damage.

Pet damage is the second-leading cause (behind product failure) of furniture claims filed with Safeware, one of the largest companies that provides protection plans in the U.S. However, claims related to pet damage are the costliest to repair, according to Mike Cole, spokesman for the Dublin, Ohio-based company.

Recently, a homeowner in Wisconsin filed a claim after his puppy somehow got a hold of a bottle of red food coloring, Mr. Cole says. Before he could be restrained, the dog had chewed and spewed red stains on a $2,000 sofa and love seat set. Safeware dispatched a professional cleaning crew to attack the fabric stains, and the company had the cushion cores replaced to prevent the dye from bleeding back onto the covers, Mr. Cole says.

Retailers typically select the company offering the protection plan—and terms can vary. Be sure to read the fine print to know what’s not covered, such as continuing pet damage that ruins a piece over time.

Playful pups are one thing, but homeowners with an aggressive dog may face challenges when buying homeowners insurance. Some companies charge higher premiums to homeowners with certain breeds, such as pit bulls, says Mr. Holeman. To limit their exposure to losses, an insurer may ask the homeowner to sign a waiver for dog bites—or opt not to sell a policy at all.

Happily, Ms. Methvin says her dogs are merely “enthusiastic,” not aggressive. “I’m looking at Samson right now,” she says. “He’s the most cuddly, lovable dog.”

A fenced-in play area enables the dogs to safely play outside.Blake Gordon for The Wall Street Journal

Finally, dogs can have a big impact on home values when it comes time to sell. Home appraiser Susan Martins-Phipps has visited homes before they’re listed and found chewed furniture, scratched floors and stinky carpets. “I’ve had to step over dog accidents,” says Ms. Martins-Phipps, who’s based in East Greenwich, R.I. “That doesn’t necessarily affect the value, but it sends a message about how the homeowner is taking care of the house.”

When the damage is significant, however, a home could appraise at 2% to 5% less, she estimates. “If a buyer has to repair all the woodwork or the dog has been chewing up the shrubbery—landscaping is expensive—the amount can exceed that.”

Her advice to sellers: “Make sure you clean up.” And if homeowners don’t—or they’re not even aware there’s a problem, “I think there’s a conversation the agent selling the house needs to have with the homeowner.”

STOP DOGGONE CHEWING

Bored dogs tend look for ways to entertain themselves, and chewing is one option. Chewing can also occur when a dog is stressed or frustrated. Here are some tips from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help minimize destructive chewing.

  • Provide your dog with plenty of toys, raw bones and other chew treats recommended by your veterinarian. Avoid cooked bones and bones that could be bitten into chunks and become a choking hazard.
  • Introduce something new or rotate your dog’s chew toys every couple of days so that he doesn’t get bored with the same old toys.
  • Identify times of the day when your dog is most likely to chew and give him a puzzle toy filled with something delicious. You can include some of your dog’s daily ration of food in the toy.
  • Discourage chewing inappropriate items by spraying them with chewing deterrents. Reapply the deterrent every day for two to four weeks.
  • If you see your dog licking or chewing an item that he shouldn’t, say “Uh-oh,” remove the item from your dog’s mouth, and insert something that he CAN chew. Then praise him.
  • When you can’t supervise your dog, such as during the workday, you can leave your dog at home in a confinement area for up to six hours. Include a variety of appropriate toys and chew things to enjoy.
  • Ensure that your dog gets ample physical exercise (playtime with you and with other dogs) and mental stimulation (training, social visits, etc.).
Article by Beth DeCarbo