QDEAR BARRY: You often advise buyers to find a home inspector who has done thousands of inspections. Frankly, this may not be the best advice. I know home inspectors who have practiced the same bad habits for years and who schedule too many inspections a day to possibly do a thorough job. What's more, the reports many of them write are professionally embarrassing. Some are too short (two or three pages), while other are inflated with 100 pages of unnecessary information. People need to know that not all inspectors, no matter how many inspections they have done, are qualified to deliver a thorough and comprehensive product. Sometimes it's the newer inspectors, those who have done only several hundred inspections, but have learned to do it the right way, who are the better choice. Could you please comment on this? -- Steve

ADEAR STEVE: Although there are guidelines for finding qualified home inspectors, there are no reliable standards that guarantee professional competence. To illustrate this, let's consider the six criteria most often cited as essential factors in selecting a qualified inspector.

* Professional affiliations. Membership in a recognized association of home inspectors, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors or the National Association of Home Inspectors, is commonly held to be a measure of professionalism among home inspectors. Members are supposed to adhere to standards of practice and codes of ethics as well as take part in ongoing education. However, no governing body can mandate competent performance or ethical conduct. Regrettably, not all association members are truly qualified inspectors.

* Inspection experience. Years of dedicated practice can produce home inspectors with the ability to discover defects that would be missed by inspectors with less experience. However, shortcomings in talent or integrity can reduce the benefits of experience.

* Errors and omissions insurance. The importance of this professional insurance is often stressed as an important consideration when hiring a home inspector. If an inspector fails to report a major defect, the deep pocket of an insurance company may be the only recourse. However, some of the most qualified home inspectors forego this insurance because deep pockets can attract lawsuits.

* Building code certification. Although code certification is not a professional requirement for home inspectors, some inspectors acquire such credentials to increase their knowledge of potential building defects. This knowledge is unquestionably beneficial. On the other hand, increased knowledge may not ensure an ability to observe and evaluate defects. It is possible to know the code yet fail to recognize a problem.

* Formal home inspection training. A common mistake among new home inspectors is to rely on past construction experience rather than on specific home inspection training. Those who attend a qualified school are better prepared to be inspectors. However, there is no amount of schooling that truly prepares someone for the complexities of inspecting homes. Schooling merely provides a foundation on which to build experience.

* Sample report. Reviewing an inspector's sample report can provide clues as to his thoroughness. However, anyone can purchase a high-tech report-writing system. The report may look great, but this does not mean there is a qualified inspector behind it. Furthermore, sample reports show only the problems that were found by the inspector, not the ones that were missed.

These criteria provide guidelines for selecting a qualified home inspector, but elements of uncertainty and risk remain. It is sometimes helpful to call several real estate offices and ask who are the most thorough inspectors in the area. Those recommendations, though, may not be entirely objective.

There are no absolutes when selecting a qualified home inspector. The old adage still applies: Buyer beware.

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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