QDEAR BARRY: I am a 37-year-old woman and am interested in becoming a home inspector. What can you tell me about the ups and downs of being an inspector and about the income range? Also, what type of person makes a good inspector, and what percentage of home inspectors are women? -- Dee

ADEAR DEE: Women are definitely underrepresented in the profession. I can't give you any statistics on this, but the inspector conventions I have attended have included fewer women than could be counted on one hand. Why this has been, I don't know, but the field is open to all qualified candidates, regardless of gender.

Likely candidates to become home inspectors are detail-oriented with common business sense, good communications skills (both written and oral), a working knowledge of building construction and property defects, an aptitude for interacting with people, and not too strong an aversion to dusty attics and spider-infested crawl spaces.

Inspection fees typically range from $250 to $350 for a moderately sized house (up to about 1,500 square feet). Some inspectors compete by cutting prices, but those people generally do not spend the time necessary to provide a detailed inspection. Your income will be determined primarily by the number of inspections you perform and your ability to control overhead.

There are two major downsides to the home-inspection business:

* Referral conflicts of interest. Inspectors depend largely upon real estate agent referrals for the majority of their business. Unfortunately, not all agents recommend the services of thorough home inspectors. As you begin to market your services among the agents in your area, you will soon learn which agents are most interested in full disclosure of property defects. If the quality and thoroughness of your inspections are good, you will get the recommendations of those respectable agents. Others may label you a deal breaker, but don't worry. They are not the people with whom you want to do business.

* Errors and omissions liability. Buyers base a major investment decision upon the findings of their home inspector. If undisclosed problems are discovered after the sale closes, home inspectors can be held liable. This can sometimes mean costly lawsuits. Therefore, you must obtain thorough training before going into business, and you must increase your knowledge of home inspection processes and of property defects for as long as you remain in business. You should also maintain errors and omissions insurance coverage.

There is another school of thought regarding insurance. Many inspectors think the deep pockets of an insurance company may invite lawsuits. Whether to carry insurance is a serious decision that each inspector must make.

Be sure to join a recognized home inspector association. The two top national organizations are the American Society of Home Inspectors and the National Association of Home Inspectors. There are also a number of state associations around the country, all of which set standards for home inspectors and promote ongoing education for their members.

Here's wishing you success in your new career, and may all your errors and omissions be small ones.

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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