QDEAR BARRY: My real estate agent recommends a particular home inspector, but I'm highly suspicious. I read a magazine article that encouraged home buyers not to trust their agent's recommendation, but to select their own inspector. The article implied that agents prefer home inspectors who minimize property defects while working hand in hand with agents to close their sales. What is your stand on this touchy subject? -- Beverly

ADEAR BEVERLY: There are unsavory alliances in all areas of commerce, including real estate, so the "buyer beware" principle still applies. A healthy measure of caution is appropriate when you place your trust in anyone, including agents and home inspectors.

But negative generalizations unfairly discredit people with honorable intent. Blanket assumptions cannot be applied to real estate agents and their relationships with home inspectors.

Selecting a home inspector is among the most important decisions you can make as a buyer. No matter what good or bad advice you get from your agent or anyone else, it is a decision that demands your participation.

There are four main possibilities for your agent's recommendation:

* You may have an excellent agent, one whose concern for your interests is uppermost and whose choice of a home inspector reflects that level of integrity. If so, the home inspector being recommended is probably among the most qualified professionals available.

* You may have an ethically challenged agent, one whose concern for a commission check obscures all other professional considerations and who considers quality home inspectors "deal killers." In that case, the home inspector being recommended could be among the least thorough, least experienced and least qualified in the area.

* You may have an honest agent, operating with the best of intentions but with a limited understanding of the wide-ranging levels of quality, competence and experience among the home inspectors in your area. In that case, the home inspector could be the best, the worst or somewhere in between.

* You may have a cautious agent, one who offers you a list of local home inspectors but who prefers that the final choice be yours, thereby avoiding liability. Among these agents are those in all of the aforementioned categories: agents who offer a list of the most qualified inspectors, agents whose list is a menu of mediocrity and agents who don't really know the difference.

Your task is to consider all of the available inspectors -- their qualifications, their credentials, their affiliations with recognized professional associations and especially their experience in the home inspection business.

Home inspectors are not created equal. Choosing a good one can save you thousands of dollars and years of regret. Your agent can suggest possible choices, but the final selection should be yours.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

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