QDEAR BARRY: With memberships in the American Society of Home Inspectors and the California Real Estate Inspection Association listed among your credentials, why don't you say more in your columns to promote home inspectors who are members of these associations? Truly qualified home inspectors are members in good standing of one or more of these organizations. Don't you think that public awareness of these inspection associations should be promoted? -- Zachary

ADEAR ZACHARY: Memberships in these and other industry associations are part of a meaningful list of qualifications for professional home inspectors, with some caveats.

Although most qualified home inspectors are association members, not all members are truly qualified, nor are all members sufficiently adept at their profession. Some of the e-mails I receive are complaints from readers who say they hired an inspector who was a member of ASHI or CREIA, but who still failed to disclose many visible defects in the inspection report.

The disparity among association members is not a problem unique to the home inspection industry or these associations. Rather, it is a shortcoming that is common to the associations, guilds and unions representing most professions. Essentially, it involves the conflicting priorities of high professional standards versus the need for large membership enrollments.

Without a large membership, a professional association cannot be effective. To maintain a significant voice in the market and a position of recognized visibility and influence, every association must have enough members to command attention and to financially support its operations. When membership standards are raised, the numbers of prospective members who qualify necessarily declines. Therefore, associations tend to minimize their standards to maintain a larger membership.

To offset this, there is the expectation that less-qualified members will become more qualified as they participate in the educational programs required by the association. In many ways, this goal is realized, but within the limits of individual abilities.

For example, the California inspectors association at one point had a membership program that truly promoted high standards, but the group abandoned it in the late-1980s because it was too cumbersome and time-consuming.

The program involved a screening process known as peer review, which was meant to measure the actual inspection abilities of prospective members. A peer review was a performance test for home inspectors. A member applicant had to inspect a home that had been pre-inspected by a well-seasoned member inspector. The applicant was expected to find an acceptable number of the known property defects. The assumption was that the ability of the inspector to discover defects was the most reliable measure of professional competence.

I believe that in the real world of home inspection, that is the only qualification that truly matters. In the world of association politics, however, that opinion can be controversial.

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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