QDEAR BARRY: I'm not particularly impressed with the quality or integrity of the home inspection profession and would like to express my dissatisfaction in two areas:

* There appear to be a lot of know-nothings who are inspecting homes, and the certifications issued by home inspector associations do not assure professional competence. In most states, home inspectors are not even licensed.

* The real estate agents who recommend home inspectors have no interest in quality inspections. Likewise, home inspectors know which side their bread is buttered on. If they disclose too much, the deal falls through, and they don't get future referrals.

Given this low state of affairs, why should anyone consider hiring a home inspector? -- Bob

ADEAR BOB: Shortcomings and imperfections can be found in all professions, but generalized assumptions are unfair. We can agree that there are incompetent home inspectors. There are also unqualified doctors, teachers, grocers, police officers, carpenters and accountants. Yet no reasonable person would contend that all members of these professions are incapable of excellence. Clearly, there are qualified and unqualified individuals in all occupations, and home inspection is no exception.

If state licensing is a valid measure of professional competence, then there is room for improvement. Most states still have no license requirements for home inspectors. But about half do have licensing or regulatory standards, and the number of these states is steadily increasing.

In the absence of state regulation, there are professional associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI). These groups seek to elevate the general performance and ethical practices of the industry by promoting education and defining standards. But intentions and policies can't inspire excellence in everyone. Rules and standards can be founded on ethical principals, but no legislation can cause people to become good. It's too late for ASHI or NAHI to change those who never learned proper ethical conduct from their parents.

Related to this is the question of collusion with real estate agents -- an allegation often leveled against home inspectors. No doubt there are such cases. But to paint an entire profession with that broad, dirty brush is neither fair nor factual.

Truly, there are real estate agents who do not encourage thorough home inspections, and there are home inspectors who pander to that kind of pressure. But among both agents and inspectors we find the best, the worst and all intermediate strains. Home inspectors who do mediocre work attract the recommendations of one kind of agent. Highly qualified, meticulous inspectors get their referrals from the better members of the real estate profession. To assume collusion on a broad scale is a major misjudgment.

We can expect from home inspectors what we get from any other profession: a spectrum of qualifications and practical standards. If you take your time and shop wisely, there are home inspectors who will provide the comprehensive defect disclosure and reliable consumer protection home buyers expect and deserve.

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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