When Deb Sadler bought her home it opened a window to a new career. She had watched the home inspector look things over and wondered: Wouldn't it be fun to try this?
Tired of the computer industry, she was ready for a change. So she took the required courses and passed the state licensing exam.
"Then I did home inspections after my `day job' and on the weekends to supplement my income," said Sadler, who lives in Oak Point, Texas, and covers the northern part of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Two years ago, she was laid off from the job she had kept for "that good, steady paycheck, insurance and benefits." Her friends agreed "this was the big break I needed," she said.
"I was being pushed out of the corporate nest and into the self-employed world to fly on my own. After almost five years of doing inspections on the side, it was time to run with the big dogs."
For Sadler and other career changers, becoming a professional home inspector has turned into a lucrative small business. More workers are taking up the profession locally and nationally.
Savvy homebuyers are enlisting the advice of experts - and paying them a few hundred dollars - before making one of the most substantial investments of their lives, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors Inc. in Des Plaines, Ill.
About 77 percent of homes sold in the United States and Canada are inspected before the deal is sealed.
"It's becoming a very important part of the real estate transaction," said Rob Paterkiewicz, executive director of the society.
Consumers are gaining awareness of home inspectors as more states adopt laws governing the profession. To date, he said, 29 states have passed regulations.
A home inspector needs to be a jack-of-all-trades - well-acquainted with electrical and plumbing systems, roofing and much more, said Nick Gromicko, executive director of the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors in Valley Forge, Pa. Interpersonal skills are essential, too.
Ambitious, knowledgeable inspectors can expand their services - and boost their income - with commercial inspections, expert witness testimony and testing for radon, lead-based paint and other hazardous substances.
Full-time sole proprietors averaged $81,000 in annual gross revenue, while part-timers earned $30,000, according to the American Society of Home Inspectors' 2002 study, based on the previous year's wages. Owners of multiple-inspector firms raked in $350,000.
Although overhead costs vary, among the most significant expenses is errors and omissions insurance. It eats up a few thousand per year but covers an inspector if a lawsuit ensues.
As a woman, Sadler is a minority in her field. But if anything, it's a selling point.
"Several Realtors like the option of a woman inspector. They told me some guys either talked over their clients' heads or the client was intimidated by them," Sadler said.
"More women are joining the field, but we are still very much outnumbered. I believe if you want to do something, don't let gender stand in your way."
Most of the time, inspections are commissioned by homebuyers and occasionally by sellers before a home goes on the market.
"Some inspection reports become `honey-do lists' or preventive maintenance knowledge to the homeowner," Sadler said.
In selecting an inspector, she advises consumers to consult with friends, neighbors, co-workers, the chamber of commerce and homeowner associations.
"The last resort should be the Yellow Pages," she said.