The Wall Street Journal

A visit from the home inspector can be nerve-wracking for a seller, especially in a market like this — when the potential buyer isn’t afraid to demand that a long list of problems be addressed before the sale is finalized.

No matter how much you do to prepare the home, brace yourself. “The first thing for people to realize when selling their house is the inspector is always going to find something wrong,” says David Tamny, owner of Professional Property Inspection in Columbus, Ohio.

Often, problems are minor and inexpensive enough for the seller to either fix or allow a credit for in the home price, he says. It’s the discovery of major deficiencies — or an unwillingness to negotiate — that can kill a deal completely, Mr. Tamny says.

Still, it’s in a seller’s best interest to have the home as ready as possible before the inspection. It can cost more to address a problem — by lowering the sale price — once it turns up in an inspection, says Dan Steward, president of Pillar to Post, a home-inspection company. “For every real dollar of cost, the buyer thinks it’s $2 or $3 more,” he says.

The thorough way to prepare is to do your own inspection before you list the home on the market. A pre-listing inspection will tell you exactly what needs to be fixed before you begin your search for a buyer.

But sellers often don’t spend the money on hiring someone because they know a buyer will bring in his or her own inspector anyway, Mr. Tamny says. When problems are identified during a pre-listing inspection, that could also mean the sellers have an obligation to disclose more information to prospective buyers, he adds.

To save money, ask an experienced real-estate agent to give the house a good look-over instead, says Brandi Pearl Thompson, an agent in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. Agents might not have the expertise of a home inspector, but often they’ve been through enough sale negotiations to spot common red flags.

Sellers should also inspect their home with a critical eye, Ms. Thompson says. Don’t stop at eye level; look at walls from floor to ceiling, under sinks, on the floor near the base of appliances — everywhere — to check for signs of water damage, for example. Also check faucets, door handles and other details of the home as you’re walking through it.

“Walk out of the house, turn around and walk in with fresh eyes,” she says.

Getting Ready

An inspector will be looking for problems with the home’s heating and cooling systems, electrical problems, signs of water damage, mold or leaks, termites, and structural or plumbing problems. They’ll also take a look at do-it-yourself projects, making sure, for instance, that ceiling fans are installed correctly and backyard decks are safe.

As much as you can, get your house ready by fixing the problems or have a plan for how you will address them when the buyer inquires about the issues.

Pay attention to the little things, too. Make sure everything is clean and the gutters are clear, take care of flaking paint and make sure windows open and close, Mr. Tamny says. Replace cracked caulking and fix leaky faucets and broken windows, Mr. Steward says.

You might also want to have the furnace and air-conditioning systems serviced by a professional to make sure they’re in good shape, Ms. Thompson says.

Don’t Kill the Deal

Still, even after you prep your home for the inspection, expect some problems to surface — and for the prospective buyer to present you with a to-do list.

With plenty of inventory to choose from and a desire to get the best deal, today’s buyers are driving hard bargains. And while it’s often the most expensive problems that could kill a sale, a long list of little issues could also cause a buyer to back off.

Sometimes “buyers get overwhelmed and decide not to pursue a remedy. They’re overwhelmed with the stuff that is going wrong,” Mr. Tamny says.

Also, if big problems that weren’t disclosed turn up during an inspection, buyers can get skittish. “If nothing is disclosed and the buyer’s inspector finds stains or an active water leak, there’s a red flag,” Mr. Steward says. “It doesn’t always make a deal fall apart; it makes a deal not progress smoothly because the buyer is now worried… ‘If I didn’t see that, what else didn’t the seller tell me?'[nbsp ]”

Some buyer requests will be reasonable; in other cases, especially when it’s cosmetic in nature, a seller would be justified in declining a request, Ms. Thompson says. But even when negotiations get tough, remember the buyer still wants to buy your home.

“Keep in mind they still kept your home in mind over the others,” Ms. Thompson says.

“And once someone falls in love, they do tend to overlook some of the little things.”