Prepping buyers and sellers for surprises can help keep a transaction on track.

A home inspection gone awry can spell double trouble in a real estate transaction. Sellers who believe they’ve kept their house in pristine condition might hit the roof when costly problems with the property are uncovered. And buyers—especially first-timers with no experience in the market—may be scared away by the prospect of daunting repairs.

How do you keep this common scenario from devolving into acrimony? Before the inspection, talk with your clients about their expectation and about how they might handle certain results, says Daniel L. Alden, broker-associate at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Great Barrington, Mass.

Listing agents can be proactive by doing a visual inspection of their client’s home, looking for obvious areas that need repair. Rich Wolnik Jr., a sales associate with Riklin Realty in Niles, Ill., advises reviewing the age of the seller’s furnace, water heater, and air conditioning unit and finding out what major repairs or upgrades have been done. Make sure sellers are aware of issues that are common in your market—such as termites in waterfront communities—and  let them know that whatever issues you find in a visual inspection will very likely arise in an official inspection.

Sellers may want to pay for a prelisting inspection. This gives them an opportunity to collect cost estimates for repairs and determine whether they want to pay for fixes or lower their asking price. Either way, it can prevent last-minute setbacks.

Some sellers will balk at incurring the cost of a prelisting inspection. Brian Bartholomew, a sales associate with RE/MAX Cornerstone in Fullerton, Calif., offers to cover the cost—typically about $450—as a value-added benefit for clients who pay his usual commission. About half of his sellers opt for a prelisting inspection, he says.

As for buyers, they need to understand the difference between health and safety issues and normal wear and tear. When buyers are determined to make repairs part of the sales contract, suggest they offer options. For example, they could ask sellers to either have repairs done before move in or provide a credit on the price, says Sara McMurray, CIPS, SFR, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Chicago.

If buyers’ first reaction to inspection problems is to walk away, remind them of why they were moved to make an offer in the first place. With inventory as tight as it is in many areas, they may rue letting inspection issues derail their dream. “If this is the only property you’ve seen that meets your requirements, let’s talk it through and make it work,” McMurray tells her clients.